The Dichotomy of a Feminine Interior and a Masculine Exterior

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1.1 Introduction

Space/architecture is knowingly or unknowingly gendered. Spaces are either considered feminine or masculine (feminine or masculine being two of the larger genders known). Spaces often acquire the characteristics of their users. Spaces occupied by women are associated with femininity and spaces occupied by men are associated with masculinity. For example, in traditional havelis, we had the zenana area and the mardana area. The zenana area was that part of the haveli where the women of the house spent most of their day. Mardana area was that part of the haveli which belonged only to the men. So naturally, the zenana area began to be associated with femininity and mardana area began to be associated with masculinity. Spaces are gendered not just based on the user or the use of the space, but also based on the accessibility of the space. We might observe that private spaces are considered feminine and public spaces are considered masculine. Spaces are gendered based on their superiority as well. Often superior spaces are considered masculine and inferior spaces are considered feminine.

In many households, the women are restricted to the interiors of the house whereas the men of the family go out to earn a living for the family. Thus, we can assume the interior of the house to have feminine characters and exterior of the house to have masculine characters. This dichotomy between the feminine interior and masculine exterior has been compared to nature and culture, subjective and objective etc respectively. Feminine and masculine are two distinct entities. It will be very interesting to study the transition from one gendered space to another, or study the role of different spaces and thresholds in segregating two differently gendered spaces.

Transitional spaces are also called the in between spaces or liminal spaces. Bobby Alexander (1991) in his book titled Victor Turner Revisited: Ritual as Social Change writes “The root word limen is derived from the Latin word for ‘threshold,’ and literally means ‘being on a threshold” (Alexander, pg 31). In all contexts, liminal refers to an intermediate state or condition, an in-between condition in which the liminal entity has characteristics of what it is between, but at the same time is separate and distinct from them. It is a space which is essentially ambiguous and is, by definition, the interaction with which is temporary. Transitional/liminal spaces are the porch, foyer, corridors, courtyards, verandah, staircase etc. These spaces often do not have a distinct function like sleeping, cooking, studying etc, but are often experienced only while going from one space to another. The characteristics that define liminal space include layering, dissolution, blurring, and ambiguity. They may be the threshold or the point of separation between two spaces but the separation or the transition may be so seamless that it is hardly perceived.

This paper talks about the feminine interior and masculine exterior dichotomy and analyses the role of the transitional spaces in forming or subverting the dichotomy.

1.2 Need Identification

Some spaces are associated with femininity and some are associated with masculinity. Spaces associated with femininity are often discriminated against. In traditional houses, spaces associated with femininity are not just discriminated against but are also segregated from spaces associated with masculinity. There is a man’s domain and a woman’s domain. There are a number of factors which lead to this segregation of space based on gender, social discrimination of women being a major factor. Today, women enjoy a relatively better social status. This change is reflected in the segregation of space based on gender, as there are very few spaces which fall solely in man’s domain or woman’s domain. One could say that there is no clear man’s domain or woman’s domain. The line between the two has become blurred. This dissertation aims towards studying the dichotomy between spaces associated with masculinity and those associated with femininity and analysing the role of liminal /transition spaces and thresholds in forming or subverting the dichotomy.

1.3 Aim

The aim of this paper is to analyse the supposed dichotomy between the masculine exterior and the feminine interior of a home and understand the transition between the two.

1.4 Research question

Taking the dichotomy of a feminine interior and the masculine exterior, how do we begin critically examining the role of liminal spaces in either forming or subverting the said dichotomy?

1.5 Objectives

  • First objective is to analyse the dichotomy of interior and exterior as nature and culture, feminine and masculine, private and public.
  • Second objective is to find out the factors that lead to this transition from interior to exterior.
  • Finally examine the role that transitional spaces play in forming or/and subverting the dichotomy.

1.6 Scope

The purpose of this paper is to understand liminal spaces. Liminal space in itself is a vast topic. Therefore, I have restricted myself to studying only the liminal spaces at home. My research is going to use lenses provided by gender studies. The qualitative and the quantitative aspect of transition spaces are studied wherever it is going to influence my research from the perspective of gender. Anything beyond this is out of scope of this research.

1.7 Limitations

It is a study of liminal spaces throwing light on the gendered side of the study. All the work that has been done on Gender and Space, are essentially viewpoints of popular architects and thinkers. It is thus a compilation of their perceptions and my critical analysis of the same. Only secondary references viz the books are available which are also not facts but viewpoints of others, which may be inadequate. Discrimination based on gender can be experienced in traditional homes. Today, with the change in the mindset of the people, the position of women has improved. Instances of discrimination based on gender have reduced but they still exist. Spaces associated with femininity may not be discriminated against but are still separate from spaces associated with masculinity. Because of the limitation of time this aspect could not be studied in detail. There were other limitations of geography and resources.

1.8 Research Methodology

First part of the dissertation deals with understanding the dichotomy between interior and exterior by comparing the interior and exterior with nature and culture, feminine and masculine, private and public. The role of home in understanding the dichotomy will also be studied in this part. This part is going to be carried out by reviewing works of other architect on the subject.

Second part deals with studying the transition from one gendered space to another. It also deals with studying liminal spaces and threshold in the context of the dichotomy. This part will consist of review of works of other architects on this subject. It will also comprise of primary and secondary case studies of traditional houses/havelis and contemporary houses. Here spaces of each house would be analysed under various heads such as use, occupant, accessibility, location etc. The role of different liminal spaces and thresholds in the house in imparting feminine or masculine character to a space will also be studied.

1.9 Identification of Case Study

Secondary Case Study - Rangrez House in Patan, Gujarat

Primary Case study - Haveli Mubaraq in Malerkotla, Sangroor district, Punjab

Both the houses were inhabited by muslim family. The comparison of the two case studies would therefore not have any major difference based on different cultural practices. Both the case studies have been selected in similar climatic zones. Similar liminal spaces and thresholds are thus likely to be found in both the case studies.

These traditional houses are then going to be compared to a modern house. A modern house in Punjab has been selected in this regard. As a result, the points of difference (if any) will not be influenced by climatic and geographical features. So, the difference in the role of transition /liminal spaces in segregating feminine spaces from masculine spaces in both the traditional and the modern houses might be due to change in the mindset of people.