Making it in a field dominated by men.

October 7, 2013


In the text Feminist Practices Interdisciplinary Approaches to Women in Architecture  by Lori A. Brown she writes about when she was practicing in New York after graduate school and realized that there were far fewer women and minorities in positions of power, if any at all at the larger firms. She goes on describing that there are fewer female professors and female students later in the education than male and all of these observations can also be shared by me.

She goes on telling about a project by Susana Torre. Torre has catalogued and created public exposure to women designer and architects in the United States. In this project Torre writes that the careers of women architects and designers “have always been linked to opportunities and expectations of women in larger society”.

This makes me not only reflect upon my own observations at the architecture school, my own thoughts as a female architect and also on my internship year meeting other women later in their career.

I think one reason why we can’t see that many women in power positions at larger firms has to do with heritage/tradition. Women are taught by society/culture/religion/heritage/traditions to step aside and let men lead. It is considered easier for us to do that “stepping aside” part than it is for men. It could even be considered “weak” for a man stepping aside, but a “good decision” for a woman.

BUT I think a lot is changing and could be changed. There is a huge difference in the interaction between men and women in my grandparent’s generation and the interaction between men and women in my own generation. I want to believe that people of my own generation are used to an environment of gender mix and therefore can see its qualities. Couples in my own generation in Sweden expect equality from each other, sharing instead of dividing labor and tasks. Almost fighting over the amount of days of “mother and fathers leave”.

In some professions there are still large concentrations of men or women. For men these are labor heavy, physically demanding and life threatening professions like fire fighters, soldiers, policemen, builders. In these environments the old separation between the male and female is still visible.

I want to underline the builders. During my internship year I came across women working with builders in a very male dense environment. I completely respect these women as the ones struggling with similar prejudice opinions that many other pioneer women in their own fields had to do years ago. In my own opinion these women had a few characteristics in common that I presume are a fruit of their work environment. They all seemed highly capable, almost over prepared, and without faults and I could not understand it in another way than that they constantly felt judged and afraid of making mistakes that could make them loose their position. I come to think about Margaret Thatcher, one of those cold as iron women, almost overdoing their “male” characteristics to validate their position as the leader of the pack.

With all this I want to say that I think that we as architects work with a field that for long has been considered a male field of professions (Architects, constructors, engineers, builders etc.) (Because of this it is possible that is has gathered all of the most prominent pro-gender-division males.)Today we can see female architects, constructors, engineers but still only a few female builders. The more we come to rely on machine power and not physical power we will probably see more female builders and that will open up for a more gender- mix friendly environment reaching all the way to the top. Letting the female leaders be themselves (and not cold Iron ladies) and helping other women into the same field, without it being considered “weakness”. I think it is just to keep fighting at all levels to break down one of the last “male” professions and making it a ” male AND female profession”. ‘

Sofia Wollert Olsson


Feminist Practices. Interdisciplinary Approaches to Women in Architecture. Edited by Lori A. Brown.


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