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Do studies of the social ordering of space show that the exclusion from public spaces is always a problem for women?

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  1. Introduction
  2. The problem of particular sexual share
  3. Need for domestic knowledge
  4. Rosaldo's 1974 intuitions
  5. Empirical analysis
  6. The quality of women's integration
  7. Conclusion
  8. Bibliography

It has been unanimously agreed, since Foucault, that power is not an intermittent and isolated force. Rather, the concept manifests itself daily as a continuous network of power struggles exerting on any individual regardless of his status in society, ?from the great strategy of geo-politics to the little tactics of the habitat?(1980). As a result, Foucault argues, spatial arrangements do provide an analytical framework for the study of inequalities as valuable as economic or sociological explanations.

In 1974, Michelle Rosaldo was the first to apply such a paradigm to gender stratification. With the publication of her essay, Women, culture and society, she depicts a domestic-public dichotomy accounting for the variability of conditions throughout societies: empirically, it appears that the finest the boundary between the domestic and the extra-domestic is, the highest women's status might be (she mentions the Mbuti pygmies as a shining example of that link).

[...] Although stereotypically the share of tasks is at the expense of women, a deeper analysis proves that public space is actually not deserted by women. Not only do they intervene in the same areas as their husbands, but they can even enjoy a public sphere of their own, whatever its nature: the public hammam for Morrocan women, a political association for feminine anti-mafia coalitions in Sicily. These supposedly antifeminist societies do not create a total domestic isolation; women still intervene in their own way. [...]


[...] The argument here is not that social structure is utterly determined by space differentiation, but that the institutionalization of its legacy may be perpetuated as an ideal for the future generations. Differentiated spaces might thus pave the way for the expression of moral judgments, and somehow legitimate the stigmatization of women entering the public arena. It seems, after this section, that spatial exclusion is a far-reaching blow to women's rank in society. Carried to an extreme, Rosaldo's 1974 intuitions would draw to the conclusion that they only have two options to enhance their status: either entering the masculine public sphere or creating an alternative publicity, but in any case they have to cross the sacred line. [...]

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