America’s infrastructure and culture are changing. Once relegated to segregation and isolation, women are breaking barriers, and walls, and in the cracks, green is sprouting up.
As the owner of a Landscape Architecture Firm specializing in creating public spaces for cities, you can find my team and me engaging in a wide variety of activities - from designing plans to engaging in public meetings, visiting project sites or nurseries, or a myriad of other activities. There are a wide array of components necessary to the process of beautifying our cities, but which are crucial in the role of implementing public spaces that can be enjoyed during work or play and which contribute to America’s rapidly evolving communities.
Women today are living in a challenging social climate, with the very idea of basic morality being tugged along a partisan divide. When we’re having public debates about just who women should be allowed to have lunch with, there’s a problem. And while I would never pretend to have the solution to our societal dilemma, I can’t help but look to our cities to seek a better understanding.
I have always loved gardens, and have dreamt of their designs my whole life. A passion that’s been instilled in me since I was a little girl, my entire life has been influenced by the natural world of my surroundings. There are some who would view gardening as a “feminine” pastime, but no one would disagree more than my father. A thorough bred Englishman, the comforts of the garden were among my dad’s only consistencies as a young boy. While the Nazis pummeled London, my dad was evacuated along with thousands of other children to safer parts of the UK. He spent his early years shifting between England and Ireland, never sure of what the next day was going to bring. This state of constant change taught my dad to be patient and ready for anything – qualities that lent themselves well to a long life of gardening.
Eventually, his love of gardening brought him to America and to my mother. If he was the example of the quintessential Englishman, my mother was the quintessential American. Able to trace her American roots all the way back to the Revolution, and proud of her heritage – they were a mix of Old World and New.
Together, they instilled in my sisters and me, a sense of pride and independence. I did not grow up defined by my gender and felt no limitations as a woman, yet, as my career picked up, I found that some men did. Whether a doctor, lawyer, scientist, or any other “untraditional” role, women everywhere have the same story. Mine happened in the field. Dressed in steel-toed boots and a hard hat, I was overseeing the installation of a rain water system. My team of workers were all men, and as manly as they professed to be, they did not know how to properly install the equipment. It was up to me to get in the dirt and guide them through the installation, but they looked at me – this little woman, with faces clearly registering doubt. When I explained that the rain water system had a filter over it, which was knotted at the end like socks from the laundry, one of them quipped that his wife did the laundry. With humor and deflection, I quipped right back, got the crew laughing and to drop their defenses, they learned how to properly install the system and throughout the rest of the project to see me as a leader, no different from them.
I’ve led many design/build projects, and found this to happen many times since. I admire my male colleagues, and count many as my closest friends, but without a doubt I have faced doubt or discrimination and have had to integrate that into my daily dealings.
But, what do my experiences say about America, and how does my role at the helm of a design firm affect how women are viewed professionally? Sexism is, in many ways, rooted into the ways cities are built. Think of the classic images of a business-driven city – men in suits rushing to and fro, from sun blocking skyscrapers lining city streets. After a day’s grind, they return home to doting wives and respectful children and sit down to dinner for a home cooked meal. When America returned from WWII as the leader of the free world, this was the ideal, the American dream – and its cities matched that vision. Impressive skyscrapers challenged the clouds and hard concrete lined the streets. Business was purely business in this masculine rush for American dominance, and there was no need for anything else.
However, society has evolved, and proof of that is built into the framework of modern cities. It is through the creation of a space that makes one feel connected to their community. It is when designers thoughtfully incorporate a level of detail that facilitates connectivity, social engagement and comfort, that the design becomes invaluable to the framework that draws people to that space, and makes them want to use it.
As a contributor to city design and beautification, this evolution is nowhere more apparent than in the design of our cities and communities. Because many of the projects I work with are publicly funded, I feel that my work represents the desires of everyday Americans, and how they see the future, no matter where their political ballots lie. As we become a more open and diverse society, we’re melding our personal lives with our business. Developers are adding room for parks, where meetings can be held in the sunshine. Offices have common areas that promote friendship and connectivity. Public transportation stops are lined with trees, flowers, and walking/biking paths that support our health. Gone is the “nostalgic” stereotype of a man at work.
We’re already living in a time where “lunch” and “business” are not separate activities, but hand-in-hand with our daily duties. Americans – male and female – have moved past the idea that business is an entity disconnected from the rest of our lives.
As a woman, I’m proud to contribute to this evolving nature of American life and American professionalism. While the debate rages on about women’s role in society, let those who cling to the past look to America’s cities to see that change is built into the very framework of our communities, and that it won’t stop. When men of a certain mindset head to the office every morning, let them know that women like me are cultivating the public spaces that form their environment.
Gender divisions in sports have primarily served to keep women out of what has always been believed to be a male domain. The idea of women participating alongside men has been regarded with contempt under the belief that women were made physically inferior.
Within their own division, women have reached new heights, received accolades for outstanding physical performance and endurance, and have proven themselves to be as capable of athletic excellence as men. In spite of women's collective fight to be recognized as equals to their male counterparts, female athletes must now prove their womanhood in order to compete alongside their own gender.
That has been the reality for Caster Semenya, a South African Olympic champion, who has been at the center of the latest gender discrimination debate across the world. After crushing her competition in the women's 800-meter dash in 2016, Semenya was subjected to scrutiny from her peers based upon her physical appearance, calling her gender into question. Despite setting a new national record for South Africa and attaining the title of fifth fastest woman in Olympic history, Semenya's success was quickly brushed aside as she became a spectacle for all the wrong reasons.
Semenya's gender became a hot topic among reporters as the Olympic champion was subjected to sex testing by the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF). According to Ruth Padawer from the New York Times, Semenya was forced to undergo relentless examination by gender experts to determine whether or not she was woman enough to compete as one. While the IAAF has never released the results of their testing, that did not stop the media from making irreverent speculations about the athlete's gender.
Moments after winning the Berlin World Athletics Championship in 2009, Semenya was faced with immediate backlash from fellow runners. Elisa Cusma who suffered a whopping defeat after finishing in sixth place, felt as though Semenya was too masculine to compete in a women's race. Cusma stated, "These kind of people should not run with us. For me, she is not a woman. She's a man." While her statement proved insensitive enough, her perspective was acknowledged and appeared to be a mutually belief among the other white female competitors.
Fast forward to 2018, the IAAF issued new Eligibility Regulations for Female Classification (Athlete with Differences of Sexual Development) that apply to events from 400m to the mile, including 400m hurdles races, 800m, and 1500m. The regulations created by the IAAF state that an athlete must be recognized at law as either female or intersex, she must reduce her testosterone level to below 5 nmol/L continuously for the duration of six months, and she must maintain her testosterone levels to remain below 5 nmol/L during and after competing so long as she wishes to be eligible to compete in any future events. It is believed that these new rules have been put into effect to specifically target Semenya given her history of being the most recent athlete to face this sort of discrimination.
With these regulations put into effect, in combination with the lack of information about whether or not Semenya is biologically a female of male, society has seemed to come to the conclusion that Semenya is intersex, meaning she was born with any variation of characteristics, chromosomes, gonads, sex hormones, or genitals. After her initial testing, there had been alleged leaks to media outlets such as Australia's Daily Telegraph newspaper which stated that Semenya's results proved that her testosterone levels were too high. This information, while not credible, has been widely accepted as fact. Whether or not Semenya is intersex, society appears to be missing the point that no one is entitled to this information. Running off their newfound acceptance that the Olympic champion is intersex, it calls into question whether her elevated levels of testosterone makes her a man.
The IAAF published a study concluding that higher levels of testosterone do, in fact, contribute to the level of performance in track and field. However, higher testosterone levels have never been the sole determining factor for sex or gender. There are conditions that affect women, such as PCOS, in which the ovaries produce extra amounts of testosterone. However, those women never have their womanhood called into question, nor should they—and neither should Semenya.
Every aspect of the issue surrounding Semenya's body has been deplorable, to say the least. However, there has not been enough recognition as to how invasive and degrading sex testing actually is. For any woman, at any age, to have her body forcibly examined and studied like a science project by "experts" is humiliating and unethical. Under no circumstances have Semenya's health or well-being been considered upon discovering that her body allegedly produces an excessive amount of testosterone. For the sake of an organization, for the comfort of white female athletes who felt as though Semenya's gender was an unfair advantage against them, Semenya and other women like her, must undergo hormone treatment to reduce their performance to that of which women are expected to perform at. Yet some women within the athletic community are unphased by this direct attempt to further prove women as inferior athletes.
As difficult as this global invasion of privacy has been for the athlete, the humiliation and sense of violation is felt by her people in South Africa. Writer and activist, Kari, reported that Semenya has had the country's undying support since her first global appearance in 2009. Even after the IAAF released their new regulations, South Africans have refuted their accusations. Kari stated, "The Minister of Sports and Recreation and the Africa National Congress, South Africa's ruling party labeled the decision as anti-sport, racist, and homophobic." It is no secret that the build and appearance of Black women have always been met with racist and sexist commentary. Because Black women have never managed to fit into the European standard of beauty catered to and in favor of white women, the accusations of Semenya appearing too masculine were unsurprising.
Despite the countless injustices Semenya has faced over the years, she remains as determined as ever to return to track and field and compete amongst women as the woman she is. Her fight against the IAAF's regulations continues as the Olympic champion has been receiving and outpour of support in wake of the Association's decision. Semenya is determined to run again, win again, and set new and inclusive standards for women's sports.