Thursday 27 February 2014

Urban Planning & The Accessible, Inclusive City

In 1961, Lewis Mumford published his study "The City in History: Its Origin, Its Transformations and its Prospects" in which he described the shortcomings of conceptualising modernism and urban industrialism's incapability to deal with the many facets (social, cultural, gender, ethnicity) of socio-cultural needs and modernism's tendency to minimise individuality. Mass production of industrial technology decontextualised urban space from the needs of different body types and accessibility requirements. In fact, urban space that is not fully accessible is the source of additional barriers to people with disabilities and their inclusion in society. Modern cities are constructed on "the able-bodied majority's value structures, beliefs and notions of the world that dominate the ability to access". The term "Architectural Apartheid" refers to the very lack of services to the disabled and the resulting segregation (Ross & Nelson, 2005).

Ill-conceived environments disable many people and prevent them from participation. Often, the needs of people with disabilites are considered separately from others or only after the design has been completed (e.g. separate platform lifts or ramps, kerb free level access parking bays). "An inclusive environment considers people's diversity and breaks down unnecessary barriers and exclusions in a manner that benefits us all." (Department for Communities and Local Government, 2003)

Department for Communities and Local Government (2003) Planning and access for disabled people: a good practice guide (via)
Ross, J. & Nelson, K. M. P. (2005) The Accessible & Inclusive City. An Academic Paper Submitted to The World Urban Forum.
photo of Mies van der Rohe and Philip Johnson with the Model of the Seagram Building (1955) via and of Mies van der Rohe peering between two models of apartment buildings he designed for Chicago's Lake Shore Drive (1956) via

Monday 24 February 2014

The -ism Series (9): Colourism

Freda Jospehine McDonald (1906-1975), also known as Josephine Baker, the "Black Pearl", "Bronze Venus" or "Creole Goddess" was the first African-American woman to star in a major film (Zouzou in 1934) and to become an internationally popular entertainer. In the 1920s, she became the most highly paid chorus girl, in 1931, she scored the most successful song (J'ai deux amours).
She was popular in France. In the US she was rejected. Time magazine called her a "Negro wench".  In New York, she was refused reservations at 36 hotels because of her skin colour. The Ku Klux Klan threatened her. In 1951, the famous situation occurred where Baker was refused service in the Stork Club in Manhattan and Grace Kelly rushed over to her and said she would never enter the club again. Baker gave up her US-American citizenship (via).

"To be beautiful, you must take plenty of fresh air and light, but not too much sunshine ... I use milk as well, as a lotion, it keeps me lighter." Josephine Baker (via Jules-Rosette, 2007)

In the US, lighter skin was more likely to be accepted whereas in Europe, darker skin represented (the European construct) of "true black spirit". Baker "dictated fashion and social life trends in Paris" (Sowinska, 2006). Her popularity in France boosted sales of "Bakerfix" hair gel and "Bakerskin" darkening lotion - Parisian women wanted to look like her. Baker herself, on the other hand, lightened her skin with lemon rubs (via) and publicly promoted her skin-lightening formula (Jules-Rosette, 2007).
During the slave days, African Americans had developed their own class systems based on skin tone. Dark-skinned individuals with kinky, "bad" hair were sent to the cotton fields while the light-skinned ones with wavy, "good" hair worked inside. In the early twentieth century, Madame C. J. Walker's beauty creams contained hydroquinone which bleached the skin. Blacks seemed to have finally internalised the beauty standards of white America (Singer, 2005).

Josephine Baker supported the Civil Rights Movement, worked with the civil rights organisation National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, spoke at the March on Washington and refused to perform for segregated audiences no matter how much money she was offered (via). She actively fought for civil rights and was nevertheless not immune to the Bleaching Syndrome, an assimilation practice which is historically rooted in the African American creams and folk preparations to lighten the skin colour and by doing so removing "blackness" and turning "white". The origin, however, is the "imposition of Western somatic light skin ideals upon social environments" (Hall, 2010). Skin colour is more than the obvious. It is about a specific status in society, And changing skin colour is probably more about changing the very status in society than changing the obvious.

Hall, R. E. (2010) The Bleaching Syndrome in the Context of Somatic Norm Image Among Women of Color: A Qualitative Analysis of Skin Color. European Journal of Social Sciences, 17(2), 180.185
Jules-Rosette, B. (2007) Josephine Baker in art and life. The icon and the image.
Singer, A. J. (2005) Stepping Out in Cincinnati: Queen City Entertainment 1900-1960. Charleston et al.: Arcadia Publishing
Sowinska, A. (2006) Dialectics of the Banana Skirt: The Ambiguities of Josephine Baker's Self-Representation. Michigan Feminist Studies (via)
animated gif via, photo via and via and via

Sunday 23 February 2014

The 2014 Winter Olympics & United Nations' Secretary General Ban Ki-moon's Speech

This day marks the official end of the XXII Olympic Winter Games that were held in Sochi. These are excerpts from Ban Ki-moon's beautiful (diversity) speech he held on 6 February, one day before the Winter Olympics started.

"(...) The Olympics show the power of sport to bring together individuals regardless of age, race, class, religion, ability, sex, sexual orientation or gender identity. Different groups are meeting on the playing field, not the battlefield. (...)
The athletes here carry the flags of different nations - but they are all joining under the banner of equality, fair play, understanding and mutual respect. Their histories, traditions and day-to-day lives offer a wonderful parade of human diversity. And the athletes send a unified message that people and nations can put aside their differences. (...)

The Olympic Movement also promotes human rights, including the rights of all persons with disabilities, working closely with the Paralympic Committee. The Paralympic Games are an essential part of the Sochi Winter Games. I am one of millions of people inspired by those athletes.
The Olympics have served to break down negative stereotypes and build positive attitudes.I am pleased that the United Nations counts many Olympic athletes as champions of our causes - peace, development and human rights. These efforts are all helping to advance the Millennium Development Goals, our targets for addressing poverty, disease, environmental degradation and inequality.(...)

Sports can help empower women. Just think - for the first time in the history of winter Olympic Games, women will compete in ski jump. Of course, you will not see me at the top of the ski jump. But I will be cheering for women to jump as high and leap as far as their talent will take them. This is women's rights in action, and we have a responsibility to build a platform for women to jump. (...)

Sports can help advance human rights. Last year, the United Nations marked the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination by focusing on the power of sport. We are all aware of the need to combat ugly and hurtful racist displays at sporting matches. And this past December, the theme of Human Rights Day was "Sport comes out against homophobia." Many professional athletes, gay and straight, are speaking out against prejudice. We must all raise our voices against attacks on lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or intersex people. We must oppose the arrests, imprisonments and discriminatory restrictions they face.
I know that Principle 6 of the Olympic Charter enshrines the IOC's opposition to any form of discrimination. The United Nations stands strongly behind our own "Free and Equal" campaign, and I look forward to working with the IOC, Governments and other partners around the world to build societies of equality and tolerance.

Hatred of any kind must have no place in the 21st century. (...) Let us work together to make this world better for all." UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon via

Photos of the Beatles (Help) via and via and via and via and via

Friday 21 February 2014

International Mother Language Day

"I think English is a fantastic, rich and musical language but of course your mother tongue is the most important for an actor."
Max von Sydow

Mother Language Day is observed on 21 February and aims to to protect all languages spoken in the world, to promote linguistic and cultural diversity, to promote unity in diversity (via). 
Local languages constitute the majority of languages spoken across our world in the field of science. They are also the most endangered. Excluding languages means excluding those who speak them from their fundamental human right to scientific knowledge. Irina Bokova, Director-General of UNESCO
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photograph of Max von Sydow via

Wednesday 19 February 2014

Quoting Dionne Warwick

"It is frustrating to be a Black woman in the entertainment industry." 
Dionne Warwick

"The Civil Rights for Musicians Act is about economic justice for African American artists. It's about what's right. And it's about time."
Dionne Warwick

More Dionne Warwick ...

::: What the world needs now: watch
::: I say a little prayer: watch
::: Killing me softly: watch
::: Feelings: watch

Monday 17 February 2014

What it is is beautiful. What it is is different.

Dear Lego company:
My name is Charlotte I am 7 years old and I love legos but I don't like that there are more lego boy people and barely any lego girls. today I went to a store and saw legos in two sections the pink and the blue toys. All the girls did was sit at home, go to the beach, and shop, and they had no jobs but the boys went on adventures, worked, saved people, and had jobs, even swam with sharks. I want you to make more lego girl people and let them go on adventures and have fun ok!?!
Thank you.
from Charlotte (via)

Recently, the handwritten letter of seven-year old Charlotte Benjamin caught (social) media attention. It was tweeted more than 2000 times soon after being published. The girl's campaign got quick response from LEGO, too: "LEGO play has often been more appealing to boys but we have been very focused on including more female characters and themes that invite even more girls to build, and in the last few years, we are thrilled that we have dramatically increased the number of girls who are choosing to build." The statement continued: "While there are still more male characters than female, we have added new characters to the LEGO world to better balance the appeal of our themes." (via)

LEGO toys are both fun and educational. They make children "develop their motor skills, solve problems, and use their imagination" (via) and can improve the social skills of children with autism (via). They are, in addition, completely gender neutral. This is probably the very reason why there was disappointment when LEGO started widening the gender gap by focusing on boys a few years ago. Later, CEO Knudstorp announced that they would "reach the other 50 percent of the world's children" (i.e. girls) with their new line LEGO Friends (via).

The LEGO Friends set (launched in December 2011) consists of curvier figures that live in Heartlake City, a town built with pastel bricks offering a beauty salon and a horse academy (via). This line of toys targets specifically girls and is criticised for gender stereotyping by using for instance specific colour schemes. The company was also accused of positioning products for girls on the low-skill side of the spectrum (via) and lacking creativity (via). A petition followed asking the company to stop gender-based marketing (via).

Campaign from the 1980s: LEGO invited children to play in the studio. After an hour their pictures were taken presenting their creative masterpieces.

Below: The iconic Lego ad from 1981 with Rachel Giordano when she was four years old and in 2014 at the age of 37. The ad from 1981 became more or less a symbol of what toy advertising should look like. Giordano: "LEGOs were ‘Universal Building Sets’ and that’s exactly what they were…for boys and girls. Toys are supposed to foster creativity. But nowadays, it seems that a lot more toys already have messages built into them before a child even opens the pink or blue package. In 1981, LEGOs were simple and gender-neutral, and the creativity of the child produced the message. In 2014, it's the reverse: the toy delivers a message to the child, and this message is weirdly about gender." With her criticism, she refers to the LEGO Friends line. Giordano's main message is that "creativity is not a boy thing or a girl thing". What it is is different. (via)

photos via and via and via and via and via and via and via and via

For a historical perspective on the LEGO gender gap see

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Update (December 2014): Lego instructions from 1974 in English and German (via and via)

Friday 14 February 2014

Quoting Diana Ross

"Years ago I wanted to buy an apartment in New York City. I was a single female - I had gone through my divorce - I had three children, I was in a show business and black. It was, like, impossible."
Diana Ross

"I don't judge people by their sexual orientation or the color of their skin, so I find it really hard to identify someone by saying that they're a gay person or a black person or a Jewish person."
Diana Ross

Diana Ernestine Earle Ross, "Female Entertainer of the Century", started her career as a founding member of The Supremes (via). The Supremes were a symbol of "changing race relations and the breaking of racial barriers" as they challenged the centuries-old stereotypes of black women. They became both style icons and role models (via).

Weekend Supremes Link Pack:

- Where did your love go: watch
- The Happening: watch & watch
- Love is like an itching in my heart: watch
- I hear a symphony: watch

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Photographs via and via and via

Wednesday 12 February 2014

Lois Lane is Curious and Black

"Are you sure you want to go through with this, Lois?"
"Yes, Superman! Close the body mold and switch on the power! It's important that I live the next 24 hours as a black woman!"

The Civil Rights movement had an impact on mass media and comic books were no exception. Marvel created "Black Panther" in 1966, DC's superheroes started supporting minorities and "rarely missing an opportunity to make some sort of comment on state of race-relations". Superman stories had hardly included African Americans for some decades. In the early 1970s, however, mutual respect became one of "the" messages.

In Superman's Girl Friend Lois Lane #106 (Nov. 1970) "I am Curious (Black)!", Lois Lane wants to write an article on Metropolis district "Little Africa" but has difficulties finding African Americans to interview as they reject her because of her ethnicity. Superman offers her to enter his Plastimold and change her skin colour for 24 hours. With her altered skin colour, Lois Lane finds acceptance among African Americans and rejection among her former friends. The story portrayed Black Power, tended to reinforce some stereotypes but had a clear diversity message and was a large success (Zeichmann, 2012).

Lois Lane decides to take the underground.

Zeichmann, C. B. (2012) Black Like Lois. Confronting Racism, Configuring African American Presence. In: Darowski, J. J. (ed.) The Ages of Superman. Essays on the Man of Steel in Changing Times. Jefferson: McFarland & Company, 78-90
Images via and via and via and via and via

Monday 10 February 2014

The -ism Series (8): Heterosexism

The term "heterosexism" is an alternative to "homophobia" and was created to point out similarities to other -isms such as sexism or racism (Logie et al., 2007). Heteronormativity is described as "the myriad ways in which heterosexuality is produced as a natural, unproblematic, taken-for-granted phenomenon" which leads to the idea of heterosexuality as the norm and, consequently, other types as abnormal (Habarth, 2008). It refers to the privileges that are associated with the groups representing "the norm" and the oppression of those that are "the other" (Logie et al., 2007). Heteronormative social pressure (Habarth, 2008), stigma, bias, discrimination and devaluation can affect the social, mental and physical well-being of queer populations. In fact, a greater prevalence of psychological problems and disorders are found among them ranging from depression and anxiety to substance abuse (Logie et al., 2007).

One thought-provoking tool to raise awareness for the many situations those representing the other get into and questions and explanations they are confronted with is the "Heterosexism Questionnaire" which can be downloaded here.

Habarth, J. M. (2008) Thinking "Straight": Heteronormativity and Associated Outcomes across Sexual Orientation. Michigan: Dissertation (via)
Logie, C., Bridge, T. J. & Bridge, P. D. (2007) Evaluationg the Phobias, Attitudes, and Cultural Competence of Master of Social Work Students Toward the LGBT Populations. Journal of Homosexuality, 53(4), 201-221
McGeorge, C. & Stone Carlson, T. (2009) Deconstructing heterosexism: Becoming an LGBT affirmative heterosexual couple and family therapist. Journal of Marital and Family Therapy, 1-13, doi: 10.1111/j.1752-0606.2009.00149.x

Photos from the early days of the the gay rights movement (Life) 1971, via

Friday 7 February 2014

Alfred Hitchcock and the Role of Today's Grandfathers

From a family standpoint, grandparents have the symbolic roles of just being there, of being the family watchdog, the arbitrator and/or being active participants in the family's social construction of its history. From the grandchildren's standpoint, grandparents are historians, mentors, role models, nurturers and ... wizards. And wizards they are: Grandfathers - when they act as surrogate parents for children of teenager - can prevent intellectual and adaptive deficits and enhance cognitive development (Wilton & Davey, 2006). According to a Danish study, modern grandfathers change diapers and take the grandchildren to school. They take a role that was traditionally attributed to grandmothers (via).

Wilton, V. & Davey, J. A. (2006) Grandfathers - Their Changing Family Roles and Contributions (via)
Photo of Alfred Hitchcock with his grandchildren via

Wednesday 5 February 2014

Quoting Faye Dunaway

"Years are not important, my dear."
Faye Dunaway

Photo of Faye Dunaway by Terry O'Neill via, quote via

Monday 3 February 2014

Gender Sensitive Urban Planning

The relationship between gender and space is one that is not new to research. On the basis that men and women tend to use public space differently, gender is (more and more) integrated into spatial policy-making in order to ensure a more equal and accessible environment for all. Cities, in that context, are seen as "manifestations of ideas on what society was, is and how it should be" (Burgess, 2008).

With the aim to provide equal access to city resources, the city of Vienna started gender mainstreaming in the early 1990s - an approach that "reshaped" the city. Laws, rules and regulations are to benefit both men and women. Part of it are, for instance, housing that makes life easier for women and redesigned parks. A study showed that after the age of nine the number of girls in public parks dropped. Changes in park design led to changes in behaviour almost immediately. In 2008, the United Nations Human Settlements Programme listed the "fair shared city" of Vienna among its best practices (via).

Burgess, G. (2008) Planning and the Gender Equality Duty - why does gender matter? People, Place & Policy Online, 2/3, 112-121
Photos by Norman Parkinson (on top from 1949) via and via