In essay ‘Outgrowing the Corner of the Kitchen Table’ by Professor Ghislaine Hermanuz in Design and Feminism: Re-visioning Spaces, Places and Everyday Things edited by Joan Rothschild, she discusses the how the domestic environment constitutes the only physical space open for women to create non-domestic work in patriarchal culture, noting that the ‘home is the exclusive domain of women, while the rest of the city and its opportunities for remunerated work constitute the domain of men.’
In Professor Susana Torre’s ‘Expanding the Urban Design Agenda: A Critique of the New Urbanism’ also in Rothschild’s Design and Feminism, she comments that: ‘Much has been made of the increased participation of men in the production of the domestic environment, but women continue to be the primary.’ Whilst progression in responsibility of care for the home and family has been made in the 21st century, it is still the primary responsibility of the mother, the daughter, the wife.
In ‘Outgrowing the Corner of the Kitchen Table’ Ghislaine Hermanuz also writes that ‘Western culture fosters the belief that most women become part of society’s “pro-ductive forces” by stealing time away from their domestic responsibilities and stealing space away from the domestic environment.’ This shows the devaluation of the work by women in professional environments over men: the father likely never seen as ‘stealing’ this time away unlike mother.
An example of how this division of labour resulting from the delineating of physical spaces between genders and how this sustains inequality and currently manifests in contemporary society is the disparity of the pay-gap still found between men and women in Britain. Inequality in the remuneration for the same work reveals the tangible economic discrimination against women, this evident also within design spheres; the report ‘The Design Economy 2018 Executive Summary: The State of Design in the Uk’ from the UK Design Council finding that women on average earn less than men in design.
This is also an issue of representation. This report further found that men dominated the UK’s design industry workforce by 78% compared to the 22% of women.5 This disparity was highlighted yet further when considering specific elements of design that are perceived as being more ‘masculine,’ with product and industrial design being 95% male, digital design being 85%, and architecture being 80%.6
Pertaining to the domestic being the only environment available for women to create work within, Hermanus writes:
‘Thus the notion of “the corner of the kitchen table”: that mythical place where, by force rather than by choice, novels have been written, design competitions have been won, scientific problems have been resolved, while at the same time children’s homework is supervised, socks are mended, meals are prepared.’7
This concept of the ‘corner of the kitchen table’ really struck a chord with me, as it feels very familiar and tangible. This is something I have witnessed in many homes as well as my own; while my father had an office, my mum would sit at the table and study or sew. I thought this would be a really interesting concept to try to execute in wood, and so designed a table the shape of a right angle triangle to try to evoke this ‘corner’ from which I wanted to practice more ‘feminine’ crafts such as sewing. I wanted to keep this small and somewhat uncomfortable to convey the need for another space for women to create.
1 Cheryl Buckley, “Made in Patriarchy: Towards a Feminist Analysis of Women in Design,” Design Issues, 3.2, (Massachusetts, The MIT Press, Autumn 1986) 69
2 Susana Torre, “Expanding the Urban Design Agenda: A Critique of the New Urbanism,” Design and Feminism: Re-visioning Spaces, Places and Everyday Things, eds. Joan Rothschild (New Brunswick: Rutgers UP, 1999) 40.
3 Ghislaine Hermanuz, “Outgrowing the Corner of the Kitchen Table,” Design and Feminism: Re-visioning Spaces, Places and Everyday Things, eds. Joan Rothschild (New Brunswick: Rutgers UP, 1999) 67.
4 Despite it becoming illegal in 1970 in Britain to pay a woman less than a man for the same work, Government figures released in April 2018 have shown that three quarters of British companies still typically pay their male employees more over women; the UK Office for National Statistics found that still men are paid a national average of 9.1% more than women annually. 5 “Gender pay gap in the UK: 2018,” Employment and Labour Market, Office for National Statistics, 5 October 2018.
“The Design Economy 2018 Executive Summary: The State of Design in the UK,” The Design Economy, The UK Design Council, 16-17. June 2018.
6 In “The Design Economy 2018 Executive Summary” it was reported that: ‘Even when employed in design, women earn less. For example, in the multidisciplinary design subsector, women working as product, clothing and related designers earn 18.3% less than men in that subsector despite making up nearly two-thirds of that design subsector (64%). Women are also less likely than men to be in senior roles, with only 17% of design managers being female.’ “The Design Economy 2018 Executive Summary,” 17.
7 Hermanuz, “Outgrowing the Corner of the Kitchen Table,” 67.