Julia Morgan, Zaha Hadid and What it Means to be a Third Wave Feminist or/and an Architect

March 1, 2014 § 2 Comments

Hearst_MorganOk… Third Wave Feminism… overly pretentious label… but I do think there are some important reasons to understand why it was important to distinguish the Third from the Second wave. It is just as important of course to understand the First from the Second. So briefly: First wave feminism was about rights of representation—rights granted directly by the State (i.e. the right to vote). The second wave was about civil rights—rights protected by the State (i.e. civil rights: equal opportunity in the workforce, an end to legal sex discrimination). Third Wave feminism is more difficult to understand vis a vis the role of the State—because in many ways the State has no way of intervening. Third Wave feminism acknowledges that just as women in ‘developed’ countries continue to gain advantages women (men and children both male and female) continue to live in conditions of abject poverty. A global feminism cannot have a single political goal, as its tools are not political (with little to no recourse to the legal structures of State). Thus Third Wave feminism is often criticized for lacking a cohesive political goal—but there can be no cohesive political goal under the umbrella of the Third Wave. That is precisely the point. Third Wave feminism is a transformation of feminism into a critical and global practice—an unending, Sisyphean, non-teleological praxis.

<<<To sort out any confusion theThird Wave did not overtake the Second Wave which has yet to complete its agenda (e.g. the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009, which is simply an extension of the State’s ability to protect rights guaranteed by the 1964 Civil Rights Act).>>>

To clarify my point and to explain what got me thinking about this… I came across Julia Morgan today while doing some dissertation research and started to think about her relationship with William Randolph Hearst. Julia Morgan’s amazing architecture is all over Berkeley and there are even some wonderful examples of her work in my humble home town of Riverside. I came across her name again today because I was doing some research on the École des Beaux Arts (she was the first female admitted to those old and vaunted halls in 1898). Third Wave feminism basically gives us the framework in which we can start to think about Julia Morgan as more than just a feminist hero. Sure, it may seem troubling or even meddlesome or mean spirited to pick on dear Julia. By the way this criticism would be on the order of Alexandra Kollontai criticizing Mary Wollstonecraft’s Vindication of the Rights of Women. That is to say, while the women of the privileged classes gain ground, they build it on the labor of women in servitude. Julia Morgan (though she may have not been paid what a man in that position was paid) earned well and was a sought after and respected artist. She exercised her right to vote in 1920, and so she remains, and should remain a hero of the first and second wave of feminism.

But she will never be a hero of the Third Wave. And here I would like to bring up a little historical coincidence that involves both Hearst and Morgan—the year 1898. Morgan was finally admitted to the École in the same year that the United States declared war on Spain and subsequently took the Philippines (and Cuba and Puerto Rico… though their colonial status was slightly different) as their first colonial possessions. The Spanish American War was Hearst’s and Pulitzer’s motherlode… it helped these men amass the wealth that built America’s most resplendent—and architecturally significant mansions.  Hearst and Pulitzer’s jingoistic sensationalism also helped propel America onto the global stage, and out of its closet of isolationism. It was at this time that the importance of women as a voting block gained importance, just as new and complex problems of the global economy were coming to the fore.  The consummation of the marriage between women of privilege and American entrepreneurialism results in the architectural orgy of a certain gilded castle. This unbelievable fantasy of cobalt glass and shimmering light is undeniably beautiful—but can we really call it a feminist triumph? A monument to feminism? Or is it quite simply a monument to the enormous disparities in wealth created at the turn of the 20th c.?

Screen Shot 2014-03-01 at 1.01.29 PM

Can architects be progressive? Can they operate as feminists, or only as architects? Do architects have any political agency? Or is the mere fact that they are there—today on the global stage (see below) enough reason to celebrate?

al-Wakrah stadium

Now the building above has received a great deal of attention for resembling if not representing an (ahem) feminine form. I really don’t care about that—that is for stupid Freudians and college humor memes. Zaha Hadid, the female architect, in a recent interview with The Guardian, claimed that the inequalities that exist at the Qatar jobsite (this building like all others in Qatar are being built with armies of immigrant labor, mostly from South and Southeast Asia) are not her problem. More than 800 workers have died on the job in Qatar, but those numbers are probably alot higher than these reported deaths.

By the way I compared what is happening in Qatar to slavery on Facebook… no love on that post, or rather no “likes”. Now at the risk of sounding like I take facebook seriously as a gauge of my friends’ support or non-support of my political views, let me defend this statement.  By comparing what is happening in Qatar to slavery I don’t intend to trivialize it as Sarah Palin does when she compared future taxation to conditions of slavery. Rather, I wanted to point out that deplorable, inhumane and deadly conditions quite closely mirror the conditions of slavery, and that an appropriate response to that history is to seek out those conditions and decry them wherever we see them, rather than languish in the miserable corners of our shameful history. What I’m trying to say is that I’m not interested in history as the sacralization of a national guilt complex, rather I would hope that what we saw in history we can still see today. That is the lesson of history. Yes things have changed… what is different, perhaps is the relative lack of interpersonal relations of dominance (the laborers in Qatar and their employers exhibit all of the characteristics of the abstract labor relation a la Marx). But I digress.

Third wave feminism also gives us the framework in which feminists can hold Zaha accountable, just as Third Wave feminists will hold Julia Morgan accountable for making choices that are in fact within their purview.

To be continued… (back to my research on the École).


§ 2 Responses to Julia Morgan, Zaha Hadid and What it Means to be a Third Wave Feminist or/and an Architect

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