I met a woman at the City Council hearing about safety for people who bike yesterday that told me she went to a meeting of urbanists once and didn’t get a word in edgewise in a room full of men.
I heard from a man the other night that said he didn’t feel comfortable posting in the main online forum that exists in Seattle because he felt that if he veered at all off the main message that he might get called racist for being a single-family homeowner that doesn’t want complete un-zoning of his community and he didn’t want people who are his coworkers “to see him being called racist publicly online”.
I heard last week from a successful woman who feels tokenized in photographs when she is with other urbanists. “See, we have a person of color at this event!” she heard someone say.
And on Twitter, I recently spoke to a stranger for a while who lives in Seattle who is a well known writer, and she told me I need to write about the experiences of women feeling unwelcome in pro-density spaces…that it is a very real thing and it is hurting policy that will move us toward becoming a more welcoming city.
And the main thing I have felt is that any anger people feel about climate change or housing injustice gets directed inward at anyone who might see things a little differently.
There are folks who don’t think there’s time to stop to find out why a person thinks a little differently or make space for different narratives or the role someone’s current job might impact their ability to speak out about a certain topic. (I’m guilty of that last one.)
I was told yesterday I needed to do more to encourage women to speak out on in an online forum dominated by housing policy wonkery and to bring different people to the table to discuss urbanism—as someone that is a woman and was born in Colombia, I have the ability to bring people to the table. Why do I want to bring people to the table and (metaphorically) serve them bad food and have them feel like they are invisible in the room?
I have asked most of the women I’ve met in the last few months to share their thoughts in public forums. Most, if they are familiar with these spaces, have said politely “no, thanks. I don’t have time to be ‘mansplained’ to all day.”
And the folks who are women of color I’ve spoken to have basically said that urbanism is so white as a movement they don’t see their narratives reflected in the discussions happening not an understanding that different communities experience power structures in different ways. Displacement looks different to different people. “Housing” and “affordable housing” mean different things to different people.
The lack of room for nuance and for a variety of flavors of urbanism is excluding people from the conversation.
It isn’t just about a space that feels safe for people, a space for them to not be attacked but a space that allows people to speak without everyone trying to get the last word.
I want pro-density, forward-thinking spaces that accommodate people’s feelings and emotions to be respected. Some people think that those online spaces are less authentic and call it “tone policing”.
We want people to get involved on- and off-line and ask ourselves: Why aren’t there more women here at this event? Why are there rarely people from communities of color? And then when I’ve tried to explain why I’m told—well, we aren’t going to make everyone happy with our message—without any sense that this is the attitude that makes people feel unwelcome.
Laura Loe (Bernstein)
Laura Loe (Bernstein) is an educator, musician, and gardener from Colombia/NY/LA/Chicago who has lived in Seattle since 2009. Her writing has appeared in Data for Progress, The Urbanist, The Seattle Globalist, South Seattle Emerald, and International Examiner. She is passionate about womxn urbanist voices, climate justice, community ownership, equitable community development and renters' rights. Laura founded Share the Cities with like-minded folks and performs civic matchmaking that leads to unlikely allyships. She tweets as @sharethecities and @lauraloeseattle and is supported by 90 monthly patrons on Patreon.