Our Department is located in a late 19th century building that was originally a residence, built in New Orleans style, with balconies, wrought iron railings, and staircases on the exterior of the building. The stairs seem a little steep, so you get a work out going up.
One thing I’ve noticed here, over the past decade or so, is how this particular architecture makes certain gender ideologies evident.
For example, sipping a coffee while seated on the benches a ways across from the building, it is sometimes pretty evident that some of the young women, wearing what a cranky old timer would surely characterize as a dangerously short skirt, will cup their skirt’s back end with their hand, holding it against their leg, while heading up the stairs. Modesty apparently dictates as much, since who knows what the breeze will do or who is climbing those steep steps right behind you.
The irony, of course, is that there’s no need to dress in a manner that simultaneously exposes and risks exposing too much. But if one does, then the stairs make evident how those who do dress in this way are subjects immersed in a system that makes demands of them that they occasionally try to resist while willingly giving in on other occasions — after all, it’s what all the cool kids are wearing this season.
Our stairs therefore provide a moment where a specific intertwining of structure and agency is evident — a moment in which resistance is futile…, but we resist nonetheless.