23 Oct Why are there so Few Women Cartographers?
Reading Denise Scott Brown’s “Sexism and the Star System in Architecture” (1989) alongside Eileen Pollack’s “Why are there Still No Women in Science?” (New York Times Oct. 2013) Women in both science and architecture fight an uphill battle due to the long tradition of white, male tyranny (Sorry, boys!).
In the Freudian or Jungian sense, whichever, Man has always been the sex privileged to explore, pillage, and stake claim on a territory meant to be inhabited by both sexes. So it comes to me as no surprise that the credit of cartography and nomenclature of a space–the documentation–would go to a man as well. Robert Venturi’s name is inscribed first on Learning from Las Vegas and Scott Brown’s second, which indicates whether factually or not that he was the primary writer and maybe even mentor. That she says in her article that she played a much larger role than she was attributed does not surprise me, because it is for the same reason that there are so few women in science–because of lack of encouragement to do so on the one hand and misattribution or casting away of her credit on the other.
Scott Brown states, “sexism defines me as a scribe, typist, and photographer to my husband.” Though she means that she has been misunderstood to play a secondary role to her husband, (“How does he sleep at night?” asks my S.O.), I would like to use this as a moment to invert this statement to something else: She is indeed a scribe, but rather than regurgitating Venturi’s words onto paper, I mean to revert agency to her own hand. Her command to design, plans, and the layout of a city as well as to the book Learning from Las Vegas as an object describes a inscriptive power unique to her. “Scribe” and “inscription” share the same root word from the Latin scriptum, which I take to mean an authoritative movement of the hand. Her authoritative gesture is present in both the plans and designs of her architectural career, but also the plans and layout of her design work in the book itself, (another form of architecture).
Muriel Cooper’s modernist and unpopular layout design of the first edition (1972) was itself like a duck, (meaning like the building The Long Island Duckling): obvious, modernist, literal. It begged a reinterpretation more deadpan. (See: Re-learning from Las Vegas, ed. Aron Vinegar and Michael Golec, 2009.) Thus we are given Scott Brown’s straightforward layout found in the revised edition. I interpret this gesture, literally, to be authoritative (albeit a bit boring, but certainly more comprehensible), but as a cartographical trace inscription overlaying the city. Maybe another question to ask would be, “Why are there Still so Few Women Cartographers?”