La Research Paper

1016 words - 5 pages

There is no doubt that the particular layout of space of the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition reflected the gender inequalities that existed within American society at the time. In particular, the Women’s Building offered a microcosm of the prejudices that dominated the overall landscape of the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition. Although the men who organized the Columbian Exposition were unable to exclude women’s achievements altogether from the exposition, they were successful in relegating them into a bounded unit that overwhelmingly categorized their contributions as different and marginal, framing womanliness as “soft,” “delicate,” and “refined.” Discussions of the Women’s ...view middle of the document...

” The fact that the Board did not have a say in the selection of the building’s architect, despite their primary role as the creators and managers of the Women’s Building, demonstrated the continuing power disparities between the two genders.
Overall, the Women’s Building remained within a much-contested terrain of gender, class and racial identity. Despite their challenges to the representation of civilization as male, the Board of Lady Managers remained exclusive to upper class white women concerned mainly with philanthropic endeavors rather than with suffrage activism. While white women successfully opened up space for the Women’s Building in a much male-dominated exposition, they simultaneously rejected the inclusion of women of color. Indeed, the Board deployed their own discourse of civilization in which “primitive” women only figured as “representations of the work of white women’s own distant evolutionary foremothers” so as to demonstrate the importance of civilized, white women in the progress of civilization. Therefore, other than serving as a tool to advance white women’s own civilization discourse, nonwhite women did not figure in the Women’s Building or the White City for that matter. However, Ida B. Wells and Frederick Douglas rebuttal of the fair’s racist representation of civilization through the distribution of The Reason Why the Colored American is not in the World’s Columbian Exposition allowed African Americans to deploy their own discourse of civilization.
Ultimately, the “monopoly of knowledge and interpretation” that the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition sought to establish did not, in fact, exist given the multiple narratives discussed above. In fact, such a monopoly cannot exist if space is understood as always under process because, as geographer Doreen Massey proposes space is composed of a variety of trajectories. Therefore, an understanding of the Women’s Building as either a success or failure for the advancement of women would be one-sided and would overlook the importance of other narratives, however small they may be. Understanding the Women’s Building as a space composed of several trajectories reveals both the tensions and contradictions that resided within the assumption of civilization as intrinsically male as well as the openings for the empowerment of women that were...

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