Exposing Pigs, Architecturally


2 March 2018

The scale of the sexual harassment and abuse of women around the world comes as no surprise to all women and some men (particularly those responsible for it, one assumes). Squint a bit, and the problem raises an interesting question for architects and urban planners, especially when legislation to address the question is at stake. How might designers and thinkers respond if street harassment were illegal, for example, as is already the case in countries including Portugal, Belgium and Peru?

The hashtag #BalanceTonPorc (“expose your pig”, or perhaps, “squeal on your pig”) was France’s poetic version of the #MeToo hashtag that exploded in the wake of the Harvey Weinstein news (although the hashtag is much older). France, too, is currently debating whether to bring in anti-catcalling legislation. Marlène Schiappa, the French minister for gender equality, said, quite reasonably: “You can’t go to work if, while you’re walking between your house and your office, you are constantly interrupted by men who are asking you for your number… [or] following you.”

How, then, might such policies shape the urban environment? There will surely be those who object to the new laws on the basis of freedom of speech or out of nostalgia for some kind of mythical golden age in which men said things to women and they liked it. One might mourn the need for such laws, imagining instead that awareness of the issue might be enough to curb it. In the sad absence of such decency, it is easy to imagine a rather totalitarian response – repurposing CCTV cameras to pick up on certain words, rather like speed cameras capturing registration plates, for example, or banning all interaction with strangers in particular zones. Or offenders could be zapped with lasers attached to buildings… the possibilities are endless.

A debate about male sexual behaviour is needed before we think about prevention, or even punishment. We should ask ourselves, where does the need to shout at strangers come from? Is it an assertion of power? An attempt to distract women from their own preoccupations and inner lives? We already have so many alienating “public” spaces that are really uneasy private spaces; while protecting women from harassment, we need not to run to solutions that will only mean more policing, security and state intervention.