Gendering the city, gendering the nation: Contesting urban space in Fes, Morocco

Newcomb, R.

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Newcomb, R. (2006). Gendering the city, gendering the nation: Contesting urban space in Fes, Morocco. City & Society, 18(2), 288–311.

Gender , Islam , Morocco , Public Space , Social Interactions

An actor-centered approach to the gendering of urban spaces demonstrates how individuals respond to competing ideologies in determining the rules that surround women’s presence in urban, Muslim spaces. This article examines how women in the Ville Nouvelle of Fes, Morocco draw on local conceptualizations of hospitality, kinship, and shame as they debate the gendering of four urban areas: the street, the café, a cosmopolitan exercise club, and cyber space. Women’s tactics for occupying social space indicate the resilience of local culture in the face of ideologies that attempt to posit a specific vision of women in the Moroccan nation state.

Main finding
The author argues that the everyday practices of women, in the social spaces of the city, assert ideas of their proper place in the built environment while shaping discourse on the overall position of women in the country’s society. For example, women that patronized cafes were predominantly middle class, professional, or students and their comfort levels were contingent upon the proprietor's recognition of their familial and professional status. These women felt free to linger in cafes spaces, but not in streets, as that is the men's domain and harassment is frequent depending on how a woman presents herself or is presumed to behave. In sum, the city’s women employ different tactics to make their presence in the public sphere more acceptable, such as imbuing it with aspects of the domestic sphere, invoking the concept of shame, or adhering to local values while subverting certain norms.

Description of method used in the article
The author conducted 18 months of fieldwork including structured and unstructured interviews, genealogies, surveys, maps, and participant observations in several local places including: the local neighborhoods, streets, houses, cafes, public baths, schools, shops, offices etc. Applied DeCerteau's concept of 'everyday practices' to understand how agency is regained via manipulating competing ideologies.

Of practical use

Organising categories

Crime and Aggression
Field Observations
Physical types
Geographic locations