When I say oat milk latte, hot yoga and electric bikes, you say…? Right, gentrified neighbourhoods. It is no news that gentrification excludes lower-income households and results in loss of social coherence – the process is feared by many for its exclusionary, homogenising and discriminating tendencies. But what are the gendered aspects of gentrification? How does a gendered division of labour and capital determine who gets to live in gentrified urban areas? Which types of femininity have come to define women gentrifiers? And what are the parallels between causes of gentrification and gender inequality?
To get a picture of what this means in practice, I don’t have to look far. The apartment I share with two others in the Indische Buurt in Amsterdam used to be social housing. Now, the flat is privately owned and home to a fridge full of plant-based milk and three academically schooled white women in their mid-twenties. Over the past 20 years, the share of social housing here dropped from circa 80% to 57%, whilst private home ownership increased from just over 3% to 22% (with average housing prices rising from €190.000 in 2013 to €378.000 in 2021).
Rising prices of housing, food and services render certain gentrified areas inaccessible to those who can’t afford. €5 lattes, €25 yoga classes and €1800 rents are not for lower-income households – and poverty is a feminist issue (and a racial one). Data treating gender as a binary variable shows that women are less likely to be financially independent than men (e.g. 64% vs. 81% in the Netherlands in 2019). The gender pay gap, divorce and widowhood all contribute to the fact that women-led households on average have smaller purses.
But gender relates to gentrification in more hidden ways too. It is often women with no or part-time jobs who perform the underpaid and unpaid community labour keeping neighbourhoods together. Especially areas in early stages of gentrification often still cope with high rates of drug addiction, ageing, declining welfare services and generational trauma. Here, the community projects and services mostly provided by women form a major part of the local social infrastructure. This kind of work is not carried out by the full-time working professionals flowing into these neighbourhoods. They come to gentrified areas to sleep and recreate, whilst working and contributing to society in the business districts, university campuses and tech hubs elsewhere. The capital they bring is spent on latte macchiatos and electric bikes, not on the community kitchens and charity shops that form the social fabric of the streets they live in.
Amongst the women who get to live in gentrified areas, we also see a form of femininity arising that functions as a marker of class. Bakfietsmoeders (cargo-bike moms) in Amsterdam, vegan yoga girls, and moms frequenting London “yummy mummy bars” exercise their woman- and motherhood in particular ways. Femininity gets, once again, tied to social and environmental awareness, (self-)care, childrearing and homemaking – but now in ways that many can’t afford.
Does gentrification bring nothing good at all to those at the receiving end of discrimination? It does. Studies show that gentrifying urban areas become more progressive and safer for LGBTQIA+Lesbian (L), Gay (G), Bisexual (B), Trans (T), Queer (Q), Intersex (I), Asexual (A), + denotes an umbrella term used by 'marginalised sexual and gender diverse people whose gender, gender expression, or sexual identity do not conform to cis-gender or hetero-dominant gender identity'. This acronym is intersectional by virtue of its nature as well as non-exhaustive and inclusive (as denoted by the +). Over the years, the + has been understood as encompassing Questioning (Q), Two-spirit (TS), or Pansexual (P). In other words, this term represents fluid (non-conforming) notions of gender identity and sexual orientation supposedly transgressing the binary constructs of our society (male v. female and heterosexual v. homosexual).close people, but only for those who can afford. In Istanbul, for instance, transgender women sex workers found greater social support in early stages of gentrification, but were forcibly and violently displaced once room had to be made for large-scale real estate projects. In a similar vein, some argue that (well-off) families moving to city centres is a form of emancipation. It takes stay-at-home moms out of the suburban bubbles to which they were confined after families en masse moved to suburbs in the post-war years. Sure, but their emancipation goes at the expense of less privileged women.
So, does gentrification push out all women? No. Wealthy and academically schooled working women – those living according to the rules that capitalism and patriarchy prescribe – are welcome to walk gentrifying streets in their white sneakers and vintage trench coats. What’s painful is that the drivers and characteristics of gentrification – profit maximisation, underrepresentation, exclusion and othering – are precisely those that account for the gender gaps in health, financial security, and political participation. Women and people of other genders benefitting from gentrification must remind themselves of this, and take a stance against these discriminatory structures that they, knowingly and unknowingly, reproduce.
Fortunately, there are some straightforward ways to do so. Spend your money wisely. Don’t bankroll Starbucks if you can support an independent coffee shop. Greet your neighbours. Visit the widowed lady across the street. Support women-led charities. Talk with people to educate yourself about the neighbourhood history. Help setting up renters’ organisations. Vote for parties that protect social housing and the mid-priced rental segment. Vote for parties that will implement and enforce a self-occupancy obligation. Gentrifiers hold the key not just to renovated homes with wooden floors and spacious kitchens, but also to reversing and mitigating the effects of gentrification. Use it.