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It's Time to Stop Describing Spaces as 'Masculine' or 'Feminine'

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Others have made the point before, but the ongoing use of the words "masculine" and "feminine" in design writing has us, the staff of Curbed National, feeling it needs to be stated again, as clearly as possible: the people who write about decor and design need to stop describing spaces with gendered terms.

It's an easy fix. Decor bloggers, shelter editors, design writers: don't type the words "masculine" or "manly" or "feminine" or "ladylike" or "girly" when describing spaces. Don't use any other words that prescribe gender to furniture or interiors.

Let's say two spaces were written up in a decor blog, and one was described as masculine, and the other feminine. Which would have white walls? Which would have raw concrete floors? Which would remind you more of Pinterest? Which would have more heavy leather furniture? In which would the books be ordered by color, and what would that say about the person who organized them that way? Which would have more antlers and dark throws?

If these have fairly easy answers, it's because we're in the realm of stereotype. The uncharitable term for a writer who channels stereotypes without some measure of ironic distance is "hack." Curbed National writers have used these terms before. Curbed National writers have stopped.

The use of the words "masculine" and "feminine" to describe spaces harks back to one of the very first lessons children learn in school; what boys do and what girls do. This is one of those parts of culture that it's very good to train yourself out of, or be trained out of, or never learn in the first place.

Many people across the spectrum of gender and sexuality have complicated relationships with what society seems to expect from them. It would be cool if these people could engage in the leisurely practice of reading about furniture or interiors without having some of the shallowest of those expectations foisted upon them.

It's important to note that femininity, by and large, is considered an additive. In interior design, it's translated to fresh flowers, stemware, and bed skirts. It is ephemeral where masculinity is formidable. It is whimsical where masculinity is utilitarian. It is antiqued where masculinity is modern. Lace and chintz exist only in "feminine" spaces.

If spareness and raw architecture are "masculine," then we're essentially saying that traditionally "feminine" decorating is frivolous. Suddenly those who associate themselves with femininity become a little less essential and a little less relevant. And, in the end, maybe just a little less.

Who wants to live in a world where all of that is taken for granted? Some might, but why would we trust those people to advise us in matters of style? It's laughable in an era where the most prominent proponent of pink in the world of industrial design is a man, and the most sought-after and vilified hero-architect in the world is a woman.

Gendered design writing is lazily offensive. But more to the point, it's offensively lazy. We can do better.