Smash the Patriarchy

How the “Shitty Architecture Men” list can address abuse in architecture

Newsletter Professional Practice
(Andrew Worley via Unsplash)
(Andrew Worley via Unsplash)

How “The List” works 

Thanks to the #MeToo movement and the Shitty Architecture Men list, many survivors of harassment and assault in the architecture industry will, for the first time, experience the sense that they are believed and validated. They can recognize that the abuse of power follows recognizable patterns, and is neither unique nor deserved. While discrete “whisper networks” in the field have long helped people avoid or confront misconduct, now people can find each other and realize they are not alone.

For many on the receiving end of intimidation, bias, assault, and harassment in architecture, the scope of what has been revealed is old news. But some people have told me that it has already deepened their understanding of the systematic nature and urgency of the problem. As a compendium of case studies identifying specific behaviors as misconduct, the list rejects the normalization of bullying, coercion, and abuse of power as standard architecture culture. By describing a wide range of behavior beyond clear-cut instances of sexual harassment and assault alone, the list also signals how institutions and workplaces can respond to the full spectrum of issues. For example, a university administration’s acceptance of one professor’s casual bullying and racism might predict a tendency to dismiss complaints about sexual harassment and assault.

The experiences shared on the list also reveal how some benefit from the current culture, while others are constantly doing the work of avoiding, processing, recovering from, or confronting misconduct. These dynamics play out unequally along gender, race, class, and disability lines, all of which constitute a profound burden on those who bear the brunt of impact. That labor is layered on top of all of the other work that comprises being an architect.

The list’s impact is immeasurable; it might alter where someone decides to study (and invest their money) or work (whom they allow to benefit from their labor). Ideally, harassment and abuse will diminish, and it will become typical to practice active consent and foster environments of mutual respect so we can all equally focus on design.

(Bench Accounting via Unsplash)

So you are on the list… 

For those who find themselves named on the list, or who are not named but recognize therein behaviors they have enacted or defended, there are many resources to support one’s accountability and transformation. Cooper’s 6 Levels identifies a spectrum of harassing behavior. The Predator Within shares the account of someone who reins in predatory tendencies by intentionally declining positions of authority over his target population. So You’ve Sexually Harassed or Abused Someone: What Now? provides a step-by-step accountability plan that applies to many situations not only sexual harassment and abuse, but other types of harm.

Before taking any action, activating your PR defense, or beseeching the moderators to remove your name, take the time to steep yourself in the fact that you are on the list. You are on it because you have harmed someone so deeply that they are compelled to warn others about you. Your inclusion means that someone doesn’t trust you enough to confront you directly. Acknowledge all of the feelings that arisefear, guilt, indignation, griefbefore you do anything else.  

Some of you must admit that you are unfit to hold power over the populations you target for harassment and abuse. This includes those who have not harassed or abused anyone outright, but who protected or minimized such behavior. Some of you must resign from your positions, and transfer authority and decision-making powers to others. Return your awards and honors. Decline your funding so others can benefit from it. Move out of the way.

You must pay your debts. Apology is not enough. Ijeoma Oluo’s So You’ve Sexually Harassed or Abused Someone: What Now? discusses the toll of misconduct in terms of lost resources. Multiple contributions to the list describe faculty and administrators who undermined their students’ education through sexist and racist harassment, bullying, intimidation, and assaultor who allowed perpetrators to continue unimpeded. This is, in effect, a theft of their tuition.

The list also describes many types of workplace harassment. If your colleague takes a sick day to seek medical attention after you assault her, then you’ve stolen hours from her employer and you’ve stolen her pay while making her appear less dedicated to the work compared to you. If he avoids spaces where you might be present after you bully or harass him, you are depriving him of vital networks. In the long run, you have activated trauma, leading to depression and anxiety, which can lower capacity and cause many other distressing effects. All of this can accrue into a lifetime of suppressed wages and promotion denials, in addition to medical and therapy bills, on top of the immeasurable impact of the psychological and physical harm. This is how to calculate the cost of your misconduct.

The personal, professional, and financial burden of recovering from harassment and assault typically falls upon survivors. To reverse this pattern, actual cash reparations from aggressors, institutions or workplaces will materially restore some of what was nonconsensually taken. Make student loan payments for the student you assaulted or bullied, commensurate with the tuition for the class or degree in which your misconduct foreclosed their opportunities. Pay the medical and therapy bills of the colleague you harassed. Do this without expecting forgiveness, or forcing any interaction beyond the barest logistical minimum. Money cannot undo trauma, but it can eliminate some stressors that compound it.

(Annie Spratt via Unsplash)

(Annie Spratt via Unsplash)

What everyone (especially bosses, clients, and institutions) can do: 

Many have been saying, “The culture must change,” but what does that actually mean? It means that the institutional conditions that encourage aggressors to flourish need to be eliminated. It means that we must all share the work of confronting harassment and assault, whether on the spot or over the long term. It means we cannot address sexual harassment and gender disparity as if they exist in a vacuum — we must simultaneously confront racism, classism, and other forms of systemic oppression that make architecture a source of displacement and exclusion.

Changing the culture means fostering an environment where openness and support are normalized. Supervisors and administrators should open dialogue with people who seem to be struggling, rather than penalizing them. Offer to revisit workloads and move deadlines so impacted people don’t have to ask. State upfront that if someone must leave due to personal circumstances, they can still reach out for introductions and references. Offer to serve as a reference for a colleague who was unfairly fired, or a student who drops a class due to harassment or similar misconduct. Allocate funds for survivors who drop classes or take time off work due to violence and assault. Model asking for support, to normalize such behavior. All of us (especially those who are disadvantaged in a power dynamic) should be able to approach a colleague or supervisor with a problem, and trust it will be taken seriously and addressed promptly without risking one’s livelihood.

Changing the culture means devoting time and resources to designing actionable processes. People who have been impacted by bullying, harassment and assault should know what steps they can take and what resources are available to have the time to recover individually. And cultural recovery requires that those who perpetrated sexual misconduct or other kinds of violence must also have restorative processes available to them. Accountability processes cannot continue a carceral culture of “throwing transgressors away.” Instead, they must focus on fostering transformation. Otherwise we risk simply moving the problem to another school or workplace.

These are just some suggestions and ideas. Much more can be done, and architects, who address complex issues in their work, are more than capable of orienting themselves to the task of cutting out their own “shitty” behavior. You teach in the world’s most elite institutions. You figured out how to construct unprecedented skyscrapers. You master-planned entire swaths of major cities. You can figure this out.

S. Surface is a Seattle-based curator of art, architecture and design. ​

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