Streets ordered by lengthWe decided to plot these streets by gender, men and women. Each rectangle represents a street of Porto. Its height is proportional to the street's actual length. Hover the mouse on each rectagle to see the street's name and length.
Yup, still going! 😅
Almost there... 🏃
The total length of streets named after men is 14 times bigger than of the ones named after women.
The oppression of women has always had a territorial component. In ancient Greece, public space and citizen participation in the Polis was reserved for men. Women and slaves were consigned to the sphere of the home and production, and their access to various parts of the city was prohibited. From the 19th century onwards, and as more economically developed societies became industrialised, the concept of "separate spheres" was reinforced. According to this socially constructed conception, men were responsible for providing economic resources for their families, through paid work that required them to move around the public sphere. Women were responsible for caring for the home and children, and their activity was restricted to the domestic sphere.
Even today, the public space is a place of dispute of social constructions of gender and power asymmetries.
Not only are women under-represented, the most important streets with names of women are named after saints and religious figures. Apart from the religious and dynastic figures, there is a small minority of streets named after feminine writers, artists, teachers, an engineer and a scientist. Hover the mouse on each rectagle and the labels.
It should be noted that, despite this classification by professions, several of these women were recognised for their political work. Virgínia Moura and Maria Lamas are examples, both with a legacy of anti-fascist resistance and feminist struggle.
The attribution of names to streets is a way of paying homage and not letting legacies that deserve to be remembered fall into oblivion.
Initiatives such as the petition for the attribution of the name of Gisberta Salce to a city street, launched by the Porto Pride March, proves that. The legacy of Gisberta, a trans woman, victim of transphobia and murdered in 2006, deserves to be remembered.
Despite this petition, the response from the President of the city's Toponymy Commission was that "we could not establish a relationship between Gisberta and Porto" and that "we think that the person herself did nothing for Porto". This response was then overriden in a subsequent vote of that comission that finally allowed the name of Gisberta to be shortlisted to a future street name. However, this discourse configures the denial of a legacy, much more than an isolated case of a crime, that mobilises society and brought the term "transphobia" into the public debate. Decisions like this are condemnations to the invisibilization of women and minority groups.
Toponymy is not a simple detail or an arbitrary process: it is made of political and ideological choices that reinforce hegemonic narratives. It is necessary to reflect on them.
Selected as one of the Best Visual and Data-Driven Stories of 2022 by The Pudding
The data and code used for this essay are openly available here. We used Open Street Maps data regarding street names and location, and Mapbox for the interactive map.
Franck K.A., Paxson L. (1989) Women and Urban Public Space. In: Altman I., Zube E.H. (eds) Public Places and Spaces. Human Behavior and Environment (Advances in Theory and Research), vol 10. Springer, Boston, MA.
Santiago, Isabeli & Medeiros, Alicia. (2020). O Tour Feminista Da Cidade do Porto como uma Prática Poética de Resistência Urbana e Historiografia Radical. Inhumas, ano 8, n.21. ISSN: 2316-8102.