For you, Flâneuse

by Andrea Alonso

The flâneur was a familiar face of 19th century France: white, bourgeois and male, languidly consuming the cityscape on foot, clouded romance and wonder in his eyes. A glorified idler in time where cities were gendered spaces — seemingly unfit for the amblings, gazes and inspired musings of women. Confined to the private sphere, women were barred from entering the patriarchal writings on modern city life — dwelling in the shadowed corners of history; silenced by social construct, but ever-present. The feminine equivalent of the word, flâneuse, did not exist until 1985 when Janet Wolff unveiled these forgotten women in her incisive essay “The Invisible Flâneuse: Women and the Literature of Modernity.” Wolff argues that these flâneuses had not been forgotten, but rather masked with duplicitous identities: a woman walking the streets was assumed to be a “whore, widow or murder victim” — an anomaly to the norm, a tainted figure in a city’s lacquered memoir.  

A flâneuse, then, could not have existed in the strict sense of its masculine definition. Whereas flâneurs were marked by ennui, ambivalence and a general detachment from the cityscape, flâneuses were rooted in action and color. They took to the streets defiantly, to engage and be engaged within the public sphere, grasping, pushing and pulling the city beneath them. With their experiences left unwritten, I imagine these invisible flâneuses sweeping through the city, tenaciously forging paths and transforming space into place on their own accord. These streets, these sights, this sun-drenched light have always been for you, fllâneuse.