De-Gendered Design: Why We’re No Longer Using Masculine & Feminine To Describe Interiors

Design: Palm Beach Black Via Architectural Digest & Snøhetta Via New York Magazine

From the moment we enter this world, humans are immediately labeled by the gender norms of society – and all the characteristics that go with them. Masculine and feminine become all-encompassing terms to describe behavior, actions, and activities. And these gender labels aren’t just for humans – they even extend into the world of interior design

 

 

Gendered terms have permeated almost every area of our life, from our clothing to our careers to the ways we express ourselves. And while many people are now redefining the role of gender and what that means to each individual, it continues to have a major influence on how we characterize every part of life. And in our homes, spaces are often characterized as masculine or feminine based on the design style, colors, textures, and materials used. But since a room does not have a gender, it doesn’t make sense to describe it with gendered terms. That’s why we’re no longer using these terms – and encourage you to do the same. 

 

Keep scrolling to learn more about the origins of using gendered terms – and how we can refer to interiors instead.

 

Read even more about how to refer to design in our post Room For Improvement: How Design Terms Can Be More Inclusive.

 

“Since a room does not have a gender, it doesn’t make sense to describe it with gendered terms.”
Bobby
Photo: Anders Valde
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Masculine & Feminine IN DESIGN

 

When we examine masculine and feminine, it becomes clear that these terms are based on stereotypes and long-held cultural “norms”.

“Masculine” is used to refer to anything typically associated with men and the physical characteristics of strength and ruggedness. While “feminine” is an all-encompassing descriptor for all things stereotypically female, soft or delicate. Therefore when describing interiors, masculine is often the label used for industrial spaces, dark colors, and lots of woodwork, while feminine is used for spaces with light colors, floral motifs, and softer more pastel shades.

But when we generalize interior design in these terms, we not only enforce gender stereotypes, we also limit design and how we think of materials, patterns, colors, and styles.

 

By allowing all design components to exist outside the realm of gender classification, we can see interiors for simply what they are – beautiful spaces.

 

Removing gender labels from interiors also helps us see how we have categorized other inanimate objects, and how constricting it can be for us to use gender to describe things in those terms. And while we have all been conditioned to categorize and apply gender, the good thing is we can also unlearn these ideas. We want to challenge that norm and we want to challenge the design world to think beyond some of the things that have become so commonplace. So, challenge yourself to re-think how you view a space – without applying gender to it.

HOW DO WE de-gender design

Rather than using the word masculine to describe a dark, moody, minimal, rustic or any combo of the aforementioned descriptors, instead, take the gender out of it and describe the room by what is in it. The room could be moody and minimal, or industrial and bright. It’s about de-gendering with your description vs boxing it all into one word.

The same goes for rooms that may be classified as feminine. Rather than calling a pink, light and airy room feminine instead call it light and bright or pink and inviting. Challenging ourselves to not lump a room into what gender we think would gravitate towards that room will help us to de-gender design and work towards a more inclusive and descriptive design vocabulary.

Simply think of things as what they are, and not what you’ve been told they are. You may be surprised at just how a small shift in perspective can give you a whole new outlook.

What are your thoughts on de-gendering design? Let us know in the comments below? 

 

  1. Bobby, I am soo happy to see this post. I don’t question my gender or anything but I wholeheartedly embrace the idea of not being defined by it. For women, who have been so constrained all our lives in terms of choice of careers, dress etc etc I love the freedom that getting rid of stereotypes gives us all. We can relearn..thank you.

    1. Our homes should be designed to make us happy without the boundaries or ideas of gender…Along with all other aspects of our lives! Thanks for reading and stay inspired! xx -B

  2. Hi, I totally agree, since describing a room as “feminine” or “masculine” is really reductive and unfair: I am a woman so why should it sound strange if I like industrial and dark color in my room? It is not masculine, it is just industrial and dark as I like.
    Thank you for raising this matter!

    1. I love a dark industrial room and you should absolutely not feel strange for liking a certain design style. Thanks for your comment! xx -B

  3. https://bobbyberk.com/de-gendered-design-why-were-no-longer-using-masculine-feminine-to-describe-interiors/

    Thank you Bobby. Your insights need to be magnified for more rapid illumination upon us all. TED Talk time. May I nominate you?

    I hope you’ve thought about it. Please consider it if you have not already.

    Sidebar… can you do a diy home office that doesn’t look diy-ed. Cost efficient. W common tools. Preferably no power tools required. Cut instructions for place of purchase and no sharp edges. Hope the restrictions are helpful. (Why are there not more diy emoji options?)

    Kind regards,
    Nooneh “Nuna” Kradjian
    (818) 300-9554

    Btw. Love this font

    1. It’s a bit of a challenge to make a totally DIY office, but you can always have a piece of 3/4″ plywood cut at your local home improvement store, apply a protective finish and then attach pre-made legs to make a very cost-effective desk. You just need a screwdriver! Thanks for your comment. xx -B

    1. You’ve nailed it on the head! Thanks for reading. xx -B

  4. Thank you for inspiring us all to buck any labels in our lives! Our only limit should be our imaginations. Keep motivating us on all levels, Bobby— we need your leadership.

  5. I love this idea – and it’s something I never would’ve thought to address myself! I often find myself gendering furniture (i.e. the black leather couch is masculine)… in addition to limiting my own world view, I think there’s inherently an element of laziness in doing so. I’m reaching for the word that’s easy to find, rather than putting in a little bit more effort to describe a piece according to its true style and build. I recently moved into a new place & have been decorating (on a budget), so I’ll try to keep this in mind as I find new pieces!

    1. Thanks for your comment. I love your note on putting in more effort to describe different styles and designs. Stay safe and stay inspired! xx -B

  6. I loved this article, Bobby!! Gender is absolutely a social construct, and it’s upsetting that the roles imposed on us can even stop us from being in a room that we enjoy. I feel like de-gendering the terms we use will only get us to be more descriptive of what we like and don’t like. (Sounds like a win!)

    1. Thanks so much for reading and glad you found it helpful! You are absolutely right and de-gendering our space will open us up to more ideas and possibilities in design! xx -B

  7. Thankyou for this Bobby. I was exposed to idea of masculine and feminine spaces and designs relatively late in life because of two reasons, my family wasn’t particularly into design and it’s types…they are relatively simple folks and to them a room was either bright colored and vibrant or dark colored and had depth. Again wood was just wood work and so when I was introduced to this gender describing of designs by internet I was intrigued but confused and I thought people just don’t want to use a large number of words to exactly describe the designs and so it has to be put into a category but I could never understand how to use it. I mean there can be so many designs that are in between these two types or completely different from these two types. So this article makes so much sense to me because it allows out of box imaginations when thinking about design. I love your work.

    1. Thanks so much for reading and sharing your experience. I hope you continue to think openly about design and spaces! xx -B