Excluded from full participation in cultural production, most early records of activities of women participating the in the practice of the flâneur were in diaries and journals and then later novels. Deborah Nord describes this struggle in her examination of Victorian women in public space, she states that it is “both their confinement within a tradition of masculine spectatorship and their efforts to reconfigure that tradition from within the contradictions and constraints of their experience and of their relationship to culture” that characterise these works. In a “proto-Orwellian exploration” of slumming it, Mary Higgs wrote “Glimpses into the Abyss”, the pastor’s daughter, described of her experience dressed in rags, feeling the disgust in the looks of people she passed and revealed from this experience that “the harlot is the female tramp”.
The awareness of the look continues as a theme in Irmgard Keun’s novel Das kunsseidene Mädchen. Set in liberal Berlin during the Weimar period in Germany, she created a character, Doris, who delights in the new metropolis. What is of interest is that in the many urban situations in which she finds herself, Doris remains acutely aware of the spectacle of images she is perceiving, including the image of herself as part of her experience, “everything is like cinema – I see myself in images”. This self reflexive look, perhaps could be said to separate male and female flânerie, the female preference for positioning of the image of the self as part of the spectacle.
Sophie Calle deliberately plays with these notions of looking and being looked at, in her work The Shadow . She employs a man she meets at a party to follow her for two weeks, taking photos of what she does without letting himself known. This raises the question, who is looking? If Calle satisfying a female subjective drive to foreground her own image in her narrative, the male photographer could be said to be her agent, after all she employed him and devised the work. Or is she foregrounding the male photographers voyeuristic pleasure at being allowed to indulge in an illegal scopophilic pleasure?
Similar themes of reconfiguring the gaze are addressed in The Female Gaze: women looking at women an exhibition recently held Cheim & Reid, New York. The show included an impressive collection of work by female artists, contemporary and historical, who use female subjects, including Diane Arbus, Vanessa Beecroft, Louise Bourgeois, Marlene Dumas, Tracey Emin, Roni Horn, Cindy Sherman and Kara Walker. The exhibition claims to “debunk the notion of the male gaze by providing a group of works in which the artist and subject do not relate as “voyeur” and “object,” but as woman and woman.” While this is bold contemporary manoeuvre to reposition the concept of ‘the male gaze’, can it really be that simple, exchanging female artist for male? The objectifying qualities of the male gaze are so much part of modernity, is it even possible to extract the female gaze from our cultural male gaze. This also requires the assumption that ‘male gaze’ and ‘female gaze’ are mutually exclusive to begin with.
Looking at the technologies of exclusion, such as challenging the construct of cultural restrictions placed upon female artists and writers who participate in the urban environment, we see quite a different approach. Instead of focusing on the objectifying gaze, writer Michele Bernstein, a member of the Situationist International (1957-72), contributed to a literary cultural and political agenda focussing on urban planning. She also participated in the SI process of the dérive, where a group of two or three drifted through the streets making notes of the routes taken and encounters witnessed. Her essay Derive by the Mile  which she wrote in support of a plan to ban private traffic in Paris, states “only taxis allow true freedom of movement. … A trip with no destination, diverted arbitrarily en route, is only possible with a taxi’s essentially random itinerary.” However married to Guy Debord, leader of the SI, she also had the privilege of working extra jobs to fund the SI publications and Debord’s drinking.
In a contemporary setting it is female street artists such as Swoon who continue to challenge the construct of female exclusion from participating in the urban environment. Swoon which is an alias, due to the illegal nature of her work, constructs large scale wood block prints which she pastes on the walls of cities. In a New York Times article she is reported to “pick her spots carefully, exploring what she calls “third spaces” – not really public, maybe private, undoubtedly neglected.” These are also the spaces that women traditionally been warned as places of danger and possible attack, as Swoon’s practice (and proof that she is still alive) demonstrates it is the embodiment of this fear which has created in the minds of women perhaps a greater threat than the real threat. The constructed boundaries that female street artists overcome, could be acknowledged as the contemporary battle of the international ‘Reclaim the Night’ campaign of the 1970s. By actively challenging, as Foucault would call them, the technologies of control, female artists and writers in this way continue to remove the hegemonic cultural restrictions placed on women participating in the urban spectacle. As with any oppressed group in history, the removal of legal and cultural limitations, is one step but real change in the construct of that oppression is much harder, as it has often been embodied by the oppressed.
Working as a female visual artist, in a visually dominated society, my challenge is to consider how to make imagery and contextualise it, to move beyond the binary oppositions of subject/object, male/female, to nurture the idea that there is actually a little bit of each of these positions in all of us. Without forgetting the importance of acknowledging the conditioning that women (contemporary and historical) have been subjected to in relation to public space, place making and the male gaze and how we have embodied a response to that, in order to achieve the next stage of the feminist project.
 Nord, Deborah Epstein, Walking the Victorian Streets: Women, Representation, and the City, Cornell University Press: Ithaca and London, 1995. p. 15.
 Higgs, M, Glimpses into the Abyss, PSKing: London, 1906. p.94.
 Gleber, Anke, The Art of Taking a Walk: Flanerie, Literature, and Film in Weimar Germany, Princeton University Press: Princeton NJ, 1998. p.196.
 La Filature [The Shadow]. Silver gelatin prints, written materials, 1981.
 Cheim & Reid, New York; June 25 – September 19, 2009.
 Potlatch #9-11, 17-31 August 1954.