This wide-ranging project will embrace a range of research related to gender and the basics of life.


The way that we eat is fundamentally tied to the way that we think about and enact gender. Common assumptions about food and gender in the United States, for example—from the notion that the kitchen is the domain of women, to the idea that eating red meat is masculine, to questions around who is associated with food stamps or gifts of food—shape the ways families and organizations procure, share, consume, symbolically represent, ritualize, and divide labor related to food. While the meanings associated with food vary around the globe, they are often gendered. What is more, the interplay of food with gender shapes social interactions at dining tables, in markets, in kitchens, at restaurants, on farms, in factories, and anywhere that food is produced, exchanged, or consumed.

Access to food is shaped by factors such as race, class, age, and geographical location, as they intersect with gender. In the United States, for instance, food deserts—i.e., areas that lack access to markets, stores, and other food sources—are primarily located in poor communities of color. Food insecurity heightens the distinct health challenges that women of color, transpeople, and poor women already face. Food insecurity is, ultimately, a feminist issue.

As part of our “Food | Water | Shelter” research initiative, CSW is bringing a cluster of scholars to UCLA to conduct feminist food studies research and teaching. During the 2016-2017 and 2017-2018 academic years, Rachel Vaughn and Sarah Tracy have joined us as Assistant Adjunct Professors, offering courses in Gender Studies and the Institute for Society and Genetics that empower UCLA students to understand the gender dynamics of food production, food insecurity, and cultural practices related to eating. In 2016-2017, Vaughn, Tracy, and historian Diana Garvin (University of Oregon) participated in the public event series Dishing: A Lecture Series on Food, Feminism and the Way We Eat. In 2018, they will convene Edible Feminisms: On Discard, Waste, and Metabolism, a project consisting of a themed journal volume, writing workshop, and public panel.


Around the world, women play prominent roles as water is procured, adjudicated, struggled over, and distributed. For example, they sue over contaminated water in Flint, Michigan; protect indigenous lands and watersheds near Standing Rock, in present-day North Dakota, by protesting a planned pipeline; disproportionately hold responsibility for procuring household water across the globe; and lead longstanding efforts to “mainstream gender” in United Nations initiatives on water in developing countries. The slogan of the water protector movement at Standing Rock is Mni Wiconi, or “Water is Life” in Lakota: settler colonialism and the politics of indigeneity concern not only land, which are their focus, but also water.

Not only does water make up more than half the human body, but it also is the surrounding substance in which life develops in utero. In myth and symbols, in narratives, poems, and songs, water is gendered, most often by association with women. Across the academic disciplines and the arts, attention to water illuminates gender, and vice versa.

Two-thirds of the world population will live in conditions of water scarcity by 2025, and water is of paramount concern to the sustainability of life in Los Angeles. With major grant support from the UCLA Grand Challenge on Sustainable Los Angeles, researchers at the Center for the Study of Women are investigating the important but understudied role of gender—as it intersects with race and class—in residential water use in Los Angeles. The goal of creating culturally-acceptable pathways to reduce residential water use and increase use of greywater and other sustainable sources requires nuanced understanding of patterns in water’s everyday use and valuation. Many water use reduction efforts take place in households, where research has shown divisions of labor and decision-making are often gendered. Thus, a gender analysis of residential water is called for. We ask: In what ways is household water use gendered in Los Angeles? What are the gendered patterns in household water valuation, as diversified by class and race? How do gendered cultural systems interact with water management and ecosystem health? Findings are expected to yield recommendation for reductions in residential water use.


Few sites are as gendered in the United States as the home. Most money passes through the household, and yet relatively few economists study household economies. Household labor remains steadfastly gendered across much of the globe, and feminist activism often has focused on the relation of the home to other spheres of life. Homes are sites of domestic violence, not (only) havens from the world outside. Processes like urban gentrification and increasing wealth inequality lead to demographic shifts in household structure, matrilocal and patrilocal settlement patterns shape communities across the globe, and gendered decision-making over where to live to maximize educational opportunities for children increase de facto racial segregation in the United States. Aging, for some, is marked by a shift to institutional residences in which the demography of life expectancy and gendered care regimes reorganize the power and practice of shelter.

While questioning the gendered distinctions between public and private, CSW examines the gendered meanings of shelters that are operated by states and NGOs. For example, gendered concerns for safety shape shelter-based social services for post-disaster and homeless people and fuel state efforts to expand prisons. Public housing encodes racial and gendered norms of work, public benefits, and family form. Prisons organized by gender house people under the rubric of law even while (re)producing forms of gendered violence. Military bases and barracks articulate the domestic/home front with war. Such fortress architectures are associated with places of safe haven for women and children (e.g., in the literal medieval “keep” at their centers). How do the gendered aspects of fortress architectures relate to the proliferation of prisons, immigration detention, deportation, the incarceration of women and girls of color, and the continuing sexual violence enacted upon these subjects?