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Quick Hit: How Much Energy Do Women Put into Avoiding Male Violence in Public?

Hey feminist friends, male harassment in public space ever get you down? Cause it’s sure as hell been getting me down lately.

These days I feel like everywhere I turn, there’s another douchebag with googly eyes making me contemplate militant lesbian separatism.

Enter some interesting new work by Durham University feminist scholar Fiona Vera-Gray, who has done a too-real study of what most women who have ever ventured into public space know to be true — that we spend a shit load of time adjusting our behavior out of fear of male harassment. From the classic “quick-walk-with-your-head-down” to the contemporary “checking your phone and putting your headphones on,” women are constantly adjusting our behavior due to a near-constant feeling of anxiety in public space. This anticipation of danger, coupled with actual incidents of verbal harassment or even assault, conspire to restrict our freedom of mobility. And coupled with other systems, like racist violence and class oppression, these restrictions upon our right to public space can compound.

We know that men’s sexual harassment of others comes from male entitlement and entrenched patriarchy, and not from our behavior. Yet many of us also find that we develop strategies in order to make ourselves feel safer and more comfortable navigating public space. Vera-Gray investigated these strategies, and summarized them in a brief writeup in The Conversation. Elaborating on the concept, coined by Liz Kelly, of “safety work,” or the labor women perform in an attempt to keep ourselves safe. Vera-Gray writes:

The vast majority of ‘safety work’ is pre-emptive, we often can’t even know if what we are experiencing as intrusive is intrusive without external confirmation. This confirmation generally comes in the form of escalation: he moves from staring to touching, he walks quicker behind you, he blocks your path. The same escalation safety work is designed to disrupt.

So women learn to quietly make changes, skilfully navigating public spaces, disrupting opportunities for intrusive men by predicting their intentions and practices.

Oy fucking vey, do I resonate with this.

You can find some of Vera-Gray’s work here, and two short articles summarizing her findings here and here. You can bitch about your own street harassment experiences in the comments. Cause comrade, we are with you.

Image Credit: Sardaka, Wikimedia Commons.

Reina Gattuso is passionate about empowering conversations around queerness, sexual ethics, and social movements with equal parts rhapsody and sass. Her writing has appeared at Time, Bitch, attn:, and The Washington Post. She is currently pursuing her masters.

Reina Gattuso writes about her sex life for the good of human kind.

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