Navigating public space, negotiating patriarchy : daily experiences of women in a Canadian urban context
University of New Brunswick
Background: Three key concepts in the fear-of-crime literature comprise the gender-fear paradox (Ferraro, 1995, 1996). First, while men are more often the victims of violent crimes in public space, women are more fearful of victimisation in public (May, Rader, & Goodrum, 2009). Second, women are most fearful of being victimised by a stranger although they are more likely to be victimised by known others(Scott, 2003; Stanko, 1995). Third, women, more than men, make adaptations to their routines and lifestyles in response to crime-related fear (Keown, 2010). Purpose: The purpose of the present study was to elucidate the underpinnings of the gender-fear paradox by examining the psychological, social, emotional, and behavioural experiences of women in everyday public spaces. The study also sought to situate women’s spatial realities within a context by explicating how they are shaped by patriarchal influences. Method: Interviews were conducted with 40 women in a Canadian urban setting to gain insight into their thoughts, feelings, and actions when navigating public space. Subsequently, institutional responses were obtained from five organisations representing public interests to further contextualise the interview data. Analysis: The Psycho-Social Ethnography of the Commonplace (P-SEC) methodology was used to uncover Organisational Moments—instances where patriarchal influences complicated the lives of women and, in turn, operated to sustain and perpetuate patriarchal ideologies. Results: The following Organisational Moments were identified: Street Harassment, Urban Public Spaces, Public Transportation, and Danger Messages. Organisational Moments revealed specific occasions where women’s uses of space were negatively affected through direct actions of others, through problematic physical and functional aspects of space, and through public promotion of spatial constraints. Women evoked a variety of schemata to interpret their experiences that centered on gender, power, and privilege. The cognitive-and action-based strategies employed to manage complications were often dependent upon the schemata that informed women’s understanding of their situations. Discussion: The discussion highlights specific ways in which the analysis of Organisational Moments contributes to a more informed and contextualised understanding of the gender-fear paradox and of women’s realities in everyday space. Clinical and political implications are deliberated, and policy directions are offered with the view to promoting women’s uninhibited use of public space.