'Bold Walk and Breakings': Women's spatial confidence versus fear of violence


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KOSKELA, H. (1). 'Bold Walk and Breakings': Women's spatial confidence versus fear of violence. Gender, Place & Culture, 4(3), 301–320. http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/09663699725369

crime , fear , Fear of crime , public space , urban space , violence , woman , women

This article explores women’s fear of urban violence from a spatial perspective. It is based on qualitative data collected in Finland. It shows first that women do not have to be fearful. Boldness is associated with freedom, equality, and a sense of control over, and possession of space. Secondly, the article considers how and why fear of violence undermines some women’s confidence, restricting their access to, and activity within, public space. Women’s fear is generally regarded as ‘normal’ and their boldness thought to be risky: the conceptualization of women as victims is unintentionally reproduced. However, a more critical view might regard fear as socially constructed and see how it is actually possible for women to be confident and take possession of space.

Main finding
Three types of experiences form women's socially constructed fear of violence in urban public spaces: threatening experiences, aging, and life-changing situations such as sudden disabilities, a major relocation, or pregnancy. While some participants described situations that had damaging effects on their courage in public spaces, many women displayed confidence and expressed no fear of violence in public spaces. Four main types of experiences enhanced participants' boldness in public spaces: reasoning, cultural relativity, taking possession of space, and social skills. Reasoning occurs when women convince themselves not to be afraid when in scary or threatening situations or places. Cultural relativity is the shift in perspective that occurs when traveling abroad. Women paint other countries as particularly dangerous, which leads them to feel safer in their own cultures and home countries. Women take possession of public space through the repeated use of public spaces, which makes them feel "at home" and demystifies public spaces. Social skills and other women's presence when solving threatening situations lead to confidence in oneself when navigating public spaces. Women reclaim public space for themselves and actively produce more inclusive space through daily acts of courage.

Description of method used in the article
Data was gathered from Finnish women in 1996, including 18 in-depth interviews and 25 written stories. The women interviewed were between the ages of 20 and 43 and lived in Helsinki. Prior to the interviews, the participants were asked questions over the phone in order to allow for time to reflect on their thoughts. The interviews lasted from 1.5 to 2.5 hours, four participants were interviewed alone and fourteen were interviewed in small groups of two to three. The semi-structured interviews were designed to help the participants remember, through informal discussion, minor violent or threatening experiences. The written stories were submitted by women living across Finland ages 26 to 82 in response to magazine advertisements asking how a fear of violence in public space affects their lives.

Of some practical use if combined with other research

Organising categories

Crime and Aggression
Interviews Survey
Physical types
Other Streets
Geographic locations