Constructing Masculinity and Women's Fear in Public Space in Irvine, California

Kristen Day

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Day, K. (1). Constructing Masculinity and Women's Fear in Public Space in Irvine, California. Gender, Place & Culture, 8(2), 109–127.

fear of crime , masculinity , public space , women in public space

Fear in public spaces negatively impacts women’s lives. Even when danger is low, the idea of women as endangered in public space endures—due, in part, to its centrality in the construction of gender identity for men and women. In this article, the author examines the construction of contemporary, masculine gender identities and men’s perceptions of women as fearful and endangered in public space. Through interviews with 82 male students in Irvine, California, USA, the author examines how men’s construction of masculine identities builds upon perceptions of women as fearful and endangered in Irvine public spaces. Though they regard Irvine as safe, men see women as vulnerable there. The author investigates this apparent inconsistency in light of men’s performances of two masculine identities—the youthful ‘badass’ and the chivalrous man—which depend for their construction on opposition with women as fearful. Recommendations include suggestions for continued research on the spatial construction of masculine identities.

Main finding
Men see women as vulnerable in public spaces, even though they themselves see the same spaces as safe. The dichotomy between the “youthful badass” and “chivalrous man” was revealed through the interviews conducted. Men performed different behaviors depending on the audience (other men vs women), such as making themselves more intimidating through attitude or dress or walking female friends home at night as a manner of protection. The “badass” performativity sought to assert dominance, status, or shock value, whereas chivalry was associated with strongheartedness and selflessness towards women. Out of the 82 men, 24 noted fear for their personal safety in public space, citing perceived danger in highly urban areas, while 63 feared for women in public space. However, one fourth reported that women fear public space too much, but that the increased fear levels may be beneficial to women’s safety.

Description of method used in the article
Semi-structured interviews were conducted with 82 male University of California, Irvine undergraduate students. Students received course credit for participating in the study. Ages ranged from 18 to 36, with a median age of 20, and interviews lasted roughly 30–45 minutes. The respondents were asked to interpret hypothetical scenarios where a person was displaying fear of the respondent in public. Interview results were analyzed through content analysis.

Of practical use

Organising categories

Crime and Aggression
Content analysis Interviews
Physical types
Geographic locations