Contested gendered space: public sexual harassment and women’s safety work

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Feminist research and activism has a long history of engaging with the range and extent of men’s intrusive practices on women in public, taking as its starting point public space as a place where gender relations are contested. Here, the impact of men’s practices on women and girls is understood not only in terms of their safety, but also their freedom, highlighting how the “safety work” mandated for women and girls in public functions to limit women’s space for action and responsiblise them for preventing violence. Drawing from research conducted in the UK, this article sets out in detail the concept of “safety work” and how it relates to not only women’s behaviours but our sense of being in public places. It ends in exploring the possibilities of feminist self defence as a means of making safety work visible and measurable, to both ourselves and the wider world.

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