Spaces of Male Fear: Or, the Sexual Politics of Being Watched

Sarah Moore, Simon Breeze

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

20 Citations (SciVal)


This article makes a contribution to the sparse literature on the ethnography of fear. Using observation and focus groups, we compare men and women’s perceptions of danger in relation to a specific civic space—public toilets. Here, it is men, rather than women, who express a marked concern about the threat of physical assault. We attempt to understand the nature and social origin of this fear, and its relationship to the arrangement of space. In so doing, we help sketch out what Tuan (1979) called ‘landscapes of fear’. Places that take us outside of, or lie at the margins of, regular social space can be particularly fear-inducing. Civil inattention is a core means of dealing with this problem and we analyse its functions in allaying fear. We also suggest that spaces in which private behaviour can be surreptitiously surveyed or where there is an indeterminate relationship between private and public space can prompt a pernicious sense of worry. Indeed, being watched and being mistakenly perceived to be watching emerge from our data as really important correlates of fear of violence. We employ Sartre, Berger and Mulveys’s ideas about the gaze to analyse the psychosocial effects of this. Finally, we stress the importance of seeing the experience of fear—including its relationship to spatial arrangement—as socially contingent. The discussion section of this paper suggests that we understand men’s fear of violence in public toilets as a reaction to what Turner calls an ‘inter-structural’ social situation, namely the temporary suspension of the usual gender hierarchy.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1172-1191
Number of pages20
JournalBritish Journal of Criminology
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - 2013


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