Security Strategies by Women From Working-Class Sectors in the Urban Periphery of La Plata1

Receipt: October 6, 2021

Acceptance: February 9, 2022


The aim of this article is to analyze the security strategies of working-class women in La Plata, Argentina. The hypothesis guiding it is that the innovation and routinization of strategies, understood as rituals of everyday life that make it possible to continue and to project a dimension of the future, become crucial for the autonomy of women. The analysis is based on information gathered through observation and semi-structured interviews from women from peripheral settlements of the municipal area of La Plata. Results show that the strategies give everyday life a particular dose of certainty and colonization of the future, but which mainly deploy practices of avoidance and self-restriction in the use of the urban space. In addition, these strategies are mediated by their own and other women’s previous experiences.

Keywords: , , , ,

security strategies by women from working-class sectors in the urban periphery of la plata

The aim of this article is to analyze the security strategies of working-class women in La Plata, Argentina. The hypothesis guiding it is that the innovation and routinization of strategies, understood as rituals of everyday life that make it possible to continue and to project a dimension of the future, become crucial for the autonomy of women. The analysis is based on information gathered through observation and semi-structured interviews from women from peripheral settlements of the municipal area of La Plata. Results show that the strategies give everyday life a particular dose of certainty and colonization of the future, but which mainly deploy practices of avoidance and self-restriction in the use of the urban space. In addition, these strategies are mediated by their own and other women's previous experiences.

Keywords: feeling of insecurity, fear of crime, uncertainty, security practices, La Plata.


The purpose of this article is to analyze the individual security strategies deployed by a group of women from popular sectors to confront the problem of citizen insecurity in the locality.2 of Los Hornos, municipality of La Plata, Argentina. For this purpose, a qualitative strategy was developed in two settlements of that locality, where semi-structured interviews were conducted with women who live there with the intention of analyzing through their stories how they define and redefine these strategies. Informal talks were also held and observations were made in the neighborhoods, with the aim of exploring situations, activities and relevant physical spaces that contribute to the explanation of the proposed problem.

If the premise is that women from popular sectors in Argentina live a process of acute inequality and social vulnerability, we observe that they are also in an environment permeated by uncertainty and lack of predictability. It is within this framework that we argue that they develop security strategies. Part of this insecure environment is due to different types of violence and conflict situations that have become recurrent in the daily lives of women in particular, and of popular sectors in general. According to Giddens (1997), this type of constantly changing context generates various concerns among the actors about the dangers to which they feel exposed. These, whether real or potential, originate a lack of stability in ontological security and in the parameters that organize, give meaning, coherence and certainty to the activities of daily life. This impossibility of colonizing the future in environments characterized as risky causes both a loss of confidence in daily security and numerous fears.

For reasons of space and to organize the present work, the security strategies that will be taken up are of two types: avoidance and self-protection, which imply, respectively, not doing something in order to feel or be safer (Sozzo, 2008). It is important to note that not only citizen insecurity degrades women's autonomy and ontological security; other insecurities related to the environment, food and labor, to name but a few, affect women in popular sectors.

Therefore, the article is structured in such a way that, first, the problem of the feeling of insecurity and public space is addressed in the case of women, followed by a theoretical approach to the security strategies used for the analysis in the article, and thirdly, a methodological section is presented, in which the research strategy and techniques used are explained and the cases are described and analyzed in sociodemographic and subjective terms. The women's security strategies are then analyzed in the light of the theoretical proposal and its scope. Finally, and by way of closing, the main reflections that emerged from the analysis of the interviews, informal talks and observations are shown, taking as a starting point the potential of an interactionist analysis to see in these strategies both the creative and the routine dimension.

Women, feelings of insecurity and public space

First, the interest in focusing the analysis on women from popular sectors is mainly due to two issues: on the one hand, some recent studies have shown through quantitative and qualitative analysis that it is the most disadvantaged sectors of Argentine society who suffer the greatest degree of both actual victimization and fear of crime, given that they experience institutional inconsistency, inequality and social fragmentation and vulnerability in the most extreme way.3 (Castel, 2004, 2010; Corral, 2010; Kessler, 2011; Míguez and Isla, 2010; McIlwaine and Moser, 2007). Kessler (2011) and Dammert (2007a, 2007b) report that within the Argentine popular sectors, women are the ones who experience the highest levels of feelings of insecurity, and not victimizations in aggregate terms, a fact that is repeated throughout the region and that reaffirms the relative autonomy of feelings of insecurity with respect to crime rates.

This paradox of fear (Warr, 1984) has been explained from different interpretations: from a supposed irrationality to feminist perspectives that highlight different structuring elements of social life: patriarchal culture, differentiated socialization, expected roles, the unequal social position of women and men due to power structures and gender domination (Koskela, 1999; Lindón, 2006a, 2006b; Madriz, 2001; Mehta and Bondi, 2010; Pain, 2001; Snedker, 2015; Soto Villagrán, 2012). In this sense, the justification for conducting the study in women is due to the fact that the feeling of insecurity (Kessler, 2011) or subjective insecurity (González Placencia and Kala, 2007) in women, in addition to being significantly high, is differentiable from fear in men.

Several quantitative investigations show that fear of sexual aggression and street harassment are the variables that, added in victimization and perception surveys, disrupt and trigger the levels of female fear (Dammert, 2007a; Ferraro, 1995, 1996; Lane, 2013; Özascilar, 2013; Warr, 1985). The works of Warr and Ferraro are eloquent in this regard. Warr evidenced, through the analysis of such surveys, that for women under 35 years of age, the fear of rape and sexual abuse by strangers reaches more than two thirds of them, which places them at the top of their fear scale, and this specific fear has an effect: the shadow thesis. This thesis implies that fear of sexual assault has an amplifying effect on fear of other types of crime and obscures the specifics of women's perceived insecurities.

More recently and with data from South America, Dammert (2007a) systematized and analyzed the information recorded through these same instruments in four megacities. There he observes the same differentiation in the perception of insecurity between genders: with different variability depending on the case, women report feeling more insecure in all of them. It is important to note that although women are less victimized by certain types of crime, such as those perpetrated with physical violence, others are underreported by women. These are those that are typically directed against them and their bodies, i.e., verbal aggression in public spaces or more explicit violence such as sexual aggression, ranging from physical touching to abuse. This is due both to the shortcomings of victimization surveys in capturing the problem and to the fact that many of the hostilities of which they are victims are not classified as crimes. Therefore, Dammert concludes that an androcentric vision is manifested even in the design of public instruments for the collection of information related to this problem. She also shows that the time dimension has a great effect on the variation between men and women, since women report feeling "very unsafe" when walking in their neighborhoods at night.

The feeling of growing vulnerability, both physical and social, and the powerlessness this generates also partly explain women's increased fear, which in turn reinforces the masculinization of public space and its uses and contributes to the persistence of unequal gender relations (Pain, 1991). Fear of moving through the city, in addition to strengthening dependence on other people, degrades their status as rights-bearing citizens by curtailing their freedoms. Similarly, another element that concerns the explanation of the feeling of insecurity in women, their representations and perceptions is the fact of suffering or having suffered family violence or violence exercised by a male in their environment (Kessler, 2011; Madriz, 2001; Stanko, 1995). Such conflictive situations significantly aggravate the dominant idea of women's vulnerability and concern for their physical and sexual integrity. They also complicate the assumptions that have accompanied much of the criminology and sociology of crime in the twentieth century, which frequently assumed that the various aggressions and violence are mainly spatialized in the public sphere and are exercised by strangers (Hale, 1996).

Urban spatial fragmentation segregates heterogeneities of class, socioeconomic level, gender, ethnicity and age, giving rise to the birth of a new model of spatiality. In this sense, fragmentation is understood here as a

spatial phenomenon resulting from the rupture, separation or disconnection from the pre-existing form and structure of the city [...] It implies the abandonment of the idea of the city as a place of encounter, democratic exchange and provision of universal services [...] The relationship between socio-spatial segregation and urban fragmentation can be conceived in terms of a relationship between social and spatial distance (Burguess, 2009: 101, 116, 120).

Consequently, for the cases studied here, fragmentation is intertwined and complexified with the existing sexual division of space, which also hierarchizes territories by shaping places through generated expectations and expected roles. Thus, the experience of cities is not the same for women as it is for men, nor is it the same for those who live in situations of marginality. In this way, the experiences of the women analyzed suffer a double vulnerability or an intersection of exclusions, those of gender and class, which have implications for their experiences, their enjoyment of the city and public spaces in general.

In this sense, we start from the idea that space is constructed intersubjectively and that it is the result of a production linked to unequal power relations. In this way, we recognize the existence of limitations and demarcations not only of places but also of schedules that are restricted for women to move freely, assigning different roles and authorizations, and that are given from the social constructions of "being a woman" (Lindón, 2006a; 2006b; Falú, 2009). These "spaces that we deny ourselves" (del Valle, 2006) to transit are those that women renounce or circulate through because they are part of their daily lives, but which are basically mediated by fears. In general terms, i.e. going beyond the public space, there are certain social authorizations regarding expected and accepted behaviors for each gender that are supported by dominant cultural values and constructions (Rainero, 2009).

Likewise, since the feeling of insecurity is experienced individually, the interpretation and use of spaces is produced from a particular situation and social position in the structure. This responds to the fact that public space or certain places in particular, as sociohistorical constructions, represent dangerousness and insecurity only for certain groups that are in defined social positions (Koskela, 1999; Lindón, 2006a, 2006b; Mehta and Bondi, 2010; Snedker, 2015; Soto Villagrán, 2012). This restriction, which conditions women's movements more acutely, applies to a good part of the streets and public places considered dangerous, as well as to uninhabited and unlit places.

In this line, the contributions of feminist geographies are undoubtedly key to the analysis of women's bodies located in public space. The problematization of bodies as the first geographic scale and how the genericized structuring of spaces and places has effects on the ways of inhabiting and passing through the city have been part of the great contributions of these researchers (Massey, 2001; McDowell and Sharp, 1999; McDowell, 2000). Although humanist geography had named bodies by bringing the subjective dimension to the center of spatial analysis, they were not taken as categories of analysis or explanation. Thus, the authors not only marked a break within the geographical discipline but also opened a path for the study of bodies as places of creation and reception of emotions, meanings, practices and experiences.

The relative deprivation of public space as a consequence of the feeling of insecurity of many women often leads to isolation or partial, but increasing, seclusion in the private sphere. This becomes particularly problematic, as it restricts the possibility of the construction of otherness through the encounter with the other in the daily experiences that are typical of the urban environment (Lindón, 2006a; Soto Villagrán, 2012). This withdrawal or estrangement that many women experience contributes to

weaken female self-esteem and deepen feelings of insecurity [...], [and favors] a circular and backward process of production and reproduction of old and new feminine subjectivities in which fear is expressed and women are linked to it (Falú, 2009:23).

Individual security strategies to deal with the uncertainty of the environment

The dynamics of re-individualization that runs through contemporary societies reconfigured the collective supports that protected individuals and allowed them to project themselves and assert a minimum of social independence to "dominate the vicissitudes of the future" (Castel, 2010: 78), with those who do not have the economic, social and cultural capitals to face the new demands of individual responsibility being the most affected (Castel, 2004). Thus, the routines and habits that people develop in these spaces take on a fundamental centrality for the organization of everyday life, mainly to face the ambivalences that arise and to minimize or avoid dangers (Giddens, 1997; Goffman, 1970).

Thus, the actors' attempt to spatialize fear and insecurity attempts to establish demarcations between safe and unsafe spaces, even when transformations in urban space and the experiences lived in it have delocalized or deterritorialized insecurity (Kessler, 2011; Reguillo, 2008). The ubiquity of insecurity and the uncertainty it generates will try to be alleviated by the actors through the identification of safe and unsafe subjects, objects and spaces, attributing fixed properties to them in an attempt to find stability and certainty in everyday life.

However, in the same way, in this context of disaffiliation and various forms of social vulnerability, the strategies deployed by women to face insecurity on a daily basis are part of the creativity developed by the subjects, understood as the innovative ways of acting in the face of new experiences and situations (Castel, 2010; Giddens, 1997). Thus, security strategies will be understood here as the practices developed by the subjects that are oriented to the avoidance or resolution of conflicts or potential threats. Both are delineated by routine and creativity, which condense a reflexivity around their own and others' previous experiences. In addition, these strategies can take two forms, those that are carried out individually and those that are developed or thought collectively and in groups; in this article only the former will be described and analyzed.

The lack of predictability, together with the loss of credibility of the institutions and agents of the State, bring about transformations in the modes of urban sociability, in terms of which the actors go to meet the diversity of othernesses with their own fears, prescribing and proscribing certain practices in the public space (Reguillo, 2008). In this sense, we can also conceive these practices as a way in which subjects in areas where the State has withdrawn or is in retreat begin to generate ways of managing and seeking to guarantee their security (Walklate, 2001).

For the Argentine case, the strong transformations in the conditions of material reproduction and sociability of the popular sectors during the neoliberal order did not mean that the State is absent, but rather that it is "a qualitatively different form of state governance [...] that symbolically demonstrates the arbitrary power of the State and reinforces the separation between valid and invalid populations" (Auyero and Berti, 2013: 122). The economic and social policies implemented meant for the middle and popular sectors that the State ceased to be producer and guarantor of various social rights. Thus, rather than partial or total withdrawal, we find a contradictory, selective, intermittent and often violent state presence, which is present through its repressive or punitive arm.

In this type of insecure external contexts, the routinization of these strategies and "practical awareness" become fundamental for the search for autonomy of individuals, as rituals of daily life that make it possible to move forward and project a dimension of the future (Giddens, 1997). The different practices deployed can be thought of as capacities acquired from accumulated individual and collective experience, which attempt to find, although not always successfully, different solutions to the conflictive situations with which they are measured daily in the territories they inhabit or transit (Rodríguez Alzueta, 2011). However, this does not imply that we consider that this everyday life should be conceived in terms of a naturalization of violence and crime, or that it entails a kind of immobility of the actors. On the contrary, in every situation and face-to-face encounter, subjects interact according to certain rules within the framework of a scenario where motives, imputations and intentions are present in a specific spatio-temporal dimension (Goffman, 1970). In line with the above, the use and management of the "street code" implies the appropriation of certain informal rules and organized behaviors in the framework of social interaction, which contributes to the maintenance of interpersonal relationships in the public space of the neighborhoods of popular sectors.4 (Anderson, 1999).

Finally, it is important to highlight and take into consideration that women, experiencing a greater sense of insecurity, are more likely to transform their routines, practices and behaviors for fear of being victimized (Madriz, 2001; Rainero, 2009). This would be particularly visible in the case of women from popular sectors since, given the scarcity of resources, they do not have certain comforts -such as their own car-, which leads many of them to self-impose spatio-temporal restrictions that confine them and cause them uneasiness.

Methodological and contextual considerations

As mentioned, the methodology of the article is qualitative. The information was collected between August and September 2016 in the settlements of El Arroyito and El Zanjón de Los Hornos, southwest of the La Plata district, in the province of Buenos Aires. The sampling was non-probabilistic and by snowball. Twenty-two semi-structured interviews were conducted, where the initial questions were broad in order to allow the emergence of fears and insecurities not directly related to crime or citizen security, as well as to observe the temporal thread constructed in the women's narratives.

Likewise, it was taken into consideration that the number of interviews would allow for a representation of the plurality of voices of the women who live in each settlement, according to their nationality and age, given that intersectionality gives rise to the observation that each of these groups experiences the feeling of insecurity inside and outside their neighborhoods in different ways (see Table 1 in Annex). The interviews allowed access to the experiences of the interviewees, what they perceive and how they interpret it, informing about the nature of women's social life in their own situation, position and in their set of relationships (Geertz, 2003; Weiss, 1995). In this way, the securitarian strategies presented were identified and retrieved from the narratives based on what they recognized in order to deal with the different expressions of insecurity. Secondly, selective observation and focused observation (Werner and Schoepfle, 1987) were combined to explore situations, activities and spaces that were considered relevant and that contributed to the explanation of the problem, and also to take up elements that had not been contemplated at the beginning.

Sociodemographic characterization of settlements

The housing in the El Arroyito and El Zanjón settlements consists mainly of wooden shacks and some other precarious constructions of cement or apparent brick. As for access, only two bus lines, concessioned to a private company, connect the neighborhoods with the town of Los Hornos and with the Berisso district, adjacent to La Plata. Both cross the center of the city of La Plata and their route ends a few blocks from both settlements. These buses are the only ones that pass through the area, running every twenty minutes from Monday to Friday, and every forty minutes on weekends. Since both lines have very similar routes, we could say that communication between the two neighborhoods is limited. In order to travel to other areas of La Plata, residents must go to the main avenues to use or combine other lines of the public service network. This, in addition to increasing the cost of living, shows the segregation of the spaces in which they live. In turn, the obligatory passage through the downtown area implies long travel times in the daily lives of these people.

Access to services is poor. Except for the avenues, the neighborhoods have little street lighting or asphalt. Nor do they have natural gas connections, sewage or potable water networks. Public waste collection is infrequent, and both the Arroyito and the Zanjón are saturated with garbage and rodents, which makes the settlements particularly unhealthy. The lack of sidewalks and asphalt makes it difficult for neighbors to move around and makes it impossible for ambulances, police and trucks to pass through to collect waste from a large number of families. This is particularly problematic during the rainy season and leads to possible accidents such as falls and trips.

One more socio-demographic element is that in the town of Los Hornos we can identify two important migratory flows. In the first, during the 1950s, internal migrants arrived from provinces in the north and northeast of the country in search of work; in the second, which has occurred with greater intensity since 1990, migrants arrived from neighboring countries, mainly from Bolivia and Paraguay, also in search of employment and the possibility of having basic rights guaranteed by the State, such as free health care and education. Through observations and informal meetings, it was found that the new settlers usually settle near their relatives already settled, and thus spatially differentiated zones of Argentines, Bolivians and Paraguayans have been formed, which are linked to each other with greater or lesser degrees of conflict. For the cases analyzed here, El Arroyito and El Zanjón are mostly populated by Argentines, Paraguayans and Argentine children and grandchildren of Paraguayans.

El Arroyito and El Zanjón as lived spaces

Regarding the neighborhood dynamics, we will point out some routines that could be recognized through the observations in both settlements. My arrival to the neighborhoods varied, depending on the times I agreed to the interviews, but always using public transportation, about an hour and a half or two before the first appointment and until nightfall. Given the housing conditions and the limited square meters of the houses, a large part of neighborhood life takes place in the streets, so that public space in the popular sectors becomes a place of forced sociability (Rodríguez Alzueta, 2011). This implies that the meeting places for children and young people, mainly boys, imply an inhabiting and not a mere transit through public streets, since the possibilities for recreation and consumption in private and closed places are scarce. This also implies the interweaving of urban, economic and cultural conditions and processes.

Adult men tend to leave the neighborhood in the morning because most of them work on construction sites in other areas and work in this sector starts very early in the morning. These jobs are especially volatile when there are prolonged days of heavy rains and work is interrupted. The proximity to the Río de la Plata and wetlands makes this situation frequent, so that many of the families in which the main income is that of the male bricklayer live in a situation of permanent worry and uncertainty. The meeting place for young people, mainly men, during the day and at night, are the corners of the neighborhood. They meet there to talk, play, and consume alcohol or drugs. We knew beforehand, through informal talks with the women, that whether they are harassed or not, these meetings tend to bother the neighbors. As far as possible, they try to avoid passing through these areas by taking alternative routes to reach their destination, either because they make annoying noises or because they consider them a potential threat.

Beyond the above, not all days are the same in the settlements. The days of the week, schedules and seasons of the year contribute to delineate neighborhood and family dynamics. Weekends are when there is more movement of people, especially on the few sunny days and before sunset. Children run around outside, playing with each other or riding bicycles under the gaze of their families, who stand outside their houses drinking mate. In addition, young men can also be seen on the streets going to buy beer or riding motorcycles in a very fast and noisy way, a fact that arouses discomfort among neighbors either because of the annoying in terms of auditory sensory or road accidents that may generate. We never saw a woman in these groups of men. Most of the time, young women also inhabit the neighborhood space as a group, but the most frequent activities are walks as a form of leisure and recreation and not merely a form of transit, often with children in strollers.

On the other hand, something that has been observed is the low circulation of people, the closing of stores and the cessation of activities in the streets and squares when it begins to get dark. The streets become empty and families withdraw, which implies that the routines and daily life in homes is organized in such a way that people try not to move around the neighborhood when it is dark and desolate. It is in the context described for El Arroyito and El Zanjón that the interviewees' reflections on their security strategies are spatially and biographically situated.

Fuzzy strategies in the quest for the colonization of the future: the society of the corners with a woman's gaze.

For women, the right to use public space is limited (Madriz, 2001). Routines and habits such as not passing through certain places characterized as threatening or dangerous, not going to parks or squares -mainly at night- or not waiting for transportation alone are part of the various forms that the restriction of the movements of the women interviewed takes. This implies that the development of certain practices to avoid confronting a conflictive situation, especially by avoiding certain spaces, is a constituent part of the daily life experience of the neighbors.

The main threatening otherness identified by the interviewees are young men, especially those who are found on street corners or riding motorcycles. The analysis of this article focuses on the strategies applied around this identification.5 Wilma comments that she rarely visits her sister in a neighborhood near El Arroyito because she believes it is dangerous and that she could certainly be the victim of a crime there. According to Wilma, the danger in that area is characterized by the darkness and inaccessibility of the area, since there are no paved streets and there are many groups of young men in the area whom she does not know.

The relevance of knowing the other is seen in the fact that many women stated that they always establish a cordial greeting with the young men on the street corners in their neighborhood. They were calm when talking about them, arguing that because they respect them, they do not bother them, or because they know them, they trust that they will not do anything to them. These preventive strategies manifest closeness and they adopt them with the aim of reducing the distance (Simmel, 2018) that separates them from the young people, so that they do not see them as strangers. These female neighbors comment:

Everyone gathers there [in front of her house]. Here on the corner too, but since they see you pass by every day it's like... If you are better known, they have a little more respect for you. But if you go past 66 [Avenue], or go to the park side, don't go past at night (Nancy, 49 years old).

No, I don't mess with anyone... Because above all, respect. You respect me, I respect you and don't bother. I say hello and you go on... (Silvana, 29 years old).

If they pass by, they ask me for a cigarette and I give it to them... or I pass them water or a bottle. They ask me, I give it to them. I don't try to be against them, I try to get along with them [...] I was never a woman who was afraid of them, on the contrary, they would yell at me and I would yell at them too... I would get up in the morning [and they would say] "hello, how are you doing", "Bring the bill to drink mate", I would yell at them, so I try to get along with them (Nadina, 58 years old).

The above also illustrates the management of the "street code" and the code-switching (Anderson, 1999). This means that women, depending on the situation, change the register they use on a daily basis in order to be able to deal with the different encounters they may face in the outside world. The women who recognize the understanding and the possibility of handling the code of the other and of developing from it, are mainly those who spend more time in the public space of the neighborhood. Thus, and putting the focus on the situation, they understand such symbols and meanings through the interaction that then contributes to the interpretation of situations when they meet the other. The possibility of unfolding in the public space in this way allows the alteration of codes and, consequently, of certain types of circumstantial behaviors through the prior evaluation of possible courses of action (Goffman, 1974). This approach and partial suspension of social and spatial distance gives them confidence and predictability; less frequently, these young people have broken the expectations of interaction with verbal aggression or by invading their personal space.

In addition, one could venture the hypothesis6 that this behavior by men in their neighborhood and towards women they know is due to the costs of interaction, since the fact that the women neighbors know who they are, where they live and know members of their families increases the possibility that they will be able to exercise sanctions towards the young men. Even when they are not assaulted or the recipients of leering, women continue to perceive this encounter and interaction in asymmetrical terms, since in their cognitive experience and through the chains of interaction, these subjects are capable of not adjusting to the expectations and forms of the neighborhood encounter.

On the other hand, we can recognize that several of the women expressed that at night they usually do not go out on the streets and that they should not need to go out anyway. For some of the women interviewed, this is because they are afraid of being victimized or verbally harassed by young men. But for others it is due to the codes of honorability that regulate relationships and that are at play in these settlements, in terms of differentiating their own position in the neighborhood in comparison with other neighbors and families. Respect - though not only for women - is a central feature in these types of contexts and is at the same time a key element of negotiation in the interaction of the street code. Similarly, many of the mothers reported that after the arrival of the children from school they had to stay with them doing the care tasks. For this reason, they would also have nothing to do during the night in the streets, arguing the restriction of the hours when they should stop walking in the neighborhoods and the withdrawal in the homes.

In the afternoon it is already difficult for me [to leave the house]... it is the time when my husband comes home... he comes home from work at six [in the evening], and at that time I am already inside, cooking and... doing things [...] Yes... I do the cleaning here, I take care of my daughter, I take care of my mother who is very sick (Wilma, 47 years old).

In this regard, we can recognize that motherhood in women and the social expectations and responsibilities that weigh on them also mark their experience of insecurity. The weight of the maternalist mandate on upbringing and care and the sense of responsibility make many of them remark that their greatest worries and fears are related to the threats to their families rather than to themselves. All of the single mothers said that when it starts to get dark they avoid walking in the neighborhood. They argue that this is mainly because their children are young and are always with them, so the fear that they might be harassed when they are with their children causes them to be more cautious when they move around with them than when they do it alone.

I don't do much with the kids. I come and go with the kids, so I don't... I don't go out much at night. The most I do is after eight [at night] when I come back from the club with them, that's all. After that... I don't... I walk in a hurry. And make sure there are always people there. [...] especially when I come with them (Karla, 34 years old).

Karla only walks around the neighborhood at night when she returns from picking up her children from their sports activities at the neighborhood club. In this case, the only weekly circumstance in which she cannot avoid circulating at night and with her children, she walks at a hurried pace and through busy places the few blocks that separate her home from said club. Thus, what we can observe is the fact that, depending not only on the spatial context but also on who accompanies her, the strategies to be developed vary.

Walking in a hurry, thinking ahead, looking attentively and watching all the movements of people circulating nearby is part of the daily life of the interviewees. In other words, "being alert" to what is happening around them, being able to "detect the inappropriate behavior of others" (Soto, 2012: 58) -always men- is something very recurrent in the testimonies and becomes another strategy that seeks to provide certainty to interactions in public space. Being alert implies a negative cognitive and emotional burden, which hinders the enjoyment or appropriation of the outdoors depending on the spatiotemporal context. In terms of proxemia, if during daylight hours the concurrence and proximity of others is positively evaluated by choosing to take busy streets, during the hours of darkness this becomes a source of fear.

In the different age groups, harassment related to sexual harassment in public spaces appeared explicitly only secondarily in relation to other experiences evaluated as unsafe, but it underlies the narratives. The harassment experiences recorded were linked to obscene comments and looks. In the face of this, the strategies were evasive, choosing not to confront the men who harassed them so that the conflict would not escalate into a greater aggression, involving physical contact or the continuation of the harassment. None of the interviewees reported having experienced any type of invasion of the body, but this possibility is experienced as a latent threat. This supports the thesis of the shadow and influences the prevalence of transiting rather than inhabiting public space. In all cases, ideas linked to the correct location of the feminine body, signified and sexed by others, are slipped in. All of them seem to know what is its place assigned as women, which hinders their integration in the outside world, as social relations and spatial processes are mutually reinforcing (McDowell, 2000).

The women interviewed not only limit their activities but also, in their role as mothers, restrict their children's activities for fear that something might happen to them. In particular, this can be seen in the accounts of the two women who have adolescent children. Priscila has a 14-year-old son, and when she talked about the care she took so that he would not be exposed to any possible situation of victimization in public or engage in activities that she considered inappropriate for a boy of that age, she emphasized in her story that she did trust her son, but not the young people around him:

What I wouldn't want is for something to happen to my child. I don't think I would know how to cope or how I would act in the face of an event. x. He goes to school with me, he goes to trumpet, I take him and I go to pick him up... as a matter of taking care of his physical integrity. I trust him, I know what he is, but I don't trust the rest. That's what happens to any mother. [Simulates conversation] "I don't mind getting up at any time and pick you up, you are my son. And if I don't take care of you, nobody takes care of you". That's how it is.

Wilma, who is the mother of a 12-year-old girl, is also concerned about being alone on the street - day or night - and interacting with young people on street corners. She stresses the fact of having repeated talks about the precautions to be taken on public roads. Given the generalized socialization, it is more common for girls to be taught in their families from an early age that they should always be careful and behave appropriately. The advice revolves around being alert to possible sexual aggressions, but also about how to walk, how to dress, how to sit, how to be feminine and respected, which simultaneously distinguishes and distances them from others. Wilma stated that:

I always talk to her about these things... not to go around where the kids are, not to talk to the kids... not to walk in dark places... But she doesn't... When it's nighttime she doesn't go out of here. No, because her father is already here and we want to see her in here... He wants to see her in here. I bought her the tablet and she is there in her room, inside. No, she doesn't go out. That's where she has her little friend [points to a neighboring house]. On this block, that's where she goes. Then, before her father comes, I call her. Around here, she doesn't go out on her own, huh? (Wilma, 47 years old).

Through these two cases we see the attempt to keep young people off "the street". Mothers who consider themselves "decent" also claim to be strict in their parenting, trying to get them to incorporate a sense of responsibility, work and "correct" moral principles. These strategies to prevent their children from interacting with people they consider not to be like them, because they share supposedly different values, restrict the experiences of the younger ones based on imaginaries constructed about the other. Also, in the perception of these two interviewees, control over their children will prevent problems in both public and private spaces, co-producing security from these restrictive practices (Agudo, 2016).

Following Skeggs (2019), from a macrostructural perspective, working-class women have been considered both the problem and the solution to the social order. The domestic ideal of women-mothers-caregivers operating in both interviewees is similar, but it is more significant because the latter is in a couple and the former is not. That is, although Wilma is not the only parent present, she manifests the same weight and feeling of the mandate of good parenting, even when she is in a couple and the other interviewee is not (Palomar Verea and Suárez de Garay, 2007; Skeggs, 2019). The internalization of this mandate, the maternal imaginary and care over her children, does not occur without mediation. It is reinforced in interactions with acquaintances and strangers and the sanctions they apply on women mothers. These sanctions have gradations, and can be more or less symbolic, such as, for example, the spreading of gossip in the neighborhoods as a form of disciplining given the close relationships.

Final thoughts

This article describes and analyzes how individual security strategies are defined and redefined in the framework of face-to-face interactions in order to face the problem of citizen insecurity of a group of women from popular sectors of the locality of Los Hornos. The focus was placed on the interaction process itself, attending to conversations and exchanges in order to perceive how strategies are configured and modified in the micro-social negotiation and the feeling itself is one of the contributions of this article.

The attempt to map the precarious conditions in which women and their families live and the vulnerabilities they and their families go through sought to go beyond a mere exposition of the material space to understand it in terms of a living space, which, by listening to the voices of those who live there, acquires a particular meaning. The place occupied in this work by the analysis of the neighborhood context made it possible to see where the strategies in the face of insecurity are inscribed.

The perception of insecurity and uneasiness manifested in one's own neighborhood is still a finding, even if the feeling is quite generalized. Most of the studies on fear of crime in the twentieth century showed that the proximity to the place of residence and the residence itself were considered safe places, since homes have been assumed to be a refuge from external danger. Elements such as knowing more people, knowing who they are and where they live for an eventual call for help, knowing the streets and sidewalks, the location of lighting, among others, continue to play a role in the evaluations, but are not sufficient to build a perception of safety in their areas of residence.

The avoidance and self-protection strategies analyzed were found to be full of creativity. Both are crossed by the evaluation of the spatio-temporal context and of the body movements to be deployed, resulting in the action to be executed in the face-to-face encounter with others. And as they become effective, in the sense of circumventing threatening situations, the strategies become routinized. Creativity and diversity of strategies can be clarified from the proposed perspective, since by focusing on face-to-face encounters and recovering conceptual tools of symbolic interactionism, negotiations, evaluations and exchanges take on explanatory centrality. Structural analyses have made great contributions to the subfield of studies that refer to women's experiences in the public space crossed by (in)security, but they do not allow us to approach explanations that account for how the agency that gives way to the variability of women's practices when transiting the public space operates.

On the other hand, it has been shown how the norms of respectability and the guidelines and imputations configure the security strategies of female neighbors and the expected behaviors and practices that they should maintain because of their position as women in public space. The assignment of spaces by gender, the places that are denied, the restricted schedules, the precautions taken when making certain journeys and the consequent limitation of their circulation degrade the possibilities of their experience of urban life and their quality of citizenship insofar as they curtail their rights and liberties, and at the same time prolong in public space the role of woman-mother-caretaker. As shown, the displacements and uses of the street brought up by women were mainly shaped by daily activities linked to reproductive work and not to productive work, even when they were workers.

Likewise, the variability of security strategies is marked by expectations, but also by the evaluation of face-to-face encounters situated in a space-time. The construction of the other from the narratives showed how motives are traced and assigned on an "us" and a "them" constructed vis-à-vis other inhabitants of the settlements. The social relations that women maintain on a daily basis with some members of the neighborhood are crossed by strategies of social distance and self-defense, considering that a violent, uncivil or threatening episode could occur at any time. Consequently, the attributions of meaning established on these others manifest and trace not only a social distance but also a spatial distance in the settlement itself. Urban fragmentation, in its spatial and social dimension, is embodied in the daily lives of these women through the exclusionary logics described, such as infrastructural difficulties or mobility and immobility. It was also observed how the feeling of insecurity is produced in a particular way in an environment of deterioration of the public sphere, turning the gaze to the presence of the State as a producer of spaces for coexistence and habitability. Likewise, this intersects with gender, since the expectations of non-threatening interactions in public space are very low for women, which exacerbates the expulsion dynamics of the city.

As mentioned, none of the interviewees explicitly mentioned the fear of rape and physical sexual aggressions, but it was found that, for the case analyzed, it also operates as the "shadow", influencing other fears of victimization. In addition to the accounts shown, the above can be sustained in that the other recurrent fear is always a young and male body. In the few cases in which fear of women was expressed, there was always prior knowledge and interpersonal conflict between the interviewee and the other. In both cases, the highest probability of risk assessed was evident in those crimes or hostilities that involved face-to-face contact and the proximity of bodies; that is, the possibility of receiving some type of physical aggression.

In general terms, we can say that the various strategies contribute to making these women feel more secure. Therefore, they also provide some certainty in their daily life experiences, which are crossed by a context of precariousness, poverty and lack of protection from and against the State. Recovering the subjective dimension of social vulnerability is another of the contributions made, given the greater importance of academic works, to the structural or objective, to social vulnerability in its double process.

Likewise, given their evaluation of the present and the perception that the State will not provide security or certainty, we consider that self-protection strategies are multiplied to avoid threatening situations or to anticipate them in order to minimize the possible consequences. Finally, delving into the dimension of women's agency and their practices in the city allows us to problematize postulates that maintain that public space is forbidden to them, as well as the possibility of thinking that they are not mere reproducers of social structures and mandates. This undoubtedly contributes to problematize and understand the experiences of urbanites in all their complexity and thus build public policies to democratize access to and enjoyment of the city.

Finally, in a future research, we expect to work on strategies and spatiality and the way in which they are constructed according to gender roles. It will be relevant, as a contribution, to carry out a comparative analysis that addresses the construction of the feeling of insecurity and the development of strategies in men, women and children. lgbttti+ and a greater diversity of women with different life trajectories and that it is not necessarily their class status that brings them together.


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Table 1. Profiles of the women interviewed. Source: prepared by the authors based on the information provided by the interviewees.

Gimena Bertoni is a doctoral candidate in Social Sciences at the flacso-Mexico Branch. M.A. in Social Sciences from the flacso-She holds a degree in Sociology from the Universidad Nacional de La Plata, Argentina. She is a member of the Argentine Association for Research in Women's History and Gender Studies (aaihmeg). She is a member of the Study Group on Violence, Justice and Human Rights of the Center for Social and Political Studies of the National University of Mar del Plata, Argentina; and participant of the Project "Security Forces, Vulnerability and Violence in the Context of the HIV/AIDS Pandemic". covid-19" of the National Agency for the Promotion of Research, Technological Development and Innovation of Argentina.


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