An Analytical Framework for the Study of the Geographies of Fear of Women From the Empirical Evidence in Two Mexican Cities

Receipt: September 28, 2021

Acceptance: February 9, 2022


This article analyzes the relations between gender, emotions and places, through the idea of women’s geographies of fear. On the one hand, I look into the specific spatial effects of fear of violence in women’s everyday lives and, on the other, I propose some analytical keys that can configure a theoretical-empirical framework of these geographies of fear from a gender perspective, emphasizing the geographical processes that are triggered in the urban experience. Our findings are backed by data from two studies on sexual harassment and other forms of sexual violence in public spaces in the cities of Puebla and Guadalajara, in Mexico.

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an analytical framework for the study of the geographies of fear of women from the empirical evidence in two mexican cities

This article analyzes the relations between gender, emotions and places, through the idea of women's geographies of fear. On the one hand, I look into the specific spatial effects of fear of violence in women's everyday lives and, on the other, I propose some analytical keys that can configure a theoretical-empirical framework of these geographies of fear from a gender perspective, emphasizing the geographical processes that are triggered in the urban experience. Our findings are backed by data from two studies on sexual harassment and other forms of sexual violence in public spaces in the cities of Puebla and Guadalajara, in Mexico.

Keywords: fear, bodies, gender, urban spaces, landscapes.


In this paper we are interested in discussing the relationship between gender, emotions and places. The theme that articulates these aspects is women's fear and its spatial and temporal dimensions in the city. In this sense, we propose to think of fear as a spatialized emotion of women; that is, an intersection between an emotion, fear, and a specific space, the city. First, we propose to discuss how fear is recounted by women as an emotion whose impacts are reflected in urban mobility, the related risk factors and the strategies they use to cope with insecurities. And, secondly, based on these research findings, we develop an analytical framework for the study of "women's geographies of fear", based on the following categories: i) physical and symbolic dimension of spaces; ii) restricted mobility in daily displacements; iii) spatial strategies of fear negotiation; iv) complex corpoemotional dimensions. The purpose of this is to develop a more systematic study of the spatial effects of fear in women's urban life and to emphasize the geographical processes that are triggered in everyday experience.

To this end, this article analyzes the results of a study on sexual violence in public spaces in two Mexican cities, Puebla and Guadalajara.1 The text is organized in four analytical moments: in the first moment we are interested in locating the theoretical interest in the geographies of fear from feminist thought, mainly in geography and urbanism, analyzing the contributions from different latitudes. In a second analytical moment, the methodological approaches followed to validate the research findings are described. A third moment is dedicated to provide a state context of violence for both cities. The final section proposes challenges and horizons to be explored in depth, thinking of the Latin American contexts.

The geographies of fear. Feminist approaches

The debate on violence and fear of violence in Anglo-American cities has been a widely studied topic within the research agendas of gender geographies. Indeed, from a feminist geographic perspective studies on women's insecurity in public spaces have shown how men's and women's everyday geographies have distinct differences in terms of the everyday uses and meanings of urban spaces (Valentine, 1989). On the other hand, the complexity of the relationships between fear of the city and social identities such as age, ethnicity and gender has been demonstrated. Likewise, Pain (2000) states that there are no easy answers to the question of who is more likely to fear urban public spaces. Place, she argues, affects fear in the city on different scales; many people fear different spaces at different times, and these fears are expressed in different behavioral patterns, such as the avoidance of neighborhoods or urban centers perceived as dangerous at certain times.

Thinking about a geography of women's fear of violence from a poststructuralist perspective, Metha and Bondi argue that women tend to develop a greater fear of violence and especially sexual violence than men (Mehta, 1999). Hille Koskela argues that the restriction of women's use of space is not seen by women themselves as a difficulty, but on the contrary as a normal and natural condition of their life in the city (Koskela, 1999). Finally, Gill Valentine (1989) has asserted that women develop individual mental maps of places where fear of sexual assault is interrelated with their experience of space and secondary information, thus women learn to perceive danger from male strangers in public space.

From a feminist perspective, Sara Ahmed (2014) makes a significant contribution because, according to her approaches, fear and space are mutually structured in a spatial politics of fear for women. In this idea, fear settles a spatial sense of gender, as it confines, limits and excludes women's movement in public space. What is more interesting is that a kind of over-inhabitation of private space would occur (Ahmed, 2014: 117).

In another spatial context, systematic research has been carried out in Spain on the relationship between insecurity and public spaces. On the one hand, Anna Ortiz has emphasized how the physical aspects of public spaces have effects on sociability and coexistence. The author argues that multipurpose design, multifunctional environments, balance between areas of action and rest, the existence of children's play areas, green components, visibility and transparency, good lighting, maintenance and accessibility, together with citizen participation in the design of spaces, are relevant when it comes to building safe spaces (Ortiz, 2005). On the other hand, the diversity of experiences and uses of public space by young people has been studied by means of relief maps of the experience of young people in different positions of gender, sexuality, ethnicity and social class, demonstrating that fear is a determinant in the use of and access to public space. The author states that young women identify certain places, certain times and circumstances that make them modify their behaviors; this is exacerbated by the conditions of social class, sexuality, nationality, which from an intersectional perspective are observed as forms of urban exclusion. The concept of intersectionality introduced by Crenshaw (1989) theorizes multiple oppressions understood as mutually constituted. This concept conceives of gender, ethnicity and class as intersecting categories in which the oppressions (and privileges) they produce are experienced simultaneously and thus must be studied relationally. A fundamental assumption of this work is a deep understanding of how space contributes to the production and reproduction of processes of inequality and injustice, such as sexism, that occur in urban spaces.

In Latin America, the spatial perspective has recently appeared in research that, under the concern for women's safety in the city, from disciplines such as architecture, urban planning and sociology, contributes to understanding the specificities of the continent. In this sense, it has been affirmed that female victimization is higher than is often perceived, and therefore invisibilized within the public and academic debate (Dammert, 2007). In another aspect, emphasis has been placed on the continuum of violence against women; thus, aggression, sexual harassment, rape and murder take place in the private and public spheres, in the home, on the streets and in the means of transportation (Falú and Segovia, 2007). However, while in developed countries public transportation appears as a relevant spatiality of research to establish consistent and significant gender differences in the purposes of the trip, the distance of the transfer, the mode of transportation and other aspects of transportation behavior; in Latin America there appears a more persistent reflection that narrows the relationship between mobility, fear and violence in the urban experiences of women. These studies emphasize that environmental conditions such as user congestion, poor access to public transport and deteriorating facilities configure specific conditions where the threat to bodily space is a persistent experience (Rozas and Salazar, 2015; Pereyra, Gutiérrez and Mitsuko Nerome, 2018). Related to the above, attention has been paid to the women-only transportation policies implemented in Mexico City and other Latin American cities, as a possibility to make visible the public problem of sexual violence against women (Dunckel-Graglia, 2013); it has also been documented that sexual violence reported during car separation decreases significantly, however, an effect of segregation yields contradictory results in terms of physical and sexual violence.

One aspect on which the various feminist perspectives on fear converge is the questioning of the particular ways in which discourses on women's safety have been spatialized in urban safety planning and urban design. First, a strong critique has focused on not considering the private-public space continuum to understand how violence in both spaces relates to each other, because, from a power and exclusion perspective, both public and private space can be seen as interacting with each other. Secondly, they have emphasized that there is a differentiated impact of fear perception and spatial practices depending on categories such as age, sexuality, ethnicity, disability, etc. And, thirdly, they reaffirm an anchoring in emotions, affectivity and corporeality to better understand women's fear.

Methodological considerations and case studies

Our arguments are supported by data from two studies on public spaces in the cities of Puebla and Guadalajara, whose objective was to produce information on harassment and other forms of sexual violence against women and girls in public spaces. Harassment and other forms of sexual violence in public spaces are understood as forms that are expressed on a daily basis through offensive phrases, gestures, whistles, touching, among others, that have an overt sexual character and are done without the consent of the victim. They include non-contact forms, such as sexual comments about a person's body parts or appearance, whistling while a woman or girl is walking, demanding sexual favors, sexually suggestive remarks, following, exposing sexual organs to someone, and physical forms of contact, such as approaching someone on the street or public transportation, grabbing, pinching, patting, or rubbing against another person in a sexual manner (onu Women, 2017). Some substantive findings have been published in. onu Women (2017) and (uam-i and onu Women (2018).2 This is relevant because in most cities in Mexico there is a lack of quantitative and qualitative information on harassment and other forms of sexual violence suffered by women in public spaces. Indeed, surveys dedicated to measuring violence have limited geographic coverage at the state level and therefore information on sexual harassment against women in public spaces at the municipal level is non-existent.

In this context, both cities followed a methodological approach that articulated two levels of analysis that involved approaching the object of study with mixed quantitative and qualitative techniques and approaches. The research carried out in the city of Puebla included eight spatial focus groups (young and adult women, La Acocota market tenants, 5 de Mayo market tenants, participants from civil society organizations, adolescent women and male public transportation operators) and an exploratory walk through the markets. In addition, a survey was applied to 1,598 women on perception and victimization by harassment and other forms of sexual violence in public spaces. Seven discussion groups were held in the city of Guadalajara (indigenous women,3 people with diverse gender expressions and sexual orientation, female workers, adolescent and young women, female participants of civil society organizations, a mixed group of police officers and a group of men); an exploratory walk was also conducted with women from different civil society organizations and institutions to identify the places of fear. In quantitative terms, a survey was applied to 1,050 women on the perception of insecurity and sexual victimization.

For the purposes of the analysis, we mainly used the research work developed through spatial discussion groups. The application of this technique follows the approaches of David Seamon (1979), who defines spatial discussion groups as an instance that promotes dialogue to share meaningful experiences and on which an increasingly deeper and more subtle understanding of phenomena is produced. Under his perspective, inquiring about the role of the body in everyday movements and the emotional links between people and places is fundamental to understand the human experience in space; for this, a fundamental key is bodily mobility (Seamon, 1979). The themes developed in the groups were: perception of insecurity, victimization by sexual harassment, description and meanings of places of fear, coping strategies, emotional dimension of sexual harassment and other violence.

Some considerations on the context

In most Latin American countries, significant progress has been made in quantifying mainly family violence; however, violence in public spaces has only recently begun to be investigated. In Mexico, only the National Survey of Household Dynamics and Relationships (endireh)4 identifies violence against women in public or community spaces,5 and indicates that it is mainly of a sexual nature (inegi, 2017). According to endireh 2016, the manifestations of gender-based violence that occur through the use of public spaces include offenses, abuse, extortion, harassment, stalking, sexual aggressions in public places perpetrated by any person, excluding the spouse or partner and any person in the family environment. The main places where this violence occurs are streets, squares, meeting places, recreation areas and other common spaces.

According to the analysis of secondary statistics, Jalisco is the state with the third highest proportion of violence against women: 74.1% reported having been a victim of some form of violence in their lifetime. On the other hand, the national prevalence of community violence suffered by women in their lifetime is 38.7%, while in Jalisco it rises to 48.2%. This is one of the highest prevalences in the country; in other words, almost five out of every ten women have been assaulted in the streets, squares, recreational and meeting places by an unrelated man. Rude or offensive compliments stand out with 34.5%; likewise, 17.9% have been groped, touched, kissed or approached without consent, and 17.9% have had their private parts shown to them. These would be the types of aggressions with the highest incidence at the state level. The group of women between 15 and 24 years of age is the one that presents the highest victimization, followed by the range of 25 to 34 years of age. As the age of the women increases, the incidence of violence in the community environment decreases. An important fact is that, when analyzing the different types, classes and situations of gender violence in the community setting, it can be affirmed that the levels of violence in Jalisco are higher in all types than those registered at the national level ((uam-i and onu Women, 2018).

In the case of Puebla, 35.7% of women reported having suffered some type of aggression in some common space, while at the national level the proportion was 38.7%. That is, almost four out of every ten women have been assaulted in the streets, squares, recreational and meeting places by a man without blood ties. Of the 35.7% of women who have suffered violence in public spaces, 34.3% of the cases were sexual abuse, 13.6% were emotional violence and 8.3% were physical violence. Regarding the age distribution of women according to the condition of violence in the community environment throughout their lives, it is noteworthy that at the national level, women in the 15 to 24 age range are those who register the highest percentage of incidents of violence, while in Puebla the highest percentage is located in the 25 to 34 years age range (onu Women, 2017).

Geographies of women's fear of violence in public spaces

Based on the extensive research work carried out in both cities, our proposal is to build a theoretical-empirical framework for the study of the geographies of women's fear; we develop four dimensions that are neither rigid nor exhaust the subject, rather they are starting keys to approach the phenomenon as a relational set of practices, symbols, emotions and spatialities that operate in a multi-scale manner. Starting from the body as a place and moving through streets, transportation, parks, neighborhoods, the interpretation of the fear of sexual violence places us in the exercise of analysis that puts at the center the gender power relations that are entrenched in public space. In this way we reveal how space and power are intimately intertwined.

The physical and symbolic dimension of spaces

The meaning of fear is both social and spatial; that is, it is associated with some places more than others. The ways in which fear is materialized and embodied bring different spatial dimensions to the discussion. A first dimension focuses on a detailed description of the physical-material conditions of places. According to empirical research, we can see that fear of sexual violence is expressed in relation to particular environments. Thus, very narrow aisles, poor distribution of stalls and products, drug use in the dumpster, accumulation of garbage, lack of surveillance, scarcity of lighting at the entrances, environmental and physical deterioration, the presence of spaces with poor visibility, "labyrinthine", "nooks and crannies" and garbage, are characteristics that women mention in the markets of Puebla, while in the case of Guadalajara women specify that the sidewalks are narrow, with obstacles, inclined, or the lack of them, uninhabited places, the surroundings of construction sites, long streets where it becomes complicated to cross them, uninhabited spaces at night and/or with little or no surveillance (for example, some commercial areas or public bicycle stations) are the elements that make up a material scenario that is fixed in the imaginaries of women's fear and that can be observed in the following photographic record.

Photo 1. Plaza Tapatía, Guadalajara. Source: Project files.
Photo 2. Surroundings of 5 de Mayo market, Puebla. Source: Project files.
Photo 3. Garbage in the 5 de Mayo market, Puebla. Source: Project files.
Photo 4. Narrow aisles of the market. La Acocota, Puebla.

However, this vision is partial, because in order to understand the complexity of the spatiality of fear it is necessary to go beyond the conception of space as a container, and to advance in the relationship between the spatial and the social in an interconnected manner. Space, in this sense, must be conceived as a result of social practices and in a process of permanent construction (Massey, 2005).

For a while I worked in Fresno, I think that is where I have experienced the most harassment on a daily basis; it is an area where there are many factories and there are loading zones and trailers. It is not at all friendly for a pedestrian walking through there, and I used to pass by on my bicycle, so there was daily harassment from truck drivers (focus group, civil society organizations, Guadalajara).

I work in the follow-up of femicides and we have shown that there has been an increase in cases of femicides where women's bodies are increasingly exposed in closer and more public places (focus group, civil society organizations, Puebla).

This contributes to demystify that fear is an essential quality of women's identity, but at the same time that it is a quality inherent to constructed spaces; spaces of fear are produced through social practices and power relations (Pain, 2000). Thus we find that fear of place is relational and is expressed and defined in a flow of social relations with "other" subjects, with places and with times. Whether it is the lack of surveillance, the presence of street commerce, the spatial dominance of groups of men or the dark streets, these aspects reveal the interaction between the social and the spatial. An important reference in this sense are the imaginaries constructed about which places to avoid. In this line of imaginary construction, it is the news, rumors, experiences of others that construct a spatial gender valence of places as dangerous; whether conceiving space as materiality or space produced by social practices, fear becomes tangible and identifiable.

Restricted mobility in daily commutes

The generalized insecurity in the cities studied has a direct impact on women's mobility and daily travel. In the case of Puebla, 73.4% of the women try to walk accompanied, 62.3% stopped going out at night or very early in the morning, and 54.7% change their travel routes (onu Women, 2017). In Guadalajara, 82.8% intend to walk accompanied, 57.9% have stopped going out at night or very early and 7.6% claim to have stopped working or studying ((uam-i and onu Women, 2018).

The point here is that the sense of insecurity affects, on the one hand, the movements and circulation of women through space and, on the other, the form and meanings that these movements assume in their realization. According to the new mobilities paradigm, mobilities in the plural refer to an observable physical movement from one place to another, the meanings through which these movements are codified and finally the experienced and embodied practice of movement (Cresswell and Priya, 2008). These three aspects open the debate to the idea of bodies in movement, which is not present in transportation agendas and which from our perspective is key to understanding the different daily mobility practices of women as embodied practices, fundamentally because the female body is culturally symbolized as vulnerable to sexual harassment by men and, therefore, governed by social behavioral norms of modesty, care, reserve, among others.

There are different alternatives that help reduce the possibilities of being exposed to harassment and that, as a whole, reduce mobility and the right to use the city. The most extreme form of avoidance is home confinement, which sometimes limits social participation, recreation, and even in some cases the abandonment of work or studies.

I used to work at night and I had to leave work, because it was very dangerous. I would arrive at ten o'clock at night or half past ten and the streets were lonely and you meet people who you don't know how they are going to react, because they are very disrespectful to women (focus group, adolescent women, Puebla).

Following Tovi Fenster's approach, the lack of freedom to move in space due to incarceration in the home can be understood as a violation of human rights as serious as actual physical violence (Fenster, 2005).

I believe that the fact that so many rights are being violated at the same time just by deciding on a route to get to work or to go to a party or some other activity, implies a violation of a person's freedom, but also of the right to privacy, for example, because I have to go unnoticed or invisible in order to continue being part of this society (focus group, civil society organizations, Guadalajara).

This is relevant because we can affirm that women experience the space of mobility as constrained and reduced, which indicates that the relationship between gender, mobility and fear is articulated with the notion of subjectivity. In this sense, decisions to limit themselves when using places or choosing modes of transportation are frequently informed by and through the emotion of fear, which conditions the mobility options they can access.

In this perspective linking mobility and sexual harassment, several conditions linked to mobility are recognized as being used by aggressors to exercise their power in the public space.

I have seen in Margaritas that there are men who stand at the door and the woman has to pass in that small space, but he stands still and does not move for anything in the world, so when she passes, he brushes past her (focus group of transport operators, Puebla).

Thus, we find that the physical spaces in and around public transportation areas offer facilities for harassers for both planned and spontaneous encounters. For example, the noise of congested spaces allows verbal harassment while enjoying anonymity, the speed with which bodies circulate in transfer areas facilitates the pursuit, the permanence inside a car or minibus allows a harasser to manage time, the solitary and poorly lit spaces in access areas provide greater control and power to be used against the victim. In short, sexual harassment should be understood not only as an exercise of male symbolic power over space, but also as an exercise of power made possible by the characteristics of public space.

Spatial fear negotiation strategies

Despite the magnitude of the problem of sexual violence in public spaces against women in the cities of Puebla and Guadalajara, women are not simply objects located in space, where they experience restrictions and limitations. They also produce, define, and in certain occasions position themselves as subjects. Thus, many women develop agency through their own negotiation of danger and actively reclaim space. In this sense, in the discourse recounting the practices there are some narratives that make references to individual strategies to avoid sexual harassment, as if the women themselves were responsible for dealing with the problem. In the spatial discussion groups it was possible to inquire about the strategies women use to prevent violence in public spaces and how they transmit these alternatives to other women.

We found the presence of three types of strategies that operate in multiple forms and scales, from the body to the collective. The first is avoidance behavior, which refers to a set of strategies used by women to avoid sexual aggression (Ferraro, 1996), the second is self-protection mechanisms against sexual victimization or its consequences (Smith and Hill, 1991), and the third is the confrontation of the harasser.

In the field research we can observe that the main avoidance strategies refer to actions such as "going out accompanied", "going out in a group", "going out during the day", "not being seen", "going unnoticed", "wearing pants", "running", "getting off the transport", "walking fast" (onu Women, 2017).

The girls they take their clothes in their backpack to change, they dress up to go out and in their backpack they bring what they want to wear to school and take out their dress. If they are going out, they put on their pants to move (discussion group of civil society organizations, Guadalajara).

Before, I used to go downtown a lot, I almost lived downtown, I knew it, but not now, now it is something else! Now, every time I go, I tell my husband "take me!", then I shop while my husband walks around and picks me up (adult women's focus group, Puebla).

Secondly, among the self-protection strategies we find that there are women who use their own body as a defense: "putting their elbow" to take care of personal space or extending their body with objects, such as "using their backpack in front of them". In both cases what these acts allow is to regulate distances and proximity to others.

We also found evidence that women use verbal and physical violence as a way of confronting the harasser: "swearing at him", "hitting him"; and women also indicate that self-care in public spaces often forces them to carry some type of self-defense: "box cutter", "pepper spray", "boxer ring", among others.

I bought pepper spray, because my sister has self-defense and they teach her many things to defend herself and she teaches them to me (focus group adolescent women, Puebla).

Some narratives also locate a more performative strategy, which is very interesting, because it shows that the body is not passive. Indeed, some women use expressive postures and gestures to "show their self-confidence". And it is precisely this performative character of the bodily act that challenges the traditional gender normativity and expresses a transgression of it, as observed in the following story.

When I walk I try to look as if I am not afraid, so if I am walking and someone talks to you and shouts at you, I don't turn around, I keep walking. It is like imposing yourself as a woman, because if not, they see you as defenseless, and so you are still full of fear, fear, and you are also easy prey for them to say something to you, that is why showing you are strong is key, because if they see you as weak, they eat you (indigenous women's focus group, Puebla).

From an intersectional perspective, sexual violence is rooted in inequalities of gender and sexuality. This relationship is especially revealing for understanding the relationship between space and body, I would even go so far as to assert that the feminine existence of lesbian women is even more precarious and more often the body is externally pressured and experienced as a marginalized body, which requires having greater control over their bodily movements, as expressed in the following excerpt:

I started taking kick boxing Many years ago, because I felt that I had to defend myself all the time, now I know how to defend myself, I know where to hit, how to hit, how to get out of dangerous situations. But it is through the years and through the fact that you have had to go through stronger and stronger experiences that you make the decision and self-determination to prepare yourself and go out to the street, because you know that you are going to encounter a world of harassment and that you have to defend yourself (sexual diversity discussion group, Guadalajara).

I realized that I have to develop a kind of defense mechanism, now that I have lost a lot of weight I still wear the same clothes and they fit me too big and I shaved my head, so I look more like a boy, and I have realized that people do not notice when I am with my girlfriend that I am also a woman, so they do not say anything to us and I feel a lot of relief (diversity focus group, Guadalajara).

In all these cases, we can observe that there are diverse ways of negotiating danger, reading the signs of danger, locating oneself within space and using power in urban space; women show "spatial agency" or, in De Certeau's (1996) terms, they would be part of a microphysics of resistance, which through a critical and selective appropriation of disciplinary practices, transform their original meaning and alter their repressive character.

Third, it is important to mention that formal reporting as a form of exercising rights is not seen as a strategy for confronting sexual harassment and violence. Consequently, when women were asked if they had reported any of these situations, only two acknowledged having made a complaint. In the case of Guadalajara, 92.1% of the women who have experienced some form of sexual violence in public spaces did not report, and in Puebla 0.52% of the people interviewed in the corridors claimed to have reported any of the situations, in the markets it was 0.39% and in transportation the reporting rate reached 4.27%. The most relevant reasons indicated by women in Guadalajara for not reporting were because they did not know they could report (22.6%), because they considered it was unimportant (17%) and because they did not trust the authorities (16.8%) (onu Mujeres, 2018). For the case of Puebla, an emotional component is evident that is linked to non-reporting; thus, shame, guilt, distrust, together with the naturalization of the facts contribute to this situation. An overall view shows that the reasons for not reporting are linked to distrust of institutions and cultural factors that normalize acts of sexual violence.

Body-emotional dimensions

Fear contributes to the configuration of an emotional geography. The importance of emotional geographies has been made visible in the so-called "emotional turn", which according to Nogué and San Eugenio Vela (2011) focuses on the exploration of emotional interactions between people and places. In our case of analysis, the spatialities of emotion and affectivity allow us to think an affective landscape, that is, emotions are deposited in places, but in the same way, places have the capacity to generate emotional reactions. As Oslender has argued, it is necessary to establish a link between fear and landscape in relation to social space and the embodied practices of everyday life (Oslender, 2002).

In this construction of a geography of fear in both cities, it is observed that the perception of risk is linked to broader concerns that are identified in an environment of insecurity for women. In the case of Puebla it is increasingly clear with the cases of femicide. According to data from the Executive Secretariat of the National Public Security System (snsp), Puebla is the state with the fifth highest number of femicides in the country. Meanwhile, in Guadalajara the specificity of gender violence is linked to the presence of organized crime, drug trafficking and confrontations with security forces; this context has favored violence against women and configures a landscape of fear that has generalized the feeling of vulnerability.

My argument is that although the fears experienced by women are subjective, they are nevertheless strongly linked to a threatening environment. Consequently, a territorialized culture is created where the collective sense of helplessness and social breakdown exerts a social and cultural role in women's lives. An important element of the corpoemotional dimensions of fear is the sensory dimension, extensively studied by Sabido (2019). This author uses the category of sensory memory in urban analysis and argues that the meanings attributed to sensory experiences gradually construct a spatiotemporal narrative. For the author, sensory memory "acquires materiality in narratives that evoke sensations, emotions and feelings that, somehow, affected to the body and that are associated with certain places, artifacts and people" (Sabido, 2019: 216). Following Sabido's idea, there are diverse sensations and affective states that leave an imprint in our sensory memory and that in the research work conducted can be located as traces in space; for example, in olfactory terms, the smell of urine in markets, tourist corridors and transportation access areas, as mentioned in Puebla, produces the idea that it is a masculine territory. On the other hand, the sense of hearing intervenes by identifying noise as a factor that implies the impossibility of not being heard in the event of being in a situation of harassment: "streets with fast and noisy traffic", "transport announcers", "loud music in buildings" in Guadalajara. As Cosgrove has argued, "smell or hearing can be much more powerful and immediate than sight in creating emotional responses to a particular place" (2002: 64). These cases call attention to the importance of other senses, beyond sight, in understanding the landscape from a gender perspective.

The widespread male harassment in public spaces, as we have shown above, transforms fear as a persistent emotion in the experience, which has as effects a defensive emotional state, stress and sometimes anguish: "as you already have this experience and you know it is happening, you are always on the lookout, you cannot be calm in the streets" (focus group, indigenous women). For some of the participants, the experiences of harassment or abuse in public spaces have left other emotional traces that are lasting and manifest themselves as post-traumatic stress: "I now live in a psychosis, more than harassment, I think I already have psychosis for being an adult woman who moves alone in the street at 12 o'clock at night" (focus group, organizations). For others, it is interpreted as a particularly traumatic experience that can cause a permanent change in their lives and routines, and a feeling of constant fear.

The complex emotional dimensions that women construct in their urban experiences are initially presented to us in fragments of emotions, but when we think about it in a complex way, we can observe how a sequence is presented that starts with fear but moves through anger, frustration, guilt, shame, among other emotions. Thus, according to the cases studied, one of the aspects that causes frustration and even guilt is the inability to react or defend oneself effectively. If harassment is a daily occurrence, women wonder why they allowed themselves to be distracted and let their guard down, why they did not foresee or were not ready to repel the aggression, internalizing the culturally established idea that the responsibility for taking care of themselves lies with the victims, and aggression happens to those who allow it to happen. As they state in the discussion groups, "I was left with the impotence of not having shouted at him, of not having said something to him so that he would respect not only me, but also the other women" (discussion group, indigenous women, Guadalajara) and sometimes it is even experienced as cowardice, which reaffirms the culturally assumed condition that women are weaker: "it makes me very angry, it makes me want to tell them to leave me alone, go away, but I don't have the courage to say it" (focus group, young women Guadalajara). Finally, the cycle closes with shame and humiliation: "they catch you in the middle of the street" (focus group, young women, Guadalajara). shockYou don't know what to do, you don't react, in those moments you are paralyzed, and you ask yourself what just happened, and my friend was there too and we couldn't believe it. We couldn't even look each other in the eye, why is this happening to us" (focus group, young women, Guadalajara).

It is necessary to specify that fear as a lived experience is a cumulative process, i.e., it is not the result of an isolated event of sexual violence. If we consider that the first experiences of sexual harassment occur at a very young age, the social construction of fear develops over time and in various personal and social situations. The most important effect recorded is the idea of a reduced bodily existence, where the movement of the body projects limited possibilities of action and movement. This is why we can affirm that a permanent consequence in women's lives is the way in which harassment affects self-image and produces the idea that one's own body is a source of shame, or incorporates the belief that it is they who provoke the aggressions. This emotion is internalized and produces a form of subjectivity organized around insecurity. The following examples illustrate well a constant in the discussion groups:

My granddaughter, on one occasion we got on the bus; her father was coming, her mother was coming, there were five of us, and my granddaughter wanted to sit in the back next to the window; next to us was a man, and when we got off, she said: "grandma, you are going to get mad at me" "Why?" "The man was doing that to me", and she indicated how his hand brushed the girl's leg (market discussion group, Puebla).

They make you feel super bad about yourself, she said: what's wrong with my body that they see pure sex or what? They see pure sex walking around and that's why they yell at me "ay, piernuda"; I have started to feel very bad, very self-conscious, besides I am at an age where I have many body insecurities, am I calling for this to happen, what am I doing wrong? (focus group, young women Puebla).

In this same line of analysis, for Bourdieu, for example, gestures, postures, ways of walking, eating, sitting, facial expressions and ways of speaking are part of a hexis that expresses the relationship between the social world and the forms of inscription on bodies. These bodily imperatives include imperatives on how to smile, lower one's gaze, accept interruptions, but also the way in which women are taught to occupy space, to walk, to adopt convenient bodily postures (Bourdieu, 2000). Whether in the streets, transportation or other public spaces, bodies incorporate a series of behaviors associated with fear that have long-term emotional and spatial effects, where they occupy a place as women in public space that is marginal, fragile, vulnerable, in short, as an out-of-place otherness.

We broadly agree with Ortiz when he states that "bodies play an essential role in shaping people's experiences in places. And the practice of our bodies (with their gender, sexual preferences, physical abilities, age, color or ethnicity) is unique and depends on the specific spatial, temporal and cultural contexts where they are situated" (Ortiz, 2012: 117). Indeed, bodies are produced and reproduced through a series of learning of bodily skills that have a social meaning, that is, through a feminine style of bodily behavior, in which the spatial and bodily invasion represented by the threat of rape plays a decisive role, where in addition this bodily invasion can manifest itself in much more subtle ways (Young, 1980).

Final thoughts

In this paper we have shown some of the individual and social consequences of sexual harassment and other forms of sexual violence in women's urban lives, which are often underestimated in most societies. While for women in Puebla the three most significant habit changes due to fear of sexual violence are walking accompanied, stopping going out at night or early in the morning, and changing their commuting routes ((uam-i and onu Women, 2018), in Guadalajara women state that for fear of being sexually assaulted or harassed they try to walk accompanied, they try not to walk alone on the street, they have stopped going out at night or very early in the morning and they are given rides or picked up ((uam-i and onu Women, 2018). In each of these practices what is at stake is the control effect that space can help to build, and they also express a key spatial consequence: developing a restricted mobility model by limiting for themselves the use of public places, which affects their right to the city (Pérez, 2013).

Empirical research on women's geographies of fear has revealed a widespread gender awareness of vulnerability to sexual harassment; in this, the poor design of public spaces is recognized as an element that reinforces the perception of fear and risk in their daily lives. Likewise, in this context, a series of effects were found that have repercussions on the limitations of movement in some places. While the evidence in both cities is that women still experience high levels of social and spatial restriction due to fear of sexual violence, there are everyday spatial practices that can be thought of as practices of resistance, which, by identifying danger, reading its signs and frequently negotiating the ways in which they appropriate that space, open up a series of possibilities for thinking about women developing spatial agency. In doing so, we reaffirm the thesis of Wilson (1991), who has emphasized that the city can be recognized as a place of impositions and restrictions, as well as a place of transformations and appropriations.

The complexity of the geographies of women's fear demands new conceptual approaches and responses that are not reduced to policies focused exclusively on environmental-urban design without considering in parallel the structural factors of violence that sustain this problem in public spaces. That is, as long as the gender power relations that become tangible in space are not discussed, the alternatives to confront this violence will be limited. This is not to say that transformations in the built environment alone will improve women's quality of life, but rather that the impacts on the political nature of the problem of violence, i.e., understanding how power is produced, reproduced and distributed, will continue to remain unproblematized.

Finally, this article offers an organizing framework of four elements that allow us to spatially study the different impacts of women's fear of sexual violence in their daily lives through the concept of geographies of fear: the physical and symbolic dimension of spaces, restricted mobility in daily displacements, spatial strategies of fear negotiation, and complex corpoemotional dimensions. Through these elements we can look at the analysis of fear in women's daily lives by reconceptualizing urban space as a complex affective, sensory, emotional and power experience.


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Paula Soto Villagrán D. in Anthropological Sciences from the Universidad Autónoma Metropolitana, Iztapalapa. She did a postdoctoral research stay in Human Geography. She is currently a full professor-researcher in the Department of Sociology of the Division of Social Sciences and Humanities at the Universidad Autónoma Metropolitana, Iztapalapa. uam-Iztapalapa. Member of the National System of Researchers.


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