Living in and Circulating in Mexico City: Social Representations of Female University Students

Recepción: 28 de septiembre de 2021

Aceptación: 18 de noviembre de 2021


This article presents the results of a qualitative investigation carried out during 2016 and 2017 on 72 young, middle-class women from three public universities in Mexico City. The aim of the study was to know their practices and social representations in their experience of living and circulating in the public interconnection spaces of the city. For this, the starting point is the question of how they represent two of the physical public interconnection spaces they use: The streets they travel along to go to their universities and public transport. But also, the public spaces they travel to: Universities, museums and parks. What is their spatial experience like when moving around in the city? The results display the conditions of insecurity and violence faced by these women in their daily lives and their representations of a city that stalks and neglects them, the city that naturalizes harassment, the city that is unequal for women when it comes to their ways of transportation in, and the representation of, these spaces.

Keywords: , , ,

living in and circulating in mexico city: social representations of female university students

This article presents the results of a qualitative investigation carried out during 2016 and 2017 on 72 young, middle-class women from three public universities in Mexico City. The aim of the study was to know their practices and social representations in their experience of living and circulating in the public interconnection spaces of the city. For this, the starting point is the question of how they represent two of the physical public interconnection spaces they use: The streets they travel along to go to their universities and public transport. But also, the public spaces they travel to: Universities, museums and parks. What is their spatial experience like when moving around in the city? The results display the conditions of insecurity and violence faced by these women in their daily lives and their representations of a city that stalks and neglects them, the city that naturalizes harassment, the city that is unequal for women when it comes to their ways of transportation in, and the representation of, these spaces.

Keywords: social representations, mobility, women, to inhabit.


Being a man or a woman marks fundamental differences in urban life. The ways of inhabiting cities are different based on the construction of gender. Rita Segato (2003) defines gender as an "abstract structure of relations" that embodies asymmetrical positions and power relations. According to the author, this universal order is imposed on us by gender and, as such, forms part of the urban space in which we live. Linda McDowell (1999) suggests that in order to understand the category of gender it is essential to overcome the dichotomies between the conceptions of public and private, city and home, politics and private life, in which men are linked to the former and women to the latter, since in reality women find themselves on both sides, negotiating and modifying their presence in both. The different ways in which women and men define the accepted attributes of femininity and masculinity are defined across time and space. Gender must be seen, then, as a set of material social relations and as symbolic meaning. Ways of thinking about and representing place/gender are interconnected and mutually constitutive.

In this research, gender is an indispensable variable to talk about inhabiting public spaces, particularly interconnected public spaces, since it highlights a set of power relations, hierarchies, permitted actions and inequalities within urban life. Therefore, the places of origin and displacement are key to understand the ways of describing and representing the city from the life experience of women. Lindón (2020), Soto Villagrán (2016) and Jirón and Zunino Singh (2017) have studied mobility from the perspective of the moving subject-woman. These authors highlight the unequal nature of mobility from the construction of gender and risk as a constant. Ana Falú (2009; 2011) raises the violence, insecurities and discrimination experienced by women in cities and particularly in public spaces.

Desde la perspectiva de género, la movilidad debe ser vista no sólo como una práctica social sino como una relación social que adquiere dimensiones políticas que expresan y reproducen relaciones de poder (Cresswell, 2010). Hoy es casi incuestionable que las experiencias femeninas sobre los espacios de movilidad se viven y se representan desde la diferencia respecto de las experiencias masculinas. En este estudio de casos se indaga en los espacios de movilidad y en los espacios públicos de destino (parques, museos, la universidad, el Zócalo y otros) dentro de los desplazamientos de mujeres universitarias de clase media-baja. Es decir, ¿hacia dónde se mueven? ¿Cómo lo describen? ¿Cómo representan los espacios públicos físicos de interconexión que usan: calles por las que se desplazan a sus universidades y transporte público? Pero también los lugares públicos a los que se desplazan: la universidad, museos y parques. ¿Cómo es su experiencia espacial al moverse en la ciudad?

In the first stage of this research, a qualitative semi-structured questionnaire was applied in order to explore the social representations of the experience of living in Mexico City of 73 young university women who commute to the city from five zones of the metropolitan area (State of Mexico, Iztapalapa, Xochimilco, Azcapotzalco and Coyoacán). Qualitative research "does not aim to establish frequencies, averages or other parameters, but to determine the diversity of some topic of interest within a given population." (Alcaraz et al., 2006: 43). In this case study it was important to establish, through a qualitative sample without statistical representation, different experiences of the city of university women who travel by public transportation.

The main destination points are its universities: the National Autonomous University of Mexico (unam) in cu, the Universidad Autónoma Metropolitana, Iztapalapa campus (uam-i) and the Autonomous University of Mexico City (uacm), Casa Libertad campus. This instrument sought to relate the daily experience of young women in their territories of mobility such as the street. The central question was focused on knowing if they live the city in a differentiated way and if they perceive it or not.

In the second stage, a focus group was conducted with 10 female students from the same universities. Open-ended questions were asked and maps of the subway network and the city were used as georeferential resources to identify their social representations of the places they travel through using the technique of free word association. Undoubtedly, the cultural matrices that define the way these women live (age, economic status, schooling, ethnic group, place of origin, etc.) have an impact on this experience. It is not the same to be a poor woman in Mexico City as it is to be a young, lower middle class university student. There are factors that add or subtract processes of exclusion, precariousness and vulnerability of women in their urban environments.

Inhabiting interconnected public spaces

Inhabiting is more than residing and occupying a space, it implies taking root, generating daily routes and links with territories with which we identify or distance ourselves. Ángela Giglia defines it as "a set of practices and representations that allow the subject to place him/herself within a spatio-temporal order, at the same time recognizing and establishing it. It is a matter of recognizing an order, situating oneself within it, and establishing one's own order. It is the process by which the subject places himself in the center of spatio-temporal coordinates through his perception and his relationship with the surrounding environment" (Giglia, 2012: 13). For Pallasmaa, the "act of inhabiting is the fundamental means by which one relates to the world", and in that act we situate ourselves in time and space and, with that, inhabiting implies both an event and a mental and experiential quality (Pallasmaa, 2016: 7-8).

In this way, inhabiting also means the experience of daily life in the territories and the meanings that are built around them. Physical structures cannot be separated from our daily experience of the city and our ways of being, narrating and representing spaces. The city is also defined by what we experience and signify. The city, says Sennett, is "a kind of experience," a kind of collective consciousness (Sennett, 2019). These spatial experiences, as defined by John Entrikin (1991), reveal the existential qualities of our experience of place as our sense of it as a natural "object" in the world. As city dwellers, we construct meanings about the house, the school, the square, but also about the streets, the subway, the parks. "By understanding that the city is made up of buildings and the space arranged between them, it is then recognized that the roads through which citizens move constitute part of what we call public space" (Díaz-Osorio, 2016: 128), since they also generate part of urban life and social relations from mobility.

Usually, the spaces in cities where women can be and be (inhabit) have been private. Women's spatial experiences have changed as they have occupied public spaces, joined the labor market and taken to the streets. Bellet Sanfeliu defines public space from its multifunctionality:

It can be defined in many ways, depending on how we look at its forms (free space, open space, transition spaces), its nature (property regime, type of management), the uses and functions that are developed there (space for the collective, common, shared), or the type of relationships that are established (space of presentation and representation, democracy, protest, party, etc.). Spaces with very diverse dimensions but almost all of them related to one aspect: the place of social, civil and collective expression and representation, the democratic space par excellence, the common space (Bellet Sanfeliu, 2009: 1).

Within the complexity and diversity of defining public spaces, this paper focuses on those free, open spaces that can be considered as spaces of transit, interconnection and mobility in Mexico City, such as the streets through which these women travel and public transportation:

Streets, sidewalks, within the categories of public space, are the spaces directly related to the activity of displacement. Likewise, squares, parks and their variations are the points of intersection between several roads or paths that make that, within that displacement, pleasant intervals can be generated, understanding urban mobility as a process of movement and pauses that allows enjoying the exchange of places and promoting the sense of belonging to the city (Díaz-Osorio, 2016: 129).

From these spaces, women can also establish not only transit or permanence actions but can also signify other experiences of urban life from inequality. In this sense, "mobility is not merely a reflection of social structures, that is, it only reproduces them, but it is a producer of those differences" (Jirón and Zunino Singh, 2017: 1). Mobility is absolutely central to understand urban life from everyday experiences, since it implies "the ability to negotiate space and time to achieve practices and maintain relationships that people consider necessary for normal social participation" (Cass, Shove and Urry, 2005: 543).

Social representations of interconnected public spaces

Public spaces acquire everyday representations based on the practices carried out in them and the ways of moving through them, and play a key role in the consolidation of women's ways of living. This paper takes up the theory of social representations to recognize the symbolic field as a structuring part of women's living and mobility. The way in which they experience the streets, parks and public transportation in the city goes through a process of symbolic construction that structures individual ways of being and being, but which are lived and legitimized collectively: "It is, then, a system made up of spaces for public use, with different physical qualities and specific functions associated with symbolic representation, recreational activities and even mobility" (Díaz-Osorio, 2016: 130).

Spaces and their limits are constructed on a daily basis. "Space constitutes a place as a toponymic and topographic set that is endowed with meaning by human beings, and at the same time gives them meaning, for being in everyday life the scenario of social practices of multiple meanings. Here the idea of limit is incorporated as a way of dividing displacements and spheres" (Uribe Fernández, 2014: 102). Common sense indicates where to circulate, what actions are allowed and what social practices are accepted for women within certain spaces. Consequently, these places possess social representations as spaces marked by their inhabitants. According to Henri Lefebvre (1991: 38), representations of space are linked to production relations and the "order" that these relations impose, and therefore to knowledge, signs, codes and "frontal" relations. Not far from this approach, Moscovici's concept of social representations defines them as "a particular modality of knowledge whose function is the elaboration of behaviors and communication between individuals. Representation is an organized body of knowledge and one of the psychic activities thanks to which men make physical and social reality intelligible, integrate themselves in a group or in a daily relationship of exchanges, release the powers of their imagination" (Moscovici, 1979: 17-18).

Both Lefebvre and Moscovici agree that representations imply a set of knowledge and knowledges about the immediate reality and the relations with that space. This knowledge is part of common sense knowledge, as practical knowledge that allows explaining a situation and acting in concrete ways (Piña and Cuevas Cajiga, 2004: 105). Some of these representations are stronger and imply broader consensus and are defined as hegemonic, that is, as recognized representations, little questioned and with great capacity to subsist longer. This does not mean that the representations are universal or homogeneous, but that they enjoy recognition and legitimacy for certain groups, in certain spaces and particular historical contexts.

Gender implies a set of social representations when moving around the city. For this study we explored the social representations of public spaces of interconnection and destination among young female university students from Mexico City and the state of Mexico. Their places of origin are: 36 from Iztapalapa, 12 from Xochimilco, seven from Tlalpan, five from Iztacalco, four from Azcapotzalco, three from Coyoacán and two from Benito Juárez, and four of them live in the conurbations of the State of Mexico. The three universities are located in the south and east of the Mexican capital, in the delegations of Coyoacán and Iztapalapa (see Figure 1). These women have the following characteristics: high mobility in the city and on public transportation, they all use public transportation at least five times a week, if not every day, and they all have commutes to their universities of at least one hour.

The sample was qualitative and the method of determination was as follows:

Table 1. Methodological proposal. Source: Own elaboration.

The questionnaire began with questions about their daily life in Mexico City, their journeys in public transportation, in the university environment and the parks, avenues and streets they travel, continued with questions about how they feel in these scenarios and what situations make them feel vulnerable and afraid, and ended with the representations of these spaces in their routines. Their representations begin to emerge from the answers to the questions about how they feel and how they describe their routines. This finding is not unusual, since representations are also lived experience and integrate elements of an affective and emotional order. They converge in the particular explanation of the world and express the logic and coherence of a particular world system. It gives coherence to the "I" in interaction and to subjectivity and intersubjectivity in movement (Flores Palacios, 2015).

Figure 1. The stars mark the locations of their universities (unam, uam-i and uacm) and the points from which they commute on a daily basis. Source: Own elaboration with data from the questionnaires.

The ways in which these young university women live their journeys in the city are marked by the spaces in which they reside, the territories they frequent and the ways in which they relate to each other in them. Undoubtedly, in the case of these women, these places can generate greater vulnerability and dynamics of violence and harassment. For the study it was important to ask about their daily practices, their strategies when moving in the city, the explanations they give about the causes of these vulnerabilities, the ways in which they see themselves and the spaces they inhabit. For Moscovici (1979), social representations are historical, dynamic and sociocultural. The experience lived in public transportation and the ways in which they describe them express representations from structures of common sense that allow them to define them as habitual and expected.

A. Public transportation: the daily routine and the inevitability of harassment

When describing their trips on public transportation in the open-ended questions, the five words most frequently repeated were: long (56), late (48), crowded (46), tiring (51) and stressful (59). When asked for their reasons, they alluded to experiencing adverse, uncomfortable, risky, harassing and insecure situations. The reasons for the stress they suffer include the need to be alert so that no one harasses or assaults them: 70 out of 73 said they felt harassed and unsafe on public transportation (subway, metrobus, microbuses). Public transport represents a space of alertness, of more or less expected risk.

This figure also includes insecurity due to assaults and robberies. But they all expressed feeling more insecure because they are women, confirming Paula Soto Villagrán's idea about crowding and sexual harassment:

One of the main problems that differentially affects women in public transportation is the congestion of people in buses (Kunieda and Gauthier, 2007), where we find a special situation of bodies located in space; what McDowell (2000) has called the crowding factor. This effect of the agglomeration of strangers in collective means of transport is perceived as a potential risk situation in that it becomes a factor of insecurity for women, due to the fact that it facilitates forms of sexual violence due to the excessive closeness between people (Soto, 2017: 130).

These women feel insecure. However, this is not only a matter of perception and emotion: they suffer daily situations of insecurity and violence in public transportation.

My experience in the subway I think is common as a woman, what you have to go through , to be looked at morbidly by men or pushed by men; I believe that there is not a day that goes by that I do not receive a leering glance, an approach (Diana, 21 years old, student uam, resident of Iztapalapa).

Well, in the subway, there are issues of harassment, men approaching you, and it is not a specific station, but at different points of the line and that is why I prefer to use the two women's cars. Although I have seen many times that there is a lot of aggression in the women's cars and I think it is because there are only two cars for many women, so when we see the space reduced we tend to be more aggressive (Patricia, 20 years old, student unam, resident of Azcapotzalco).

I have been assaulted on buses, I was assaulted once and it was on a route that goes to my house. But in general I haven't had anything happen to me that would make me say that traveling on public transportation is annoying. I have traveled on the metrobus, the trolleybus and the light rail, and it was only that experience of the assault and maybe the men say something to you, but nothing more (Gabriela, 21 years old, student unam, inhabitant of Xochimilco).

I have had very ugly experiences but more on the bus into the city, that's why I have seen this contrast. And they are just in the subway stations that connect with the train: in Pantitlán, in El Rosario and on lines like the coffee line, in Chabacano, you find, from my point of view, that it is a somewhat unsafe place and that you can be groped (Ana, 21 years old, student uam, inhabitant of Iztapalapa).

I used to take the Politécnico bus, I studied in high school and went to Politécnico in the morning. Well, sometimes I would fall asleep on the bus and I just felt like "the hand over here" and they would say: "oh, excuse me, I didn't realize", and it happened to me several times (María, 21 years old, student unam, inhabitant of Iztapalapa).

The quotes reflect the daily life of insecurity, which is emphasized, in the case of these young women, by the dynamics of street harassment. Life experience integrates affective elements and provides an understanding of their world (Flores Palacios, 2013). Harassment is a daily occurrence and, although they recognize it as such, they have come to naturalize it as part of their routines and reactions of resignation and helplessness predominate. The dynamics of harassment come to represent "the unavoidable for every woman". The explanation they give for this type of situation is given by their gender condition: "what you have to go through when you are a woman".

Being a woman exposes one to such situations. Daily life on public transportation represents the scenario of "unpleasant but unavoidable approaches". Both in the questionnaires and in the focus group it was very clear that insecurity in public transportation is a constant for any person, but it is accentuated and acquires particular characteristics if you are a woman. Fatima Flores states that

gender prescription acts in an unavoidable way according to sex and, therefore, to the social representation agreed upon and articulated in a hegemonic dimension that obeys systems of social behaviors regulated by an ideology that sustains the markers and behavioral orientations of men and women, making the identification of certain vulnerability from this heteronormativity much more complex, which is responded to in a naturalized way and demanded by the same culture or reference group (Flores, 2014: 47).

A practice such as "riding on public transportation" reflects a constant: mobility is different for these women, and they consider that men do not experience insecurity in the same way as they do: "I don't think that a man is thinking I'm not going to dress like this so that they won't see me morbidly or approach me in the subway" (Diana, 21 years old, student uam, inhabitant of Iztapalapa). For them, harassment is an inevitable and daily affair.

B. The streets in transit: stalking and care; exclusion and expulsion

Linda McDowel (1999) assumes that both people and spaces are gendered and that spatial and social relations are mutually created. The spaces that this group of women pass through on a daily basis are marked and acquire meanings from the relationships they establish with them. Both in the questionnaires and in the focus group, the streets they pass through are described as spaces of contradictions. On the one hand, they like to walk through the city, but on the other hand, they avoid it at certain times and with certain attire:

I was coming out of swimming and actually I walk home from the sports city and I walk 15 minutes; so I preferred to walk than to take a bus, and I was walking towards Río Churubusco and a car was following me, so I had to change my route, I said: since you know where I'm going or what route I take, follow me again, or something else will happen, I'd better take the bus (Diana, 21 years old, student uam, inhabitant of Iztapalapa).

What I like about living in the city is that I can walk long distances in certain places, for example from downtown to Reforma or Chapultepec or Auditorio. But those areas are far from my home. There I can walk long distances during the day. What I like is that there are still a lot of people in that area and in the center, in Madero, so I can walk there, but what I dislike is the return trip, from there to my house it is more dangerous, so I can't stay there for a long time or at night. That is what I dislike, that I cannot move freely or feel safe (Jessica, 22 years old, resident of Naucalpan, student unam, State of Mexico).

It depends on the hours, I know I have to hurry and be very attentive to my surroundings. Más vale porque ya me ha tocado que me sigan de camino a mi casa (Gabriela, 21 años, estudiante unam, habitante de Xochimilco).

I like to walk, but I try not to walk in the area near the university, especially along Eje 6 sur (study in uam-Iztapalapa). I prefer to walk during rush hour rather than at night, because there are a lot of people there and it is more difficult for something to happen to you. The most you are exposed to is being groped getting off the bus (Ana, 21 years old, student uam, resident of Iztapalapa).

A representation that is naturalized and justified: "it happens all over the world", "women are harassed and we have to deal with it" (Paty). It is a hegemonic representation: harassment as women is inevitable. Citizen security from the objective conditions is defined as a set of systems for protecting the life and property of citizens from risks or threats caused by different factors. The perception and conditions of insecurity are a key element in the uses and non-uses they make of certain spaces, and are dictated by their fears and the objective and subjective conditions of their experience when moving around.

A noteworthy fact is that the streets they frequent, but which are far from the places where they live, almost always seem riskier, except when they are symbolic places for them, such as Chapultepec Park and Paseo de la Reforma. Their own space, the streets of their neighborhood, for the most part are considered trustworthy spaces, even though some are recognized as risky spaces:

The street where I live is Mariquita Sanchez, and it goes right towards Eje 3. You see the older people in the mornings with their brooms to sweep, so everything is relatively good. You also see patrols at night, so I think that street is very safe, not the sidewalks that lead to Santa Ana, but that street (Cecilia, 21 years old, student unam, resident of Coyoacán).

Well, the safest street would be my block, because I have walked there at eleven o'clock at night and it is illuminated and there are people selling and I think it is safe. In the morning I like Rio Churubusco, because you see people running with their dogs, I like that. Unsafe, I can consider it as... well, I live between sur 3 and sur 4, and on sur 4 there is an area of factories, and there in the morning and at night it is unsafe, because you can see the trailers, the men passing by; I used to pass by there to take the bus to school and you always get the ugly words and you don't want to walk there. That street is very unsafe for me (Diana, 21 years old, student uam, resident of Iztapalapa).

At home I could go out at any time, in my neighborhood, without fear of anything happening to me; on the contrary, even the thugs of the neighborhood are watching out for you to make sure nothing happens to you. On one occasion I have been downtown at dawn, and although it seems very quiet, I would not go back there at very late hours (Gabriela, 21 years old, student unam, inhabitant of Xochimilco).

Well, for example, where I live it is a bit ugly, both in the morning and at night, like at six in the morning and when it starts to get dark; during the day it is very quiet and that doesn't inspire me much confidence, to be honest. I have been assaulted before and then where it is dark, but no, my street is always like that but, always very quiet, very calm (Ana, 21 years old, student, uam, inhabitant of Iztapalapa).

The streets of their neighborhoods represent the safe space: they represent home (their own spaces). The distant streets, such as some of those in their university environments (Santo Domingo in cu, The axis 6 in Iztapalapa, Avenida Zaragoza) and places such as Tepito, the Doctores neighborhood and the streets around the exits of the Constitución, Cuatro Caminos, Chabacano, Hidalgo and El Rosario subway stations are dangerous spaces, marked and stigmatized by young women as places where there is risk.

Seven of the participants in the focus group expressed that the crowded schedules make their routes more dangerous, but also the poor lighting and uncrowded spaces. Again, contradictory representations emerge. It is very common to have totally opposite representations of the same scenario, phenomenon or subject, since meanings are usually neither transparent nor homogeneous. The risk is present in any circumstance. In fact, when asked in the questionnaires if there is a difference in being a woman when walking the streets of the city, 48 out of 73 answered yes, and the reasons were: "men harass because they can; we don't" (Ana, 21 years old, student, uam, inhabitant of Iztapalapa), "because they are not thinking that someone will follow them or see them with morbid curiosity" (Jessica, 22 years old, inhabitant of Naucalpan, student, student). unam, Estado de Mexico). The other 25 respondents to the questionnaire gave no further argument; they said that the city is equally unsafe for men and women.

Women's fear of moving freely through the city produces a sort of "estrangement" with respect to the space in which they circulate, use and enjoy it. In such circumstances, some women develop individual or collective strategies that allow them to overcome the obstacles to using cities and participating in social, labor or political life. In other cases, there is simply a process of withdrawal from public space, which is experienced as threatening, even to the point of abandoning it, with the consequent personal and social impoverishment (Falú, 2009: 23).

In this sense, Ana Falú takes up the lived experience, which is fundamental to talk about social representations; some of the streets of the city not only become a threatening space, but they can also come to represent el espacio de exclusión y de expulsión de estas mujeres de la vida pública. No así las calles de sus barrios (al menos de día; de noche la situación también es de riesgo).

Not doing certain things is also a self-care strategy: not going out at night, not dressing "provocatively", not going out alone at certain hours, etc. 38 of the young women who responded to the questionnaire said that there were streets that they avoided because going there meant exposing themselves. There are places and times that are not "suitable for a woman" living in and around Mexico City. When asked in the focus group if they felt free to walk at any time, they responded:

I wouldn't walk alone at three in the morning in "x or y" place. I have had to walk to another friend's house because there is no means of transportation, but I don't do it alone (Jessica, 22 years old, resident of Naucalpan, student unam, State of Mexico).

I try not to go out after nine o'clock (Diana, 21 years old, student uam, resident of Iztapalapa).

I don't like going out at night, but it's better, really. Why would I expose myself to the risk of something happening (Ana, 21 years old, student, uam, resident of Iztapalapa).

In certain areas I try to be more careful. For example, one time I went to the Casa del Estudiante in Tepito, and I didn't bring my computer and I didn't take out my cell phone, I tried not to look ostentatious, not too dressed up, and also to always walk safely (María, 21 years old, student unam, inhabitant of Iztapalapa).

There are spaces, times and places that they avoid. In the words of the group participants, to use them is to expose themselves. It does not matter if they are open and just passing through, these women do not have the same access. The processes of exclusion are based on a logic of control and dispute between the differentiated and hegemonic normative structure on the use of spaces. De Certeau describes the essence of this relationship well:

A society would be composed of certain exorbitant practices, organizers of its normative institutions, and of other practices, innumerable, that remain "minor", always present even if not organizers of discourse, and apt to preserve the first fruits or the remains of hypotheses (institutional, scientific) different for this society or for others (Certeau, 2006: 56).

Thus, for this group of women, being on the streets implies constant exclusions that ordenan sus acciones y, en el caso de ellas, las limitan

When walking through the streets of the city, the representation of the woman who must be protected by the man also stands out. These women say they feel safer if their fathers, friends or brothers accompany them. In this sense, the right to mobility and free transit is different for them. The perception that "the street at night is not for women" stands out in their discourse. There is therefore a differentiated citizenship based on gender.

Representations of the public spaces they visit: culture, beauty and hostile environments.

The places they most visit and admire in their city are: the Zócalo (downtown), Paseo de la Reforma, Coyoacán and Bellas Artes. They also mention their schools as open and safe spaces. Their city is culture, tolerance and beauty, but also chaos, danger and forbidden places. Their universities are classified as safe spaces, but not their surroundings, which is why they prefer to move in groups to the subway or take the microbus. In the questionnaire, 61 of 73 women stated that Mexico City is a space of and for culture because of its museums, although they do not usually visit them. They are interested in walking along the Alameda. They usually visit Bellas Artes and traditional spaces such as the Zócalo and downtown Coyoacán:

For me, I usually go to Bellas Artes. When I have free time or on weekends I go out and go to Bellas Artes, I stay there for a while, I walk along Madero, I go along Reforma, I like it a lot because I can walk and see the architecture (Jessica, 22 years old, resident of Naucalpan, student unam, State of Mexico).

I frequent downtown; when you want to meet someone, you say, "ah, let's meet at Bellas Artes", and from there, what's not there? I usually don't go out, except for Coyoacán because a friend of mine lives there, in a corner of downtown Coyoacán. Coyoacán and downtown are the places I go most often (María, 21 years old, student unam, inhabitant of Iztapalapa).

Well, downtown is the place I go most often because I go shopping with my mom, and because I like the museums, it is very nice to be there and in the shopping malls because you have almost everything (Gabriela, 21 years old, student unam, inhabitant of Xochimilco).

I frequent the corridor that goes from Revolución to the Zócalo, because I like it, there is a lot of political movement there: "the march of the day". And I like it for the same reason, because I think it is a very nice place to walk. I used to work in the offices of the City Hall, which is on the Zócalo; when I left I would go that way and then go home, in the subway (Ana, 21 years old, student uam, inhabitant of Iztapalapa).

I love going downtown, but my route always starts in Hidalgo, from there from Cuauhtémoc to the Zócalo, walking. I usually prefer to go early, around ten in the morning, because at that time there are not many people. There are, but not as many as when it's 3 or 4 in the afternoon. I still like to go to Coyoacán, because it is usually quiet, I like to go for a coffee (Patricia, 20 years old, student unam, resident of Azcapotzalco).

I frequent Bellas Artes because it's my way to the Latin American tower, I work there on weekends. So normally I always arrive before everyone else and I'm there for a while watching people pass by or looking at situations. What I also do is get off at Zócalo and walk the entire Madero corridor to the Latino tower (Diana, 21 years old, student uam, resident of Iztapalapa).

This group expressed that they like to walk around the city, but such practice should consider times and spaces where they feel safer. Women, despite having won the visibility battle, continue to have an unequal spatial experience when moving around the city.

The city marks symbologies of inclusion and exclusion. Spaces are constructed by the social relations established in them. Here the contradiction arises: the ten participants in the focus group expressed that the city is passable but forbidden at the same time.

What is your spatial experience like as women on the move in Mexico City?

Being a woman implies restrictions in certain public spaces where they are visible, because that visibility exposes them. Jordi Borja states that the relationship between city and citizenship alludes to a system of relations between (in theory) equal and free people, i.e. citizens:

The city offers more or less effective conditions to make citizenship a reality. Through its physical arrangement, access to all its goods and services and social redistribution through the qualification of public facilities and spaces in areas inhabited by populations with fewer resources. The city determines the quality of citizenship (Borja, 2014: 546).

These young university women feel that their quality of life is lower than that of their peers, with fewer freedoms. They experience their citizenship in an unequal manner, but also to the detriment of their options for socializing, belonging and identity in public spaces.

Starting from education, the roles that both women and men should play, it is different how men or women board public transportation, or simply the one who drives the transportation is the man. Even when you are walking with friends, cousins, your partner or whoever, they make you go on the right side, that is, not on the side of the avenue or on the street, which is the place where men go (Ana, 21 years old, student uam, inhabitant of Iztapalapa).

For me it's different by the simple fact of daily experience in transportation. Como digo, creo que no ha habido día en que no pase algo, que no reciba un comentario ofensivo o algo. It's not that it doesn't exist towards men, but it's different, it's minimal (María, 21 years old, student unam, inhabitant of Iztapalapa).

I do believe that there is a big difference; to begin with, I believe that both men and women are exposed to issues of insecurity and violence, but sometimes I feel that men can be in a public space in a more comfortable way than women. This is so much the case in terms of harassment: a man gets on the subway and feels so comfortable that he feels free to give his opinion about a woman and many times they tend to say "don't go out dressed like that, don't go out dressed in such a way". In that sense, I do think that men are sometimes more comfortable because they don't go out with this fear, there are times when it's scary: "there's a suspicious man and he's watching me". And I think that men don't think about that so much, more in the sense of harassment (Diana, 21 years old, student uam, inhabitant of Iztapalapa).

It seems to me that it is different only in terms of space. I think it is the same in terms of economic insecurity, that is to say, we can all be robbed, we can all be assaulted, etc. But in the sexual part it seems to me that it is absolutely different. I have never heard a man say that he can't wear shorts on the subway "because I feel harassed and as soon as I get on the subway the girls come up to me and touch me" (Patricia, 20 years old, student unam, resident of Azcapotzalco).

Public mobility spaces continue to represent scenarios in which the exercise of citizenship by women is experienced in an unequal manner. Women, seen as the "weaker sex, the victims, but also the provocateurs", continue to be violated in the exercise of their rights. Symbolic spatiotemporal boundaries appear in their discourse: "not at certain times", "not in certain places", "not in certain places", "not in certain places", "not in certain places". not in certain places", "not dressed like that", "not if it is at night", "not if I go alone". The lived experience of inhabiting tells them what to do and what not, from the structures of common sense: "social representations are also considered a form of practical knowledge, since they are built from the lived experience in contact with others and with the material environment" (Jodelet, 2008), and "function as a guide for action" (Chávez Amavizca and Ortega Rubí, 2018: 80).

It is not just a matter of appearing in public spaces, but of gaining the visibility that allows them to generate conditions of equity, safety and not from sociocultural prejudices. That is to say, to dress as they wish, to enter public places with the same peace of mind as their peers, to use public transport without the fear of harassment. Sébastien Roché defines the feeling of insecurity as "a crystallized uneasiness about an object" (1998). He states that this feeling is based on the lived world of individuals, while referring to a system of values, and that it arises from the fear of being victimized and not being protected by the institutions in charge of security and from the suspicions experienced in certain public spaces. In the case of the women who live in Mexico City, they arise in public transportation, the streets alone and at night, but also in crowded places. The social representation of insecurity is or becomes a feeling that goes beyond the subjective, it transcends the ways of behaving in these spaces of representation.


For these young women, living and moving in the city implies the construction of social representations of abandonment, expulsion, symbolic borders and the naturalization of violence based on masculine logics. The presence of these women in certain spaces, streets close to subway stations or not very crowded make their presence seem "unnatural" from the structures of common sense that define social representations. Their presence in certain scenarios, schedules and spaces always has to be justified, explained and even avoided. Their relationship with the spaces they inhabit and transit is marked by their "gender as a constitutive element of social relations based on the differences that distinguish the sexes, and gender is a primary form of signifying power relations" (Scott, 2015: 274).

The presence and absence of these women are justified by the difference in their spatial experience. The lived experience allows an explanation of their world and its logics from a system of social representations that give meaning to daily practices and to their permanence or absence in those territories from their "subjectivity and intersubjectivity, which is constantly declared in movement from that experiential correlate full of meanings and attributions that the same subject builds from their own common sense, from their experience and from their social correlate" (Flores Palacios, 2013: 124). These young women assume inequality from the full awareness of which actions they can and should undertake, which spaces to occupy and how to appear in them. Despite the legal recognition of equality in the full exercise of rights and access to opportunities, this group of students continues to express and live the contradiction from self-censorship and difference in the use of spaces and the ways in which they appear in them.

Social representations, understood as socio-cognitive processes and as practical knowledge from lived experience that allow us to name, order and explain the world we inhabit, express - in the case of this group of women - that the city represents the masculine, excluding and hostile. In contrast, the city is movement, beauty and culture, but it is limited in certain circumstances for them. Hegemonic representation from the Muscovicist perspective fulfills a social ordering function of establishing consensus whose sense of permanence and recognition is more far-reaching. Women know that they have the right to be and to appear, but they abstain on many occasions because the gender roles assigned to them compromise their security. The inhabiting of these young women in Mexico City, from Pallasmaa's (2016) definition, implies the experience in situated spaces where they feel vulnerable. The representations of this group of women are contradictory because they express the contrasts of their trajectories: stalking and omission; freedom and restriction; harassment and neglect. The representation of the city that cares does not exist except in controlled spaces: the streets of their neighborhoods (by day), the university (by day) and certain historical sites. To be a woman in these universities in Mexico City is to adapt to the inevitable and to hide or avoid certain practices from the gender prescriptions that continue to be differential and accepted.


Alcaraz, Francisco G. et al. (2006). “Diseño de cuestionarios para la recogida de información: metodología y limitaciones”. Revista Clínica de Medicina de Familia, vol. 1, núm. 5, pp. 232-236.

Bellet Sanfeliu, Carmen (2009, 16-18 de noviembre). Reflexiones sobre el espacio público. El caso de las ciudades intermedias [Ponencia]. Mérida: iv Seminario-Taller sobre Espacios Público en Ciudades Intermedias.

Borja, Jordi (2014). “Espacio público y derecho a la ciudad”, en Patricia Ramírez (coord.), Las disputas por la ciudad. Espacio social y espacio públicoen contextos urbanos de latinoamerica y Europa. México: Biblioteca Mexicana del Conocimiento, pp. 539-570.

Cass, Noel, Elizabeth Shove y John Urry (2005). “Social Exclusion, Mobility and Access”. The Sociological Review, vol. 53, núm. 3, pp. 539-55.

Certeau, Michel de (2006). La invención de lo cotidiano 1. Maneras de hacer. México: Universidad Iberoamericana.

Chávez Amavizca, Ania, y Mª Estela Ortega Rubí (2018). “Representaciones sociales de estilos de vida y bienestar en el contexto de una sociedad de consumo: Monterrey y su Área Metropolitana”. Culture and social representations, vol. 13, núm. 25, pp. 76-102.

Cresswell, Tim (2010). “Towards a Politics of Mobility”. Environment and Planning D: Society and Space, vol. 28, núm. 1, pp. 17-31.

Díaz-Osorio, Myriam S. (2016). “Las relaciones entre la movilidad y el espacio público. Transmilenio en Bogotá”. Revista de Arquitectura, vol. 18, núm. 1, pp. 126-139.

Entrikin, J. Nicholas (1991). The Betweenness of Place: Towards a Geography of Modernity. Chicago: Johns Hopkins University Press.

Flores Palacios, Fátima (2013). “El vih Sida, síntoma de vulnerabilidad”. Fátima Flores Palacios (coord.), Representaciones sociales y contextos de investigación con perspectiva de género. Mexico: unam, pp. 81-100.

— (2014). “Vulnerabilidad y representación social de género en mujeres de una comunidad migrante”. Península, vol. 9, núm. 2, pp. 41-58.

- (2015). Experiencia vivida, género y vih: sus representaciones sociales. Merida: cephcis-unam

Falú, Ana (2011). “Restricciones ciudadanas: las violencias de género en el espacio público”. Pensamiento Iberoamericano, núm. 9, pp. 127-146.

— (2009). “Violencia y discriminaciones en las ciudades”, en Ana Falú (ed.), Mujeres en la ciudad: de violencias y derechos. Santiago de Chile: Red mujeres y habitat de América Latina y Ediciones Sur, pp. 15-38.

Giglia, Angela (2012). El habitar y la cultura. Perspectivas teóricas de investigación. Barcelona: Anthropos.

Jirón, Paola y Dhan Zunino Singh (2017). “Dossier. Movilidad Urbana y Género: experiencias latinoamericanas”. Revista Transporte y Territorio, 16, 1-8.

Jodelet, Denise (2008). “El movimiento de retorno al sujeto y el enfoque de las representaciones sociales”. Culture and Social Representations,
vol. 3, núm. 5, pp. 32-63.

Lefebvre, Henri (1991). The Production of Space. Oxford: Blackwell.

Lindón, Alicia (2020). “Experiencias espaciales femeninas en los desplazamiento cotidiano”. Mexican Journal of Sociology, vol. 82, núm. 1, pp. 37-63.

McDowell, Linda (1999). Gender, Identity and Place: Understanding Feminist Geographies. Minnesota: University of Minnesota Press.

Moscovici, Serge (1979). El Psicoanálisis, su imagen y su público. Buenos Aires: Huemul.

Pallasmaa, Juhani (2016). Habitar. México: Gustavo Gili.

Piña, Juan M. y Yazmín Cuevas Cajiga (2004). “La teoría de las representaciones sociales: su uso en la investigación educativa en México”. Perfiles educativos, vol. 26, núm. 105-106, pp. 102-124. Recuperado de, consultado el 24 de junio de 2022.

Roché, Sébastien (1998). “Expliquer le sentiment d’insécurité: pression, exposition, vulnérabilité et acceptabilité”. Revue Française de Science Politique, vol. 48, núm. 2, pp. 274-305.

Scott, J. W. (2015). “El género: una categoría útil para el análisis histórico”, en Marta. Lamas (comp.), El género. La construcción cultural de la diferencia sexual. México: Centro de Investigaciones y Estudios de Género / Bonilla Artigas Editores, pp. 251-290.

Sennett, Richard (2019). Carne y Piedra. Madrid: Alliance.

Segato, Rita (2003). Las estructuras elementales de la violencia. Bernal: Universidad Nacional de Quilmes.

Soto Villagrán, Paula (2016). “Repensar el hábitat urbano desde una perspectiva de género. Debates, agendas y desafíos”, Andamios, 13(32), 37-56.

— (2017). “Diferencias de género en la movilidad urbana. Las experiencias de viaje de mujeres en el metro de la Ciudad de México”. Revista Transporte y Territorio, vol. 16, pp. 127-146.

Uribe Fernández, Mary L. (2014). “La vida cotidiana como espacio de construcción social”. Procesos Históricos, núm. 25, pp. 100-113.

Lorena Umaña Reyes es doctora en Ciencias Políticas y Sociales y maestra en Estudios Políticos y Sociales por la unam. Es miembro del Sistema Nacional de Investigadores, nivel 1. Actualmente es profesora-investigadora titular A, en el Centro de Estudios Sociológicos de la fcpands of the unam. Es docente para las Licenciaturas en Sociología y en Urbanismo de la unam y para el programa de posgrado en Ciencias Políticas y Sociales de la unam. Entre sus publicaciones más recientes destacan, Reflexiones interdisciplinarias de la Ciudadanía de género: Mujeres en la Ciudad de México. El capítulo “Políticas públicas de la desigualdad: ciudadanía femenina en la Ciudad de México”, (2019) en el libro Género, transdisciplina e intervención social, coordinado por Fátima Flores Palacios y Amada Rubio (2020) y el capítulo “Movimientos sociales feministas, de mujeres y con mujeres en los estudios políticos contemporáneos” en el libro Construyendo Ciencia Política en perspectiva de género coordinado por Karolina Gilas y Luz Parcero (2021). Coordinadora del libro Transformación urbana y derecho a la ciudad: debates y reflexiones desde la teoría de las representaciones sociales. Actualmente coordina el proyecto papiit “Habitar la ciudad: los significados de lo público en la cdmx en la pandemia y pos pandemia”.

Inline Feedbacks
See all comments


ISSN: 2594-2999.

Unless expressly mentioned, all content on this site is under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.

Download legal provisions complete

Encartes, vol. 5, núm 10, septiembre 2022-febrero 2023, es una revista académica digital de acceso libre y publicación semestral editada por el Centro de Investigaciones y Estudios Superiores en Antropología Social, calle Juárez, núm. 87, Col. Tlalpan, C. P. 14000, México, D. F., Apdo. Postal 22-048, Tel. 54 87 35 70, Fax 56 55 55 76, El Colegio de la Frontera Norte Norte, A. C., Carretera escénica Tijuana-Ensenada km 18.5, San Antonio del Mar, núm. 22560, Tijuana, Baja California, México, Tel. +52 (664) 631 6344, Instituto Tecnológico y de Estudios Superiores de Occidente, A.C., Periférico Sur Manuel Gómez Morin, núm. 8585, Tlaquepaque, Jalisco, Tel. (33) 3669 3434, y El Colegio de San Luís, A. C., Parque de Macul, núm. 155, Fracc. Colinas del Parque, San Luis Potosi, México, Tel. (444) 811 01 01. Contacto: Directora de la revista: Ángela Renée de la Torre Castellanos. Alojada en la dirección electrónica Responsable de la última actualización de este número: Arthur Temporal Ventura. Fecha de última modificación: 22 de septiembre de 2022.