14 April 2014


'Spaces of Male Fear: The Sexual Politics of Being Watched' by Sarah E. H. Moore and Simon Breeze in (2012) 52(6) British Journal of Criminology 1172-1191 is described as
a contribution to the sparse literature on the ethnography of fear. Using observation and focus groups, we compare men and women’s perceptions of danger in relation to a specific civic space — public toilets. Here, it is men, rather than women, who express a marked concern about the threat of physical assault. We attempt to understand the nature and social origin of this fear, and its relationship to the arrangement of space. In so doing, we help sketch out what Tuan (1979) called ‘landscapes of fear’. Places that take us outside of, or lie at the margins of, regular social space can be particularly fear-inducing. Civil inattention is a core means of dealing with this problem and we analyse its functions in allaying fear. We also suggest that spaces in which private behaviour can be surreptitiously surveyed or where there is an indeterminate relationship between private and public space can prompt a pernicious sense of worry. Indeed, being watched and being mistakenly perceived to be watching emerge from our data as really important correlates of fear of violence. We employ Sartre, Berger and Mulveys’s ideas about the gaze to analyse the psychosocial effects of this. Finally, we stress the importance of seeing the experience of fear — including its relationship to spatial arrangement — as socially contingent. The discussion section of this paper suggests that we understand men’s fear of violence in public toilets as a reaction to what Turner calls an ‘inter-structural’ social situation, namely the temporary suspension of the usual gender hierarchy. … 
This article attempts to account for men and women’s different perceptions of danger in public toilets, focusing in particular on men’s fear of violence. We detail and discuss men’s fears about being watched and made the object of sexual desire. In theorizing the role of gender in this, we have found certain theories of artistic representation particularly useful, specifically John Berger’s (1972) work on the female nude and Laura Mulvey’s (1975) writing on the ‘male gaze’ in Hollywood cinema. For both, the structure of watching and being watched is key to the operation of patriarchal society. In relation to our findings, we consider the conditions under which men fear being watched and what this tells us more generally about the relationship between gender, fear of violence and public space. 
A key aim of the article is to contextualize fear and attend to the experience of unease associated with threats of violence. We look at displays of ‘civil inattention’ to cope with such threats, feelings of shame associated with being made an object of sexual interest and the importance of boundary control in alleviating fear. Fear of crime literature, vast as it is, very rarely attempts to document and dissect fear in this way. Nor does it pay particular attention to the public spaces that excite fear. Fear of crime is treated instead as a trait, an invention of social surveyors or, in the case of more recent scholarly work, as an expression of gender identity. Ours is an exercise in taking fear seriously.