The great problems are in the street : a phenomenology of men's stranger intrusions on women in public spaces

Gray, Fiona Vera (2014) The great problems are in the street : a phenomenology of men's stranger intrusions on women in public spaces. Doctoral thesis, London Metropolitan University.


This thesis contributes new and unique evidence to the limited body of empirical literature on men’s stranger intrusion in public space, commonly termed ‘street harassment’, through a transdisciplinary study bringing a philosophical framework to the study of violence against women and girls (VAWG). Analysis of 50 women’s accounts given during a three stage research process is presented, alongside the development of a theoretical framework combining feminist approaches to VAWG with the gendered existential-phenomenology of Simone de Beauvoir and insights on habitual embodiments from Maurice Merleau-Ponty. Using this theoretical framework the empirical evidence is investigated for what it reveals about modalities of embodied subjectivity women enact in public spaces.

The research had four central aims and it is the achievement of these aims that forms the unique contribution of this thesis. Firstly it develops the reciprocal practice of translating philosophy into the vernacular of women’s experiences of VAWG, finding that a philosophical perspective assists a feminist reframing of medical/legal models of VAWG. Secondly it explores reconnecting feminist research on VAWG to women’s ordinary experience of men’s intrusion, revealing how the necessary focus on policy has led to a steep rise in knowledge about some forms of VAWG to the detriment of investigating men’s violence and intrusion in women’s everyday lives. The third aim, to understand the consequences of men’s intrusion for how women live and experience their bodily-self, resulted in a theoretical framework which suggests possibilities in the work of Simone de Beauvoir for feminists looking to reconnect questions of women’s agency and autonomy to a context of structural power relations. Finally this research produced a new body of evidence regarding the practice and experience of men’s stranger intrusion in public spaces, through a research process which created new tools for researching the ordinary. In the pursuit of these four aims this research found that, far from the trivialisation it is often afforded, the possibility and reality of men’s intrusion forms a fundamental factor in how women understand and enact their embodied selfhood.

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