Gendered Violence in Public Spaces: Abuse Beyond the Domestic Sphere
A recent piece of CCTV footage saw the assault of Marie Laguerre by a passing stranger outside a café in Paris, after she criticised him for sexually harassing her. This clip has gone viral, sparking outrage even from right wing “news” outlets such as Mail Online. For some, this appears as an isolated and shocking instance of gendered violence, whereas for many, this is an example of stories we have heard repeatedly from friends and family members, or have experienced ourselves.
If we didn’t have enough evidence that women are targeted with violence outside of the domestic sphere, take this year’s crowdfunding scheme, The Home Safe Collective, which has been set up by a group of comediennes, seeking to provide safe and affordable cab transportation for female, trans and non-binary performers during the Edinburgh Fringe Festival this August. Although this is an inspired short-term solution to the issue of gendered violence in public spaces, it is a terrifying reminder that women and marginalised people are still at risk, even in seemingly ‘liberal’ spaces such as the Edinburgh theatre and comedy scene.
For some women, physical harassment has not been a reality, but women undoubtedly face the threat of violence following us in our daily lives. Having worked in a pub this summer, I have found being behind the bar far preferable to working on the floor, because without the physical two-foot barrier of wood between myself and the male world cup fans, oozing toxic masculinity from every pore and orifice, I was constantly touched and verbally harassed. Now this isn’t violence, its sexual harassment, but the threat was so constant that I often felt afraid that male customers may express violence when I rejected their entitled advances. Besides my pub work, I have had a man shout ‘I’M A NICE GUY!’, during an argument, before hitting a wall in anger (somehow the irony seemed to be lost on him). He didn’t hit me, and he didn’t need to in order to scare me in to thinking he could have if he had wanted to.
People should be reminded that gendered harassment comes in different forms. It’s great that people have seen the Paris footage and are shocked and upset by it but no one, particularly men, should forget that women face daily intimidation just because we are women. These instances of violence and harassment are not simply outlying examples of barbarism; they are the reality for the majority of women who are scared to walk home alone in the dark; whose shoulders clench when they see a group of men in the street; who flinch when they are approached by a man in a bar. The attack of Marie Laguerre is an example of what every woman is afraid of; that we may be harmed on account of our gender.
Violence and harassment against women in public spaces is not a thing of the past; we are still subject to the whims of everyday sexism and the ongoing imbalance of power in gender politics.