Gender, Fear, and Public Places: How Negative Encounters with Strangers Harm Women

Publication Date: 
July 2016
Sex Roles (2016), pp 1–16, Springer US


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Research repeatedly shows that women are frequent targets of sexual harassment in public, ranging from catcalls to sexual assault. However, we know very little about the impacts of less obviously gendered rude behavior. Using nationally representative survey data from Australia (N = 1621), we investigated gender differences in the experience of generic public incivilities such as tailgating, pushing in crowded spaces, and yelling or cursing. We employed a series of logistic regression models to assess the relationship between gender and stranger incivility and to adjust for key demographic and event attributes. Results demonstrated that women were significantly more likely to report recent experiences of public incivility than were men and that women were significantly more likely to report negative impacts on their emotional well-being, particularly when the rude stranger was a man. Findings also showed that women were significantly more likely than were men to report limiting their use of public places as a result of experiencing public incivility. Much like sexual harassment, generic forms of uncivil behavior exact a gender-specific tax on women’s access to public places, compromising women’s capacity to fully engage in the public sphere. Implications for research and policy are discussed.