Fear after dark : exploring women’s experiences of urban space at night through site dance film

Holman, P. (2020) Fear after dark : exploring women’s experiences of urban space at night through site dance film. Undergraduate theses, University of Chichester.

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This research explores how women in Western society interact with urban night-time space, specifically addressing issues faced by women in urban night-time environments in the UK. To explore these themes, it will employ both a textual analysis of a variety of theoretical sources and a practice as research methodology exploring the urban spaces of Chichester and Portsmouth & Southsea after dark. Last year in the Charles Dickens and Nelson area of Portsmouth over 2,051 Violent and Sexual assaults were reported (Ingram, 2019) and in Chichester despite only 93 cases; these made up just over a third of all crimes committed in Chichester (Detailed statistics for Chichester West, 2020). Through these methods of textual analysis and practice as research, I am interested in understanding how women experience urban space after dark in particular this project explores the following research questions: • How are women’s experiences of urban night-time space shaped, controlled and experienced? • How might these experiences and related themes be explored through site dance film? • How might this process shift perceptions of night-time space for participants and viewers? To explore these research questions, I will draw on theoretical ideas from a range of fields Including: Human Geography (Beebeejaun, 2017; Blumen et al., 2013), Psychology (Fredrickson & Roberts, 1997; McMillan, 2016; Solymosi et al., 2015) , Sociology (Fenster, 2005; Phipps et al. 2017), Proxemics (Lefebvre, 2004; de Certeau, 1984), and Screen and Site-Dance Research (Dodds, 2001; Hunter et al., 2019).The wide scope of this literature allows for an in-depth exploration of the research questions and, facilitates a more nuanced understanding of women’s urban night-time experiences.

The western world is generally considered a good place to live as a woman. When compared to countries such as India, Afghanistan, Somalia and Pakistan, all rated in the top ten worst places to live as a woman (Thomson Reuters Foundation, 2018), where issues such as human trafficking, physical and sexual assault, lack of access to work and even practices of genital mutilation, female infanticide and honour killings are still commonplace (Thomson Reuters Foundation, 2018), the western world seems incredibly safe for women. However, in this same 2018 study the USA was named the tenth worst place to live as a woman, though it avoided being listed for issues of human trafficking, access to healthcare and cultural traditions it was ranked highly enough for both violent and sexual assault to make it into the top ten. This raises the question of how safe the western world really is for women and lead me to explore how safe I felt within my personal experience of western society within the UK.
In her article Rhythms of Fear, Laura Maw examines her personal experiences walking home alone at night through the works of Proxemics theorists such as Lefebvre and De Certeau. This article acted as a starting point for my own interest in the subject of women’s experience of urban space at night, causing me to reflect on my own experiences of urban night-time space and the fear it causes. Having spent the ages 16-21 walking home after dark from dance classes and then working in a pub, I have experienced fear walking after dark. One of the most terrifying experiences I ever experienced was an incident when I was 18, I was getting the train home after a dance class in Exeter when an intoxicated man on the train kept trying to make conversation with me and proceeded to follow me after I left the train in my home town. Luckily my workplace was nearby to the station and I went in there to get help from the male bar staff, however the fear of being followed is still a fear I hold every time I walk home alone in the dark to the point where I have to ring someone every time I set out in the dark so that I have someone there if something should happen to me. My
dancer also had a similar incident of being followed whilst on a night out in Brighton. Men following women home at night has been a somewhat regular occurrence in Chichester during my time at university here too; every few months an email seems to go around warning of such incidents occurring and telling girls to be cautious. Though violent crime and sexual assault can occur at any time of day, the Office from National Statistics report on the nature of violent crimes in the UK for the years 2017-18 states that ‘more than half of violent incidents (54%) occurred in the evening or during the night’ (Office for National Statistics, 2019). This includes anytime between 6pm and 6am. This same fact is portrayed in pop culture depictions of crime, Levin’s 2013 analysis of four prominent crime shows showed that ‘The “typical” crime on these television shows usually occurred at night and in a private location […] Victims were most commonly women (60.3%)’ (Levin, 2013 p18). Undertaking this research with a Practice as Research methodology I was drawn to the medium of film to explore these themes. Using film allows for the exploration of themes of surveillance, and the male and female gaze. This research project employs Objectification Theory, as proposed by Frederickson and Roberts in 1997, as a framework for understanding how and why women’s experiences of urban night-time space are formed. Objectification Theory defines the experiences and consequences of being a woman within a culture that objectifies the female body and works on the assumption that almost all women experience objectification and its consequences during their lifetime (Frederickson & Roberts, 1997). The four experiential consequences named by Objectification theory are - feelings of shame, feelings of anxiety, lack of peak motivational states and unawareness of internal bodily states. This research will largely focus on two former consequences, shame and anxiety, as these are the most relevant to the urban night-time experiences of women. Though the urban night time experiences of women do have an impact on peak motivation and bodily awareness in women through a reinforcement of self-objectification, which Frederickson and Roberts state should be viewed as a ‘strategy many women develop to help determine how other people will treat them, which has clear implications for their quality of life’ (Frederickson & Roberts, 1997 p180), by providing an environment in which sexual harassment is more normalised, ‘Sexual harassment is the norm in the night-time economy’ (Parliament.uk, 2018). However, shame and anxiety are a more immediate consequence of women interacting with urban night-time space, and for some women experiences of shame and anxiety can lead to them not even wanting to leave the house at night (Frederickson & Roberts, 1997; Maw, 2016; Parliament.uk, 2018). Within these experiences of shame and anxiety there is discussion of defence mechanisms, both internal in the form of self-objectification which may help women to understand how men will respond to their presence in a space that men might consider to be their domain (Beneke, 1982; Lewis, 2018; Ross, 2016). Alongside the external mechanisms, both in terms of avoiding conflict by avoiding interactions and covering themselves and through self-defence techniques such as improvised weapons and basic manoeuvres, for example the SING (Solar-plexus, Instep, Nose and Groin) technique. These are just some examples of the defence mechanisms women are forced to develop to live and function being in an objectified body in society. Though there has been some debate on the topic, research suggests that the act of rape has little to do with sexual attraction and much more to do with a desire for power and dominance (Baker, 1997; Beneke, 1982; Palmer, 1988). Despite this, being considered sexually attractive is still a high-risk factor for women. In his book Men on Rape (1982) Beneke reports that many men who commit rapes would consider a woman being physically attractive to be a threat and deserving of retaliation: one man even related it to be equivalent to being punched in the face.

Returning to the external defence mechanisms, they provided a starting stimulus for discussion and movement creation, both the personal ones of my participants, such as calling a friend, and those described by Frederickson & Roberts (1997). They identify things such as carrying keys between finger, jogging with a dog, not going out after dark, feigning deafness, because ‘being female in a culture that objectifies the female body creates multiple opportunities to experience anxiety along with its accompanying vigilance’ (Frederickson & Roberts, 1997 p182) and this was a key area of interest for my practical research.

Publication Type: Theses (Undergraduate)
Uncontrolled Keywords: Performance, Social, Engagement
Subjects: G Geography. Anthropology. Recreation > GB Physical geography
G Geography. Anthropology. Recreation > GF Human ecology. Anthropogeography
G Geography. Anthropology. Recreation > GV Recreation Leisure > GV1580 Dance > GV1782 Stage. Setting and Scenery
G Geography. Anthropology. Recreation > GV Recreation Leisure > GV1580 Dance
H Social Sciences > HN Social history and conditions. Social problems. Social reform
Divisions: Academic Areas > Department of Dance
Student Research > Undergraduate
Depositing User: Janet Carter
Date Deposited: 13 Apr 2021 14:56
Last Modified: 14 Apr 2021 00:10
URI: https://eprints.chi.ac.uk/id/eprint/5703

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