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Taking Back the Streets: Resisting #StreetHarassment in a New Era of (Virtual) Public Space


Whether on foot, bike, bus, or train, women are often targets of street harassment such as catcalls, unwanted touching, or leering. When women are forced to navigate harassment in the city, it limits their ability to access public spaces with the same freedom and ease as their male counterparts. As a planning issue, examining street harassment reveals serious concerns about gender justice, and can deepen our understanding of gender-based safety issues in public. Drawing on feminist theory, this dissertation is motivated by the idea that public space is profoundly gendered with social, cultural, political, and economic consequences for women.

In this study I looks at the role of social media in meditating the relationship between virtual and physical public spaces. Building on ideas about gender, the right to the city, and public space, the purposes of this research are to 1) provide empirical evidence that street harassment is widespread and presents a safety and access issue of concern to urban planners, 2) to show how harassment affects daily lives, 3) to demonstrate the ways in which social media platform Twitter is used as a virtual public space for processing and sharing experiences in physical public space, and 4) to examine how women are using Twitter to resist harassment both as individuals and with anti-harassment organizations.

Using a case study approach, nearly 10,000 tweets about street harassment were collected based on keyword and hashtag, and analyzed as micro-narratives. Tweets were considered in relation to harassment-related events and media stories during the study period, and in context of anti-street harassment activism by individuals and organizations. The tweets were evaluated as part of a growing movement against street harassment using Bill Moyer’s framework on the stages of social movements.

The results of this research confirm that street harassment is part of women’s daily lives on city streets, and revealed that women also face harassment in the virtual world. However, women are resisting, and the findings show that social media data can offer an unparalleled window into understanding experiences with harassment, fears in public space, and strategies for resistance.

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