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“I try to use my body language to show I’m not a bad guy” – Male bodies and women’s fear of a repeat offender in Umeå, Sweden
Umeå University, Faculty of Social Sciences, Department of Social and Economic Geography.
(English)Manuscript (preprint) (Other academic)
Abstract [en]

This article focuses on changing perceptions and representations of female and male bodies during a period of threat against women from a repeat offender in the medium-sized city of Umeå, Sweden. Based on interviews with women and men in Umeå, this article aims to examine meanings of fear of violence in public space by focusing on constructions of the body during a period of changing public crime discourses due to assaults by a serial rapist, the so-called Haga Man. The article illustrates how a change took place in both individual and public narratives from a focus on how women should conduct themselves to be safe, toward men’s bodily behavior in order to present themselves in a non-threatening way. This case study stresses the importance of context and demonstrates the temporality in how bodies are perceived in space. A shift of emphasis took place toward bodies that frighten, rather than those that are afraid. Public descriptions of the Haga Man focused on characteristics of the perpetrator’s body and ‘normal Swedish appearance’, which constructed an image of the dangerous white body. White male respondents positioned themselves in relation to these descriptions and were partly challenged with respect to new perceptions and meanings associated with ‘normality’. In descriptions of the Haga Man’s victims women were presented as vulnerable, but in contrast to many other cases there was no immediate focus on women’s bodies in terms of respectability. The findings contribute to a discussion of how gendered power relations can be understood through shifting representations of bodies in space.

National Category
Human Geography
Research subject
Cultural Anthropology
URN: urn:nbn:se:umu:diva-48589OAI: diva2:451307
Available from: 2011-10-25 Created: 2011-10-25 Last updated: 2011-10-25
In thesis
1. Fear of violence and gendered power relations: Responses to threat in public space in Sweden
Open this publication in new window or tab >>Fear of violence and gendered power relations: Responses to threat in public space in Sweden
2011 (English)Doctoral thesis, comprehensive summary (Other academic)
Alternative title[sv]
Rädsla för våld och könade maktrelationer : Hantering av hot i det offentliga rummet i Sverige
Abstract [en]

Several cases of single repeat offenders in urban space have raised public concern in Sweden during recent decades. Few studies have been conducted on consequences of the kind of ‘hostage situations’ that emerge when one individual offender causes fear and affects a larger group of people in a specific place. The concern of this thesis is to examine consequences of the Haga Man phenomenon: the case of a serial rapist operating between 1998 and 2006 in Umeå, a medium-sized Swedish city. This thesis explores some of the ways not only women but also men in Umeå responded to this specific situation, the threat from a single repeat offender, and how fear of crime and changing public crime discourses influenced gendered power relations. The thesis examines different aspects of fear and safety in public space, such as the views of those who are fearful; of those who are feared; perceptions of both women’s and men’s bodies; their emotions and experiences in relation to fear of violence in public spaces; and the significance of space and place for our understanding of fear. The empirical data of this thesis consist of in-depth interviews with a total of 47 women and men in Umeå.

The thesis is based on four empirical studies. The first (Paper I) sought to identify similarities and differences across narratives in terms of the major components of young people’s talk about fear.  In their stories women positioned themselves as fearful and in need of protection, while men in their stories positioned themselves as fearless protectors. Men and women reproduced ways of speaking considered appropriate to their gender, thus performing masculinity and femininity through their talk. Paper II, examines consequences of the Haga Man phenomenon on constructions of white masculinities. Three masculine positions; the dangerous stranger, the suspect and the protector were identified. These three constructions of masculinity were not clear-cut or ‘belonging’ to specific men – several of the interviewees articulated various forms of masculinities but stressed them in different ways depending on, for instance, age and/or ethnicity/race. Paper III, focuses on changing perceptions and representations of female and male bodies, and illustrates how a change took place; from a focus on how women should conduct themselves to be safe, towards men’s bodily behaviour in order to present themselves in non-threatening ways. In Paper IV, women’s fear of violence is discussed in relation to Swedish gender equality discourses and contextual constructions of femininity. The results show the difficulties of claiming the official position of a gender-equal femininity. Several female respondents expressed an ambivalent attitude about their own fear; they felt afraid, but also felt that as (equal) women they should be able to do what they wanted, whenever they wanted.  Result from this thesis shows that this situation produced a shared approach to fear for women of different ages, classes and ethnicities in Umeå. The similarity in the women’s responses to the threat from the Haga Man is as an expression of a normative femininity. The male respondents did on the other hand express complex emotional positions as they talked about their own fears, women’s fear of unknown men and how they felt they were under suspicion and compared to the perpetrator. As this thesis provides an understanding of how men and women responded and reacted to the threat from the Haga man, it contributes to a better understanding of how fear of violence affects people in their everyday lives.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
Umeå: Kulturgeografiska Institutionen, Umeå Unversitet, 2011
GERUM, ISSN 1402-5205 ; 2011:3
The geography of fear, gender relations, fear of violence, whiteness, gender equality, masculinity, femininity, narrative analysis, Sweden
National Category
Social Sciences
Research subject
Social and Economic Geography
urn:nbn:se:umu:diva-48591 (URN)978-91-978344-7-6 (ISBN)
Public defence
2011-11-18, Samhällsvetarhuset, Hörsal C, Umeå Universitet, Umeå, 10:15 (English)
Available from: 2011-10-28 Created: 2011-10-25 Last updated: 2014-02-24Bibliographically approved

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