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‘You’ve gotta learn how to play the game’: homeless women's use of gender performance as a tool for preventing victimization

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Abstract

As a masculinist space, ‘the streets’ present a variety of dangers to homeless women, a fact that has received too little attention within the social science literature. This study utilizes data drawn from interviews with homeless women and service providers in Edinburgh, San Francisco, Vancouver, Montreal and Ottawa, to explore the complex survival strategies that homeless women develop to prevent criminal victimization. Through women's words, we see that gender is understood strategically as performance. Four gender performances are identified and discussed: the ‘femininity simulacrum’, the ‘masculinity simulacrum’, ‘genderlessness’ and ‘passing’. We discussed how each of these performances is employed in the pursuit of safety and security in frequently violent and chaotic social spaces.

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