Being a girl in the public space

Going out in public, to the park, or staying home? Going to cafés or the gym? Watching television and movies, listening to music, surfing on the internet? Hanging out with friends? What does being a young woman in public spaces in Hanoi mean?

VIDEO       Danh Truong, the best female skater in Hanoi, wanted to ask girls hanging around if they would try skating.


girls are supposed to be gentle and charming, so they just take a walk or wander in the park. […] Women hesitate to do strong physical activities like men do, they are afraid of being noticed in a public space because others may judge them”

(interview, June 15, 2014).

Beneath the official communist discourse of gender equality, gender norms still affect the way young women use public spaces.

A prevalent stereotype is that:

Females should only practice “SOFT” activities in public spaces (sit, walk, take photos, chat with friends) and leave “STRONG” activities (jogging, sports) to men.

But things are changing

I find that these girls express both their femininity and their strong personality
(interview, July 4, 2014)

Many young women hold positive views about those few, socially transgressive girls who practice “strong activities” such as inline skating, hip hop dancing, or skateboarding in Hanoi’s public spaces.

They say that these girls are “stylish”
They admire them for stretching gender norms
They see these practices as new expressions of femininity and female independence


Visiting a public space is the preferred leisure activity of many young women. However, compared to young men, they face a number of constraints on their use of these spaces. Most importantly: They lack of free time, have safety concerns, and feel the threat of harassment. Young women have four main strategies to counter these limits:

Young women feel safer when they visit parks with friends (female or male).

They are reassured by the presence of numerous park users around them.

I just don’t like coming alone to a deserted park in the evening. But it’s very crowded here in the square, so I don’t mind.”

(interview, June 13, 2014)

I usually take a seat near the lights.

(interview, June 9, 2014)

Some informants mentioned that the way you dress impacts your sense of safety. A student who is a new user of 34T Plaza told a story of harassment:

Some young girls who wore sexy clothes were properly harassed

(interview, June 13, 2014)