So, I am a feminist and feminism is not a dirty word. Feminism just means equality. It means undoing thousands of years of oppression that hasn’t, contrary to popular belief, simply ended in the West. To take a prime example here in the UK women only got the vote 100 years ago. Seriously. It really was that recently. You don’t simply undo the pervasive and insidious belief that women are somehow less than men in just under a century; not when it’s been going on for so long. You just don’t.
So, before I get to the title of this piece, let’s just get one thing straight: Feminism is not about women being given more rights than men. I don’t care what you read on the internet that one time or what you say about men’s issues being ignored, because fixing that is all a part of feminism. If you care about male suicide rates, if you care about having fair access to your children as a man, these are things that feminism addresses, because all it means is equality of experience. And I say again: I don’t care what you read once on the internet. Ok?
So throw the word ‘Feminazi’ about willy-nilly if you like, because all that tells everyone is that you don’t really want equality, you don’t care about the issues you claim to, and you’re bizarrely and childishly intimidated by strong women, which is just a bit sad. Alright? Ok. Good. Let’s move on.
Inequality of Experience
Inequality between men and women is pervasive – even if you don’t think it is. It’s knowing that, despite theoretically having the same rights as men, women in the UK earn 17.5% less in the same roles as their male counterparts. It’s being cat-called in the street. It’s having to choose a skirt that’s not too short that you’re called a slut, but not too long that you’re called a prude.
It’s being told that if you’re wearing tight clothing, or you’re drunk, or you flirted with someone once, that a rape or a sexual assault was ‘partly your fault’. It’s clutching your keys in your hand as you walk home at night because no, not all men are rapists, but that one who’s – probably innocently – following behind you, he just might be, and you’d be stupid not to prepare to defend yourself.
It’s being tired of trying to put up a front of perfection as armour against everyone all of the time. It’s having to work twice as hard and be twice as forceful to be considered worthy of your place in your job – and even then getting called bossy. It’s being asked why you’re not either engaged, or married, or having children and staying at home with them, or having children and working full-time, or somehow doing all of it at once.
It’s India’s Daughter. It’s young girls married off to middle-aged men before they’ve even hit puberty. It’s cries that ‘privileged white women shouldn’t complain’ because there are bigger battles out there. It’s people not understanding that we want to fight the big battles too, but that women being denied abortions in Northern Ireland and America, or having a man push his hand up your skirt and call you a slag in a bar in England, are problems for us all as well; it just so happens that these are the battles we’re more equipped to fight on a regular basis. For now, at least.
It’s also knowing that, as a female solo traveller, the world isn’t going to be as easy for you to dive into as it will be for a man.
Feminism and Travelling
If you type ‘female travel’ into google you’ll find a lot of inspiring articles and inspiring women who are travelling the world like the badasses they are. You’ll also find a million and one articles about safety, ways to dress, things not to do, people not to talk to, scams you might be manipulated by, and those horror stories of the sweet young girls who were in the wrong place at the wrong time and ended up dead.
You’ll be told that walking alone or with a male friend after dark in parts of India may leave you open to an attack. You’ll reel when you hear that in some parts of Cambodia, 21% of men admit to having raped a woman at least once, and you’ll think that perhaps you’ll never get to see Cambodia after all then.
You’ll begin to see that, as you expected, some cultures should be respected by wearing modest clothing in public. This is, obviously, an example of consideration for the place you’re visiting and should be adhered to as much as possible. But you’ll also see that failure to comply with these rules, even in emerging economies and developed countries, will leave men claiming that the vision of your still-clothed body ‘enflamed’ a desire they were powerless to control.
[As a sidenote, this is what I mean about Feminism being about equality: what man wants to be spoken about as no more than an animal who has no control over his own actions? Men are not animals. Men are complex and wonderful and intelligent and kind. But not all men apparently, and those awful ones are the ones you’ll hear about if you start to research female travel].
And so you’ll wonder if it’s worth the risk. You’ll wonder if seeing the world is really something you desperately want to do, and whether it might just be safer to stay at home and take up knitting.
And then you’ll realise that not only does travel enrich your life and broaden your horizons; not only is it something that you definitely, absolutely and 100% want to do; not only were you crap at knitting that one time you tried it and you really don’t want to take it up as a hobby; but that travelling as a woman is a feminist act.
Don’t believe me? Let’s go back to the beginning then.
If Feminism is about equality and if men can travel more easily than women in many parts of the world, then inequality in free movement around the Earth is based on nothing more arbitrary than gender. And that’s not ok really, is it?
Travelling as a woman is breaking down a barrier. It’s saying that we should be able to go anywhere a man can without fear of coming to harm. It’s making sure that we’re sensible and taking precautions appropriate to the country we’re in, but also stating that in future years we should only have to adapt our behaviour out of respect for a culture, not because of a fear of assault. It’s taking a step into the unknown knowing that not everyone will like it and that no, it might not be completely safe, but that you’re going to do it anyway because this is important to you, and you and your vagina are fucking capable of doing it.
So let’s do it. Let’s be careful, let’s be respectful, let’s not put ourselves in danger if we can avoid it. But let’s also say that we will do it now, right now, so that future generations will have it easier, and the granddaughters of our later world will be able to look back and say:
“Well, fuck. Things are so much better than that now, aren’t they?”
If you need any more proof that women have always smashed through barriers in movement and experience then read on: 10 Female Travel Icons.