Photo: Mark Davis
Important side note: This article is written by a a white, western feminist cis woman.
1. “You’re gonna get raped!”
This one will come from family or friends, indistinctly. I personally feel sad about the fact that the first thing that comes to someone’s mind when thinking about a woman travelling alone is rape.
But, sad or not, this is also inexact. Because the facts are that most rapes are committed by someone who was already part of the victim’s environment. This means that you are way more likely to get raped in your home country than travelling. Plus, when you travel, you pay more attention to your surroundings and people’s behaviours because you’re on unknown ground, so you are more likely to detect danger while travelling than walking around your neighbourhood.
2. “You shouldn’t stay at men’s places.”
Just like “Don’t dress like that” or “Don’t drink too much at a party“, this comment comes from the idea that men are unable to control their instincts and that sexual assault becomes a possibility if you make it “easy” for them. So, following this reasoning, staying with men while travelling alone — or dressing “too provocatively” when you go out — could become the trigger for a sexual assault or rape. This, of course, implies that part of the responsibility of said aggression would be yours for provoking that man’s instincts, but that’s another subject.
Well, I stay at men’s houses precisely because I am a feminist. How so? Because feminism defends that men are rational human beings who can control their sexual urges and prioritize respect to women. That’s also why, when a man commits rape, he is fully responsible of it — because he’s not a beast, but a complete, rational and emotional human being like me. And based on this idea, I will stay at your house if you let me unless I get signals that something sketchy is going on. Of course, I still have been trained in self-defense in case anything happens, because as a woman there’s always a risk — and that’s basic common sense. But I’m not going to avoid you based on the solely fact that you’re a man.
3. “Do you own pepper spray?”
During my first solo trip I reluctantly took a pepper spray with me because a good friend insisted on giving it to me. However, the experience wasn’t so good. I’ve found myself more comfortable on being my own weapon, at least for now, by both learning self-defense techniques and being as cautious as I can (reading body language, asking the right questions, being aware of my surroundings).
However, last year I attended a Female Solo Travel workshop at the Amsterdam Nomads Gathering and many girls claimed to feel much safer by carrying a pepper spray with them — so it’s always a subjective matter. One way or another, it is always important to feel that you are prepared to react in case you find yourself in a dangerous situation — and, being a woman, this also means specific threats inherent to our gender such as (you guessed it!) rape.
4. “You’re not like other girls.”
As a girl who has sometimes tended to behave in a way that our society would classify as “masculine” (playing soccer at elementary school or rarely wearing make-up as a teenager), there was a time in my life, prior to discovering feminism, where I would take pride on saying that I was “different from the other girls”. Of course, I didn’t realize how harmful that was. By separating myself from something I identified with (being a girl), I was betraying a part of myself, as well as making the assumption that girls are naturally “less cool” than boys — and, furthermore, that girls and boys are this or that way because of their gender.
Traveling and feminism appeared in my life more or less at the same time and both taught me a really important lesson: That the more social standards you get rid of, the freer you are to know yourself. I’m not “different from other girls”, because every girl is different. By linking certain personality characteristics to gender, we unable people to explore themselves freely as individuals because we set standards on how they should behave based on the way they were born — not to mention the assumption that there are only two genders you can feel identified with.
5. “But that country is so sexist!”
Well yes, and so is yours — no matter where you are from. Every country is sexist. Within the borders of my first world occidental country (Spain), I’ve experienced sexual harassment, sexual assault, sexist comments and exhibitionism among others, not to mention other female friends’ experiences such as gender violence or rape. So let’s first be aware of this before we point at any other country for being sexist, because we could be slipping a bit into unintentional racism and at the same time ignoring the inequality that exists in our own ground.
Also, when people call a country “sexist”, I’ve found they usually don’t know what they’re talking about. Not long ago, somebody told me not to go to Albania because “it’s such a dangerous country for women“. So I asked: “Why?” and the response was something like: “Well… there are mafias… and a lot of prostitution… uhh…” No. Get informed and then we can talk. Your uninformed statements only discourage women from having what could be an amazing experience. Of course, every country holds different risks for us, on different levels — which is why you should be informed about them before making any statements (if you’re talking to a female traveler) or deciding to skip/visit that certain country (if you are a female traveler).
6. “Aren’t you afraid?”
Of course I am afraid. How wouldn’t I? Being a feminist doesn’t mean you’re suddenly holding power and control over all the dangers in the world, but now I feel more prepared because I hold a better knowledge on how to detect and deal with many of them. If you are thinking about traveling alone, you will be afraid — a lot and from lots of things. But it’s not a reason not to do what you want. It always helps to read blogs or interviews of other people who are already doing it, because they always talk about how they were terrified beforehand. Just as I was — and still am, before every big trip.