When the #metoo campaign went viral on social media last week, it really struck a chord with me. At first, I did not get involved but kept privately stewing over what #metoo meant to me.
As a solo woman traveler, my day-to-day life is littered with unpleasant instances of (mostly) low-level sexual harassment. It’s usually a catcall here or a suggestive look there, and over time this can really put a downer on your trip.
Overseas, I’ve experienced many more problems with sexual harassment than I have on my home turf. It’s hard to say this without immediately sounding like a massive xenophobic ass-hat, and my experiences are no doubt due to various factors coupled with a side of bad luck, but the numbers don’t lie. This includes pussy grabbing in a Spanish nightclub, being photographed in my swimmers on a beach in India, boob groping in Morocco, and an overly handsy taxi driver in Chile. I have completely lost count of the times I’ve been leered at on the street.
I’m currently backpacking in South America, and when I’ve talk to people (both locals and travelers) about the issue, I’m often met with a flippant, “well, it’s the culture here, so you’ll just have to put up with it.” But, should I really have to? Is the trade-off for traveling really that my body is fair game?
The idea of women putting up with harassment when traveling really hit home for me when I spoke to my Norwegian buddy, Anne. When I asked her whether she’d ever had any issues while traveling, she said she couldn’t really think of anything, and that it was mostly just “the usual catcalls”. It’s so easy to forget that a person shouting suggestive things at you is harassment; as is whistling, staring, or being openly talked about. Catcalls are not a normal way to talk to anyone.
So, what can we do about it? Well, as the victims, not an awful lot, I’m afraid. I try to keep a low profile when possible because it makes me feel safer, but I should be able to dress exactly how I like and not be harassed. Learning the lingo is a good way to make you feel less vulnerable, too. It won’t prevent something happening to you, but it might make you feel more confident if you can ask for help or be extra-firm with your “No”, “I’m not interested”, and “Leave me alone”.
The main thing that female travelers can do is to make noise about how this behavior just isn’t acceptable, just as the #metoo campaign has done. When my ass was grabbed by a man in Buenos Aires, the Argentinian friend I was with called the police to report it. I told her not to bother and that it wasn’t a big deal, but she insisted that it was and now I see that she was completely right. How can I expect something to be done about it if I don’t act on it? Visibility is key, and if everyone kept their assault to themselves as I intended to do on that day, ass-grabbers everywhere would continue to get away with it. If you feel safe to do so, report any incident to the police, or to your hostel or hotel. Tell the bouncer in the club, or the owner of the bar. Tell fellow travelers and voice your concerns to locals.
As with everything when traveling solo, trusting your judgment is extremely important. Don’t be worried about ‘causing a fuss’ or ‘making a scene’: if a scenario is making you uncomfortable, you have every right to remove yourself from it and/or act on it.
Travel is what makes me happiest, and I would never let these incidents scare me away from it. But, last week, when I started to think about how harassment affects me every single day, it really made me open my eyes to the fact that I need to stop keeping quiet, for the sake of all my other solo-sisters on the road.
So yeah, #metoo.