Just A Girl

Traveling in Ireland during my first solo trip

Traveling in Ireland during my first solo trip

The moment that I step outside

So many reasons

For me to run and hide

I can’t do the little things I hold so dear

‘Cause it’s all those little things

That I fear

‘Cause I’m just a girl 

I’d rather not be

‘Cause they won’t let me drive late at night 

I’m just a girl

Guess I’m some kind of freak

‘Cause they all sit and stare

With their eyes

-”Just a Girl” by No Doubt

Like the rest of America, I woke up last Saturday morning to the news that yet another school shooting had occurred.  This one had a twist, though, which included a terrifying YouTube video and a 140-page manifesto entitled My Twisted World (indeed) during which the murderer, Elliot Rodger, railed against women for not giving him the time of day - or anything else.

As the weekend wore on, the #NotAllMen and #YesAllWomen hashtags surfaced on Twitter.  The point being that from the male perspective, “not all men” are misogynists, but from the female perspective, “yes all women” have experienced misogyny.  It seemed that Rodger’s plan “to wage a war against all women” had backfired.  Women had come forward to do battle.

I launched an internal battle of my own, reading through hundreds of #YesAllWomen tweets.  I perused the online forums where Rodger used to post, reading shocking posts by other men, supportive of Rodger and his hatred of women.  I read powerful articles and blog posts written by women identifying with the #YesAllWomen sentiment.  I also read asinine articles like The Federalist’s The Ten Most Asinine Things About #YesAllWomen.  Perhaps most importantly I examined my own beliefs about misogyny and how I personally feel as a woman about men.

I do not believe that all men are misogynistic.  Not even close.  I know wonderful men - my dad and my brother being two great examples to me during my life.  But I’ve also personally known men that hate women.  That treat women not only disrespectfully but with physical, emotional and verbal abuse.  That call women vile names that are typically directed only toward women (you can use your imagination).  And that use their physical strength as a means of intimidation.  These are just examples of men I’ve actually known.  In America.  Where women have access to education and are protected by Title VII and aren’t beaten or stoned to death for choosing to marry the man they love instead of their cousin.

You are probably asking yourself what does any of this have to do with a website that is dedicated primarily to women’s travel? Plenty.

About 12 hours before the UCSB massacre, I read an article in the New York Times entitled “Women Alert to Travel’s Darker Side.”  The article presented one frightening scenario after another of women who have traveled internationally and then been raped or murdered by men.  One particularly disturbing quote came from a man in Istanbul, a shopkeeper in the same neighborhood where American tourist Sarai Sierra was murdered in 2013.  He said, “If the woman does not flirt, a man would not attempt to do anything, any harassment.  Everything starts with a woman.”

Despite the Turkish man’s attitude, my first impulse upon reading the article was to argue that the rate of female solo travelers has skyrocketed in the past several years such that it makes sense for the reports of crime against solo female travelers to have increased as well.  I also contemplated the fact that men traveling around the world are also victims of crime such as robberies and murders, but the spotlight often doesn’t fall on those incidents like it does with women.

What I couldn’t argue my way out of is the fact that it’s different for females and males traveling, especially solo.  I don’t like it.  I don’t even like admitting it.  But it is.

I’ve traveled solo to countries all over the world.  Before I travel, I read travel guides, travel magazines and travel blogs.  I post on travel forums and ask questions about issues like safety.  I contemplate secure neighborhoods and proximity to public transportation.  I decide whether I will be safe going out at night or whether I should do most of my activities during daylight.  I do all of the right things as a woman traveling solo.  But it doesn’t always make a difference.

Don’t get me wrong.  I’ve been lucky.  I’ve never been the victim of a crime while traveling.  But I’ve felt unsafe - not all the time but many times.  I’ve been approached by men.  Relentlessly.  Men have called me names.  Men have whistled at me, yelled at me, cussed at me and have said lewd things to me.  Men have followed me down the street.  One man followed me up the elevator in my hotel in Madrid and down the hall outside of my hotel room.  Another man grabbed me in Paris (I screamed “NO!” and ran).  Men have asked me if I have a husband or a boyfriend.  Men have asked me why I’m not married.

All of this has taught me a lot as a solo female traveler.

I’ve learned to keep my eyes averted.  I've learned to be aware of my surroundings at all times.  I’ve learned not to stay out past dark.  I’ve learned to walk with my keys clutched in my hand to use as a weapon.  I’ve learned to cross the street whenever possible to avoid groups of men.  I’ve learned to tell any man who approaches me that I’m “going to meet my boyfriend” - when that most certainly is not the case if I’m traveling solo.  (This generally makes men back off immediately, by the way.  Which suggests they have more respect for this fictional boyfriend than for me.)  I’ve learned to very carefully consider my clothing choices while traveling.  I’ve learned to immediately go on the defensive when any man speaks to me - even men who may be perfectly kind and nice.  Basically, I’ve learned to be afraid. 

I host a Twitter chat on Thursdays dedicated to female travelers called #Adventuress.  The chats are open to both women and men, though understandably very few men participate.  A few weeks ago the topic was “Solo Travel.”  I wanted to give solo female travelers the opportunity to talk about their experiences and to give women who might be contemplating solo travel the opportunity to start a dialogue.  At one point I asked the question “What advice would you give to a new solo female traveler? Or what advice would you like to have?”

A man that has never participated in the #Adventuress chat suddenly chimed in with this answer:

Stop freaking?  I. Was. Furious.

Upon investigation, I discovered that this man is a self-proclaimed “permanent traveler.”  He has a large following (nearly 32,000) on Twitter.  He has traveled all over the world and has likely had many experiences with different cultures, people and viewpoints.  Except he doesn’t have a clue about being a solo female traveler, and his ignorance is an embarrassment both to him and to other men.  Yet he flaunted his “expertise” in my chat as if he knows what it’s like to be me or any other female going out into the world alone.

Because I encourage an open dialogue during my chat, I didn’t lash out the way I felt compelled to do.  I didn’t lash out at all, in fact, other than to politely express my opinion that many women need encouragement to travel alone.  Now in retrospect I wish I had lashed out.  He has no idea.  NO IDEA.

I not only wish I had spoken my mind, I wish I had a solution to suggest.  I know that #YesAllWomen will eventually die down.  The next mass crime spree or natural disaster will divert people’s attention from the UCSB massacre and the killer’s rationale behind it.  We will continue to hear stories about solo female travelers who are raped and killed on vacation.  Men will continue arguing that "not all men" act this way.  I don’t know what I can do except yet again try to start a dialogue.  I'm just a girl, after all.  But this time I’m prepared for battle.