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I am an intruder; I am a stranger; I am a woman in public spaces
August 29, 2013 10:21 AM   Subscribe

"My desire for experience, for openness, for adventure, had been overpowered by a stronger imperative, one I had internalized without realizing it: Don’t get yourself raped." Travel writer Tara Burton writes about her different opportunities and experiences, and the changed values they have brought her.
posted by corb (139 comments total) 79 users marked this as a favorite

 
My male friend can accept a newfound friend’s offer of a drink, of a meal, of a sofa bed, without being presumed to have given sexual consent; I have no such luxury.

This brings back so many memories for me in my younger, single, globe-trotting days (mid-20's through early 30's). The powerful feelings of freedom, wonder and adventure all too often tempered with the need to evade, protect, hide. The creepy stranger in Newport who kept following me around, even into a movie theater, so that I finally had to beg the theater's Asst Manager to walk me back to my lodgings (he reluctantly obliged.) The annoying man in Verona who fell in step with me as I set out for a morning walk through the streets and would not be dissuaded even with a point blank, pretty terse "get lost." The disappointing decision to give up on taking the night train to Florence or any train to Rome after every single person I met strongly advised against it. The scariness of an old friend's roommate tracking me into the mountains of New Hampshire, appearing at my B&B with no warning, who acted out furiously when I wouldn't let him come in or stay in my room. (Luckily, B&B owner's husband was intimidatingly big guy.) And so many more. I had so many amazing adventures, and also had to curtail so many plans. I want my daughter to have the amazing experiences that I have had, but I'm also well aware of the dangers.

Now as I'm a middle-aged, non-svelte, frumpier version of my former self...I'm almost relieved. It's rather freeing to have strangers' eyes not even rest upon you as they glance over the crowd. I'm almost 50 and seemingly invisible. I can't even feel insulted because I've been able to travel with less care, but rarely have the time now. I still would love to take the night train to Rome from Milan.
posted by jeanmari at 10:54 AM on August 29, 2013 [58 favorites]


Oh, this is so true. I vividly recall all the forceful overtures I experienced when I traveled alone, both in the U.S. and overseas. The only exception to this was a car trip I took alone down the Oregon coast, and that was because I was able to escape the opportunities she mentions for sexual aggressiveness.

These days I am safe when I travel because my large Bear is with me. But one of the things he told me early in our relationship that I still envy is that he never worries about being on his own because no one bothers him. That is still not true for me, even if I am just running an errand on my own. Even now that I'm clearly older and graying.

Most men are great. But the ones that aren't target women on their own, all the time. And yes, rape is a real risk.

I also agree that women can get far more disclosure and entree at times than men can. But there's something very wrong about the fact that I need my husband there to feel safe in foreign locations (and wouldn't feel safe even with him in some places, like India.) Being female shouldn't entail this sort of constraint.
posted by bearwife at 11:04 AM on August 29, 2013 [11 favorites]


It feels as if there are two good essays here- one about the precautions women must observe while traveling alone, and the other about privileged Western travelers bringing with them certain destructive assumptions, including the assumption that real travel writing includes adventure of the courting-mortal-danger variety. But put together, her conclusions sound a little too much like "I know my place."
posted by pernoctalian at 11:05 AM on August 29, 2013 [6 favorites]


> But put together, her conclusions sound a little too much like "I know my place."

I don't understand that reaction at all. I think putting those two things together is exactly what lifts this above the usual run of "it's hard traveling while female" essays (not that there's anything wrong with those essays—the point can never be made too often). Here's the nub of it:
But deep down, I’ll know that such freedom is born of a privilege I do not have and perhaps should not want. It is a privilege that blinds those who have it to the fact that the world is not raw material, shifting, uncertain geography for us to shape and create anew in our words. It is not a moveable stage set upon which we can create visions of ourselves, invent ourselves as the adventurers we would like to be.

As a woman, this is something I have always known. As a writer, it is something that I am constantly called upon to relearn. My limitations, as a female travel writer, are also my strengths.
I think that's brilliantly said, and I want to read more of her writing.
posted by languagehat at 11:09 AM on August 29, 2013 [28 favorites]


I suppose she's just speaking for herself, about her own insecurities and her own experiences, but i just returned from a vacation in south america, and I happened to meet quite few female travelers. some were in groups, some were solo. We talked about adventures and the adventurous spirit a good deal, as many were european, taking advantage of the longer summer holiday. some had funny stories about sketchy situations they had gotten into, but not once did I hear even the suggestion that any single one of them lived or traveled with a heightened sense of impending rape.
perhaps i just happened upon a dozen and a half or so terribly naive world travelers, or perhaps i am tone deaf to the subtle body language of rape fear, but the girls i interacted with were easygoing, gregarious and warm, did not eschew eye contact or shrink in fear at the other 49% of the population of the planet.
I am not trying to disregard Tara Burton's insecurities. I went traveling for two weeks with a friend who is in the middle of a 12 week solo trip around south america, and before i got there I had those very fears for her. but it was after i was there and had heard her stories, and the stories of so many others...about couch surfing and night buses and party hostels, that i realized that she was strong, independent, and careful, but not, in the way that this article portrays, fearful of traveling as a woman alone.
I feel sorry for Tara Burton. Not because the world we live in has made her afraid to live her dream, but because she hasn't figured out how to live her dream in the world we live in.
posted by OHenryPacey at 11:19 AM on August 29, 2013 [7 favorites]


not once did I hear even the suggestion that any single one of them lived or traveled with a heightened sense of impending rape.

I think this is something that a lot of women feel, but do not often talk about - particularly to men. And that many of the woman who are concerned about it may still appear as "easygoing, gregarious, and warm" - but they may still think twice about taking a ride from a stranger.
posted by corb at 11:28 AM on August 29, 2013 [81 favorites]


I feel sorry for Tara Burton. Not because the world we live in has made her afraid to live her dream, but because she hasn't figured out how to live her dream in the world we live in.

Dafuck?
posted by zombieflanders at 11:30 AM on August 29, 2013 [24 favorites]


It's Constantinople because that's what the people who built it named it. "Istanbul" is a colonial name, imposed by the fiat of foreign conquerors. At this point, the indigenous population has been reduced to invisibility, even their holiest places appropriated by the invader.

Am I doing it wrong?
posted by Hizonner at 11:32 AM on August 29, 2013 [9 favorites]


Coincidentally, this is today's Sinfest comic (it helps if you're familiar with the strip, but this one doesn't really require much context).
posted by uosuaq at 11:33 AM on August 29, 2013 [9 favorites]


but the girls i interacted with were easygoing, gregarious and warm, did not eschew eye contact or shrink in fear at the other 49% of the population of the planet.

I'm guessing you probably don't come off as threatening/creepy and weren't accosting strange women alone in dark alleys. Being aware of the risk of rape does not mean that we're terrified to make eye contact with half of the human population. Being friendly with men does not mean that we're not aware that many situations are dangerous for women travelling alone. Some people alter their behaviour to avoid these situations, while others don't.

strong, independent, and careful, but not, in the way that this article portrays, fearful of traveling as a woman alone.

This article portrays a woman who is strong and independent, and careful to avoid dangerous situations, who is obviously not "fearful of traveling as a woman alone" since she is a travel writer. The point of the article is that a lot of women avoid certain situations while travelling alone, and that this leads them to experience different things from solo male travellers, for better or for worse.
posted by randomnity at 11:40 AM on August 29, 2013 [51 favorites]


In the threads about sexual harassment and the threat of rape we've had before, people often point out that sexual harassment never 'works', in the sense that almost no women ever respond positively to a harasser, and I may have said once that it functions to force women to choose a man as a protector whether they really want to or not, but it's taken this article to make me think the most basic function of a pervasive culture of sexual harassment and rape might be to make it impossible for women to run away or get away, either from a place or situation they don't like, or to something they merely might like better.
posted by jamjam at 11:43 AM on August 29, 2013 [30 favorites]


You know what corb, i think twice about taking a ride from a stranger too, and i teach my kids, both girl and boy, to think twice about taking a ride from a stranger, it's not a gender specific caution, nor is making good sensible choices as a traveler, but to suggest, as she does, that she avoids making eye contact when she travels, takes a bit of fun out of traveling, and seems out of proportion to the experiences that were related to me. and yes, most women dont just volunteer their fears, but i was involved in several conversations about safety while traveling alone, because i was sincerely interested in how my friend was handling it.
posted by OHenryPacey at 11:46 AM on August 29, 2013


not once did I hear even the suggestion that any single one of them lived or traveled with a heightened sense of impending rape.

I don't talk to guys about my rape concerns because I don't want to jinx things or get lectures about how what I'm thinking/feeling isn't founded according to the experiences of men. YMMV and theirs probably does too.
posted by jessamyn at 11:47 AM on August 29, 2013 [121 favorites]


i was sincerely interested in how my friend was handling it.

So why aren't you sincerely interested in hearing about how this woman handles it?
posted by scody at 11:47 AM on August 29, 2013 [29 favorites]


not once did I hear even the suggestion that any single one of them lived or traveled with a heightened sense of impending rape.

And yeah, the fact that no woman shared this with you doesn't mean it's not a thought none of them have. Women actually do have thoughts, ideas, concerns, fears, and experiences that they may not happen to have run by you in a conversation.
posted by scody at 11:49 AM on August 29, 2013 [49 favorites]


It really sucks living in this world this describes. And this is by from a guy who easily fits into the stereotype of "big dude that does not get fucked with". I've been to a great many places alone, or in groups of two or more and never have I ever felt any real worry about myself. Mind you I also don't have that "travel should be a dangerous adventure" mindset either so it's not like my trips have been like some of the tales the author idolizes.

But I really have a hard time thinking of not feeling in danger as a "Privilege"... rather it's the bare minimum that I think everyone deserves... I'd much rather we all lived in the world where that part was true.
posted by cirhosis at 11:52 AM on August 29, 2013 [7 favorites]


i think twice about taking a ride from a stranger too, and i teach my kids, both girl and boy, to think twice about taking a ride from a stranger, it's not a gender specific caution, nor is making good sensible choices as a traveler

This isn't even about making good, sensible choices as a traveler, it's about the fear she has no matter what choice she makes. She doesn't even have to be doing anything at all. And, yes, in a very large part it's a gender-specific caution.

but to suggest, as she does, that she avoids making eye contact when she travels, takes a bit of fun out of traveling, and seems out of proportion to the experiences that were related to me

Just because no one ever considered you a target for sexual advances, harassment, or rape because you made eye contact doesn't mean that it doesn't happen. HINT: It does.
posted by zombieflanders at 12:00 PM on August 29, 2013 [17 favorites]


As a “lady adventurer,” a female traveler, I have never had that particular privilege. I am an intruder; I am a stranger; I am a woman in public spaces – tea houses, street corners – often deemed the exclusive provenance of men. I do not have the luxury of sauntering into a basement chaikhana in Tbilisi or Istanbul, spreading my legs apart on the cushions, leaning back, loudly quoting Homer and demanding pots of tea, secure in the conviction that the world will shape itself to my will.

Hm. Well, my experience as a white woman* in Asia was very much that my whiteness did give me quite a lot of "that particular privilege". There were white "lady adventurers" who traveled in the Middle East and Asia in the 19th century - and although they faced plenty of disapproval and some sexual threat, their relative wealth, whiteness and their connection to the imperial powers of the West did give them access to a lot of stuff.

I have a lot of trouble with this kind of description of travel writing because it seems so much about whiteness. In utopia, of course, there's no reason that a Chinese kid can't just take off and have adventures throughout China or India or Russia or France...in reality, the accessibility of "adventure" is contoured by economic relations and imperialism even if the individual kid has money and free time.

Also, fundamentally the idea of travel to "picturesque places" relies on large groups of people being unable to travel so that they not only provide the picturesque experience for the traveler but so that the picturesqueness doesn't get corrupted by practices and objects from outside. It's inherently unequal.

I'm not saying that travel is foundationally unequal; I'm saying that certain narratives of travel, the picturesque and the regional are rooted in inequality.

***
I "avoid eye contact" when I travel, and indeed at virtually all times in public. I avoid dealing with straight men as much as possible, especially white ones.

I always used to think "oh, I am not like other [non-cis-male] people, I never worry about being sexually assaulted" and try to figure out what about my experience and personality meant that I felt that I was totally not at risk. (Butch, stout and muscular, wide shoulders, "penguin-shaped", as someone characterized it, not a pretty face, glasses.)

And then I realized that although I never ever worry about being sexually assaulted, my entire life is arranged on the assumption that pretty much any straight man may take it into his head to harass me on homophobic lines, no one will help, and there's no real way to predict this. My life might as well be about fearing sexual assault.

The other day I was on the bus and there was this jerk of a young kid riding along with a bunch of girl classmates. They had gotten on first and were talking. He got on and obviously wanted both to derail their conversation (as opposed to participating in it) and to rivet their attention to himself, so he started teasing them in a way that passes for friendly mockery but is really about threat. All of the kids were dropping in and out of English, so I was not privy to the whole thing, but they were sitting right behind me and the kid dropped into English from time to time in order to point out that I was a lesbian and then segue clearly into something that was about "you don't want to be like that, that's why you have to be nice to men, ergo, you have to pay lots of attention to me because otherwise I will hassle you about your sexuality like I'm hassling this person". It made me so fucking angry - not because he was hassling me, per se - and I mean, I feel good about being visibly queer - but because he was using that hassle to bully the girls.

And the point is, this isn't an unusual situation. I used to think "oh, no one ever harasses me" and then I realized that actually I bike almost everywhere, avoid group settings, avoid crowds, avoid elevators and when I must walk, time my walks to be through emptier areas at off hours. No one harasses me because I have limited my life in order to avoid settings where I get hassled.

And now that I think about it, I rarely get through a crowds/lots of men situation without some kind of unpleasant run-in. My ratio of exposure-to-harassment is actually pretty high.

*This was at a point where I identified as a woman
posted by Frowner at 12:00 PM on August 29, 2013 [51 favorites]


I love this essay. I love that Burton points out that while she isn't getting the same experiences that male travelers (with a certain amount of confidence or colonialist entitlement) might, she's getting experiences that would never have been open to them.

There's a lot to be sad and angry about how rape and fear of rape limit the experiences available to female travelers. There's also a lot of joy to be had in discovering all the places and people that you won't find with a man along. One of the best travel experiences I've ever had was traveling in a women-only night train car, sharing a meal and conversation with women I'd never otherwise have met from places I've never been.
posted by asperity at 12:02 PM on August 29, 2013 [7 favorites]


TBH my six-foot tall dad and brother routinely don't get why I don't want to walk to my parent's house in DC alone or why I won't couchsurf. We have had conversations about it and even though I am super prepared, good at avoiding shadows, great at being really fast, they just...don't get it. They honestly think I am less adventurous and a little spoiled for not staying where they would, for not walking where they would.

I mean I have done some dumb things while traveling solo (including much tea in Turkey, taking a 3 am bus to Milan's train station, many late night walks in Rome, and dubious juice drinks) and I have been really lucky and safe, but it's within a broader network of clothing choices, phone calls, whistles, and judging enticements to come to into stores and shops and bars. No, I don't discuss that. Half of it is invisible to most guys; half of that isn't something they ever have to see. One thing I think that is especially important is within the context of her job, because a lot of travel writing lionizes that free spirit, cheap buses, cheap hostels, cheap drinks kind of adventuring, where you're one solo traveler and you find friends along the way. Which can be great, unless it's not.
posted by jetlagaddict at 12:05 PM on August 29, 2013 [19 favorites]


Bizarrely, the place I felt the safest while traveling alone was in Dubai. I would frequently be out late and walking home alone at night to my friend's house (so not a downtown hotel) and as a Western woman in a culture where women between the ages of 15 and 50 are basically never outside at night unaccompanied, I found it made me pretty invisible. Add to that the lack of a late night drinking culture (among the Emirati, and I was staying someplace not where a lot of Westerners hung out) and it was one of the more pleasing travel experiences I'd had.

I'm sure there are exceptions to this, like everything, but coming from a lot of solo travel in Eastern Europe where I was routinely harassed (not feeling like I was being rape-threatened but just put in my place as a female and as someone who "looked Jewish" as a Romanian friend told me) it was surprisingly relaxing. I travel in the US alone all the time and rarely get harassed but again, like Frowner, I spend a lot of time and effort putting myself in no-harassing situations. And I get a lot of "sweetie" and "honey" tuff which I've decided is Not Harassment. It's a Shroedinger's Cat situation in a way (as has been noted in MeFi many times before) you have to both prepare for being harassed and not being harassed in order to have a decent time traveling alone and it gets a little exhausting after a while. I rarely worry about getting out and out assaulted, but I'm at the point where I don't even worry about being harassed because it's so commonplace (I have a gender nonconforming haircut lately which is a good news/bad news thing). It's just really dicey making sure you can tell when a situation might be going from harassment to something worse.
posted by jessamyn at 12:12 PM on August 29, 2013 [3 favorites]


These days I am safe when I travel because my large Bear is with me.

One of the really eye-opening moments of my life was quite recent: I was walking down main street when a guy standing down a side alleyway spotted me, set down his 40-oz, and made a beeline straight for me.

Then my big, tall, burly, barrel-chested partner, who had been walking a half-block behind to look in a shop window, caught up with me and started walking by my side. The stranger who'd been heading straight for me suddenly veered off at a 90-degree angle; it looked exactly as if he'd bounced off a force-field away from me.

That was illuminating, and a pretty good microcosm of my experience being a woman alone in a public space.

(I know there are all kinds of trade-offs; for example, no one truculently calls me "big guy" and tries to pick fights with me for no reason, which I have seen people do to him.)
posted by Elsa at 12:13 PM on August 29, 2013 [48 favorites]


Which can be great, unless it's not.

...at which point a woman will then be blamed for her own harassment/assault/rape for not taking the proper precautions. (Those same "proper precautions," of course, that make her an object of pity or derision when she follows them to avoid the harassment/assault/rape that she's being unjustly paranoid about avoiding.)
posted by scody at 12:14 PM on August 29, 2013 [51 favorites]


I do not have the luxury of sauntering into a basement chaikhana in Tbilisi or Istanbul, spreading my legs apart on the cushions, leaning back, loudly quoting Homer and demanding pots of tea, secure in the conviction that the world will shape itself to my will.

Hm. Well, my experience as a white woman* in Asia was very much that my whiteness did give me quite a lot of "that particular privilege".


Ahh I think she's expressly talking about all-male teahouses here? Very much a part of Turkish society (at least), very, very unwelcoming to women of any variety. Not sure about Tbilisi or other parts of Asia, but still a part of Turkish society, at least with respects to tea houses (and other social areas.)
posted by jetlagaddict at 12:15 PM on August 29, 2013 [1 favorite]


It's Constantinople because that's what the people who built it named it. "Istanbul" is a colonial name

Even Old New York was once New Amsterdam.
posted by octobersurprise at 12:18 PM on August 29, 2013 [17 favorites]


> "I feel sorry for Tara Burton. Not because the world we live in has made her afraid to live her dream ..."

Many people in my circle of acquaintances, male and female both, have done a great deal of world traveling and returned home safe and happy.

One of them, however, was raped and murdered while doing so.

The problem is not entirely in Tara Burton's head.
posted by kyrademon at 12:38 PM on August 29, 2013 [51 favorites]


not once did I hear even the suggestion that any single one of them lived or traveled with a heightened sense of impending rape

I'm a woman who travels alone frequently. This stuff is always on my mind, but it's so commonplace to me that I wouldn't think to bring it up in conversation. To me it's just an implicit aspect of traveling as a woman, like remembering to pack spare tampons.

I also wouldn't bring it up to men because whenever I do, they tend to take it personally. Like I'm implying that they might rape me, or I'm implying that their activity suggestions are stupid and dangerous. They get defensive and it shuts down the conversation.
posted by cadge at 12:47 PM on August 29, 2013 [80 favorites]


It's Constantinople because that's what the people who built it named it. "Istanbul" is a colonial name, imposed by the fiat of foreign conquerors. At this point, the indigenous population has been reduced to invisibility, even their holiest places appropriated by the invader.

Am I doing it wrong?


I don't get this. Am I missing something?
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 12:52 PM on August 29, 2013 [1 favorite]


not once did I hear even the suggestion that any single one of them lived or traveled with a heightened sense of impending rape

This thread may change your perception, then, since it contains actual examples of this type of thing. This could be a good chance to be "Oh, hey, I hadn't realized it was like that because my experience has been different" rather then "Yeah, the author's wrong because my experience has been different."
posted by MoonOrb at 1:06 PM on August 29, 2013 [42 favorites]


I'm a woman who travels alone frequently. This stuff is always on my mind, but it's so commonplace to me that I wouldn't think to bring it up in conversation. To me it's just an implicit aspect of traveling as a woman, like remembering to pack spare tampons.

Exactly. I was toying with writing my own variant of this same essay, which was inspired by something my brother said in passing to me once - he is doing all the travel I always wanted to do (not because I've been too afraid, but because he married really well), and one time said something about how I seemed to "like the city travel better". And I initially got a flash of anger at that ("how dare he have figured me out so wrong"), but then realized that he was basing it on what he'd seen - no, I didn't travel out into the boonies so much.

And then I pondered that and came to many of the same conclusions in this essay. There are steps I need to take when I'm preparing for a trip that my brother will never have to take - during some idle browsing while I was daydreaming about taking a trip to Morocco, I took the time to look up "Tips For Dealing With Street Harrassment" (I bookmarked the site at home, but I think they gave a couple of Arabic and Berber things you could shout that meant things like "Shame on you" or the like). Those are steps my brother will never have to take.

But fortunately - knock wood - I've stayed really safe, and any naughty romps that happened during my travels were on my terms (What happens when you have a birthday on Mardi Gras, stays in New Orleans). The closest I came to trouble was one night at a youth hostel, when I was hanging out on the porch with two other girls from my room enjoying the night air - and three guys from another room came to talk to us; two younger guys from a couple of different countries, and one much older guy who announced that he was from kentucky and he was "fucked up". I resolved to keep my eye on him, but one of the younger guys got me into a conversation about a band or something, and as we spoke, I noticed the older guy pull the third guy aside for a hushed conversation - and as they looked right at me and my roommates, I heard the older guy say "I'll take the older one, and you guys can choose between the younger blond and the brunette."

At which point I turned to my roommates and loudly said "hey, guys, didn't we have to get up early for that thing tomorrow?" and then turned to the guys to sweetly say good night as I shepherded the confused and uncomprehending younger girls back to our room. Even after explaining it to them they still didn't quite get why I'd acted like we'd had plans the following day and I don't think they knew what had almost happened. I hope they learned to watch their step the easy way rather than the hard.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 1:08 PM on August 29, 2013 [10 favorites]


In the 1980s my then-partner and I (both female) ran a small yacht charter operation in the Caribbean, based out of the US Virgin Islands. We had female crews (more about which below) in addition to our captaining. Our boats all had AR-15s in clips next to the cockpit companionways, and all hatches larger than 4" had internal hinged/bolted/locked steel gratings to prevent intruders. We were the only vessels I had ever seen so equipped. My partner and I had loaded pistols under our pillows in our bunks, and with us on land, showing were legal, concealed where not. The crew usually chose machetes in their bunks (some may have had firearms as well).
We practiced repel boarders drills several times a week. We weren't worried about drug runners; our sailboats were too slow to interest them. We were concerned about fellow yachties and impoverished locals.
We had to fire the weapons at human beings EVERY TIME we were in the US and most other islands (USVI and Jamaica were the worst). We had unwanted boarders multiple times per 24 hours wherever it was known we were all-female crews, no matter how many men were aboard as passengers.
We had all-female crews not just out of lesbian-feminist sisterhood, but because both my partner (completely androgynous, even shirtless) and her female crew had been repeatedly accosted with a variety of weapons by male crewmembers, social acquaintances, vendors, and apparently every ambulatory local or tourist with a penis.
At the time I looked like a bar-sized refrigerator with a buzzcut and a white uniform, and I could not walk 100 feet down a dock to process our paperwork without men demanding a good time or at least a feel.
A few years later, while working as the 1st officer of a large charter vessel in the Mediterranean, one night I shot two of our male charterers who broke open the door to my private bunk. I was not out as gay. They assumed I was part of the boat hire, I suppose. Since one had no pants, and the other was hanging out of the fly of his trousers, it was fairly obvious what the plan was. They were airlifted to medical care (still dangling out the fly, BTW); I was fired (and probably blackballed from other sailing jobs). I went back to the US, grad school, and a desk job. I haven't worked as a sailing captain since.
posted by Dreidl at 1:11 PM on August 29, 2013 [113 favorites]


In 28 comments, some by the same person, kyrademon has first hand knowledge of a rape and murder.

It happens, and all too frequently.
posted by BlueHorse at 1:12 PM on August 29, 2013


TBH my six-foot tall dad and brother routinely don't get why I don't want to... They honestly think I am less adventurous and a little spoiled for not staying where they would, for not walking where they would.

...at which point a woman will then be blamed for her own harassment/assault/rape for not taking the proper precautions.

This combination drives me crazy. I get the same reaction from male friends who legitimately think there is no reason for women to avoid walking in sketchy areas at night or traveling alone in certain countries/areas ("you're just paranoid"). There's even an element of truth to it - there's risk in every part of life, which needs to be accepted to fully enjoy life. Higher risk tolerance might mean a more dangerous but more exciting life, and vice versa.

But at the same time, when a woman or teenage girl is assaulted, everyone's all "that sucks but why was she walking there alone?! Why did she go out to a bar alone?! Why did her friends let her go off alone?! She should have been more careful!" You can't win.
posted by randomnity at 1:12 PM on August 29, 2013 [24 favorites]


TBH my six-foot tall dad and brother routinely don't get why I don't want to walk to my parent's house in DC alone or why I won't couchsurf.

So if you take precautions you are a scaredy cat, and if you don't take precautions and something happens, well - you should have taken precautions, duh! Rock, meet hard place.

And re: not mentioning fears of rape or sexual assault in conversation - I rarely do, because I rarely mention things that are like "Oh I saw a car today!" It's background noise and it's not that I forget about it, but it's such a given that why would I mention it otherwise?
posted by rtha at 1:14 PM on August 29, 2013 [29 favorites]


And re: not mentioning fears of rape or sexual assault in conversation - I rarely do, because I rarely mention things that are like "Oh I saw a car today!" It's background noise and it's not that I forget about it, but it's such a given that why would I mention it otherwise?

This. Oh, my goodness, so much this.

And the one time I did talk to a male friend about it, because he flat-out asked me why I wouldn't just sleep in my car on a solo road trip (!), he told me I was completely paranoid and "No one ever worried about being assaulted that constantly!" I haven't really seen the point in trying to explain it to male friends, let alone acquaintances, since.
posted by jaguar at 1:19 PM on August 29, 2013 [14 favorites]


Also, this was a beautifully written piece. Thanks for sharing it.

(And Constantinople was originally Byzantium.)
posted by jaguar at 1:20 PM on August 29, 2013 [3 favorites]


I totally think & do this too: "And the point is, this isn't an unusual situation. I used to think "oh, no one ever harasses me" and then I realized that actually I bike almost everywhere, avoid group settings, avoid crowds, avoid elevators and when I must walk, time my walks to be through emptier areas at off hours. No one harasses me because I have limited my life in order to avoid settings where I get hassled."

As a bike-loving introvert it is, thankfully, a win for me, but still. Last week we had train problems; my morning commuter train had a delay of 40 minutes. (Later I discovered it had actually gone to an hour and a half, yikes.) So I went to the nearest bike share stand, got a city bike and rode it 12km to another bike station near our offices. It was awesome. And while a lot of that awesomeness was, "I really should have done this sooner, the Mediterranean is gorgeous", I was also paradoxically sad and relieved at how nice it was to be entirely free of any harassment. You know, the dude who gets on the train, checks out the cars, then makes a beeline to where you're sitting, and all of a sudden instead of relaxing in the 15 minutes before you get to work, you have to start the mental "how will I get out of this if it goes pear-shaped" calculus. If the dude walks on, phew. But usually the beeline ones don't. They sit next to you. God forbid they use any of the dozens of empty seats, or any next to men. Nope. They sit next to YOU. Then they "accidentally" bump into you, apologize, and "coincidentally" notice whatever it is you're doing. You can't get mad. If you get mad, you're an Angry Woman Who Ruins Mens' Chances At Happiness And Makes Life Unfair. If you ignore them, some get mad, some get a clue. Grunts tend to work. Pretending you don't speak their language has a strong chance at success, but could also tag you as a better target, depending on where you're going.

Anyway. That's just my morning commute by train. I haven't gone to Italy by train because I too have heard the stories. Flying is fine. I'd love to take the multi-day train that now goes from Nice to Moscow, but yeah, I lived near Russia when in Helsinki, and heard too many horror stories from Russian women to entertain that thought more than as a wish for the day when I'll have guy friends who can come with.

I'm finally getting a road bike, and won't be camping nights in the backcountry like I'd love to, because it's too dangerous. Day trips, definitely, but nothing too far into the boondocks. On preview, yep. I grew up in the boondocks, have wilderness survival skills... and those have gone stale in the years I've been single and camping-male-friendless.

Read this essay the other day and also thought, "huh, I've never been too harassed in my travels" then remembered that all my big ones where when I was with an ex, or visiting friends. I've purposefully scaled back on travel when single. It is depressing. You can avoid thinking of it that way, and look at the bright side, I mean I am privileged enough to have been a heckuva lot of places in the world, and consider my life to be a genuine adventure, but it does still stink to have to cut off potential for no other reason than the wilful ignorance that lets the dangerous objectification of women continue. As evidenced by that Yanomami thread: "she was gang-raped, what an awful culture" is like, WTF? Here? On MeFi of all places? The same day an essay is posted about spouses who were raped as children? The blindness is so pervasive it's dumbfounding.
posted by fraula at 1:20 PM on August 29, 2013 [15 favorites]


As an aside, the statement that in Dubai, "women between the ages of 15 and 50 are basically never outside at night unaccompanied," is comprehensively false.

I live there.

I just walked back from the grocery store at midnight, in a decidedly non-posh part of town, saw plenty of unaccompanied women on the streets.

I see unaccompanied woman on the streets all the time when I walk at night along little streets in the non-posh areas to get great Malaysian, Indian, Singaporean, Persian, Indian food.

(I could write a few thousand words about what strikes me as Dubai's fuckedupness, but to give credit where it's due, it is exceptionally safe, relative to crimes against people and property.)
posted by ambient2 at 1:20 PM on August 29, 2013 [2 favorites]


Whoops, thanks for that, perhaps the experience I was having there wasn't as generalizable as I thought.
posted by jessamyn at 1:24 PM on August 29, 2013 [1 favorite]


So if you take precautions you are a scaredy cat, and if you don't take precautions and something happens, well - you should have taken precautions, duh! Rock, meet hard place.

Yup! Another reason why I don't bring these issues up with men. They dismiss my concerns as being paranoid, or they react like I'm being a boring wet blanket who's spoiling the fun times. They usually badger me to change my mind, too, rather than accepting my decision.
posted by cadge at 1:29 PM on August 29, 2013 [3 favorites]


As Elsa mentioned, it's eye opening how travelling with a male is different. My sister and I encountered this as teenagers in Quebec City some years ago. We were travelling with my parents, and we had walked ahead a little, such that we turned a snowy corner in the old quarter before they did. Some guy accosted us out of nowhere, asking if we would come back to his place with him. Knowing my father was about to round the corner and kick this guy's ass to kingdom come, I brightly said, "we'll have to ask my Dad!". The look on the guy's face was priceless.

Oh, how I wish my father had been with me when the creepy Algerian followed me all over Ste-Maxime that hot summer's day, when no-one would help me, and treated me like a nuisance for asking for help. (Luckily, I got away without him doing anything bad to me).
posted by LN at 1:32 PM on August 29, 2013 [3 favorites]


I rarely do, because I rarely mention things that are like "Oh I saw a car today!" It's background noise and it's not that I forget about it, but it's such a given that why would I mention it otherwise?

Exactly. I think of it kind of like an mental/emotional equivalent of tinnitus.

Of course, I have failed to mention that I have tinnitus to every man I've ever had a conversation with, so I guess I'm making it up?
posted by scody at 1:45 PM on August 29, 2013 [6 favorites]


Yup! Another reason why I don't bring these issues up with men. They dismiss my concerns as being paranoid, or they react like I'm being a boring wet blanket who's spoiling the fun times. They usually badger me to change my mind, too, rather than accepting my decision.

Well as a male the comments here have really opened my eyes about this problem. The thing is, I don't know a single male acquaintance that would act like the men described here, and I'm guessing the men you've talked to probably feel the same. It's just unimaginable to us normal non-rapey men that this is such a huge problem.
posted by gyc at 1:54 PM on August 29, 2013 [4 favorites]


not once did I hear even the suggestion that any single one of them lived or traveled with a heightened sense of impending rape.

I would suggest this comment and your subsequent response are a big part of why they didn't raise the issue with you. I don't mean that as a slam, but plenty of people above discuss why they don't discuss these things. The fact that you are not receiving data doesn't mean it's not there and you may want to not draw conclusions based on it.
posted by phearlez at 1:56 PM on August 29, 2013 [5 favorites]


I don't get this. Am I missing something?

I think this comment is pointing out the hypocrisy of attacking Westerners as "colonialist" for calling Istanbul "Constantinople," when in fact the Turks changed the name when they colonized Constantinople and the former Byzantine Empire.
posted by dhens at 1:57 PM on August 29, 2013 [1 favorite]


> The thing is, I don't know a single male acquaintance that would act like the men described here

The thing is, you don't actually know that. You don't know what any of your male acquaintances are like when they're alone with women, because by definition you can't. People behave differently in different circumstances. Every time there's some horrific crime, friends and relatives are quoted to the effect that the accused is such a nice guy they simply can't believe it. For that matter, the victims of rapes frequently can't believe it's happening because "he seemed like such a nice guy" (as has been repeatedly said on MeFi). Rapists and harassers are not some vile population of subhumans that come out of the sewers when it's nighttime and women are going where they shouldn't go, they're all around us, they're our friends and relatives, and women know this. They can't afford not to. That's why they're so "paranoid." Men tend not to know this, because they don't learn it in the course of their daily lives. That's why these MeFi threads are so vitally important. Read, learn, absorb!
posted by languagehat at 2:02 PM on August 29, 2013 [96 favorites]


I don't know a single male acquaintance that would act like the men described here, and I'm guessing the men you've talked to probably feel the same.

A) Most people don't think they or their friends would ever do (insert bad thing here) because we tend to think our friends (and ourselves) are "good people"

B) Most of the men who do threatening (or worse) things to women don't do them when other men are around to see.

C) A lot of behaviours that feel threatening to women are not intended or perceived as threatening by men (things like aggressively hitting on people) due to the disparity in physical strength, past experiences, etc. This doesn't mean that the threats are never real, but that a lot of men do these things without realizing how they're perceived.

This combination means men are unlikely to believe that they or their acquaintances would ever do these things, even if they do.
posted by randomnity at 2:02 PM on August 29, 2013 [12 favorites]


The thing is, I don't know a single male acquaintance that would act like the men described here, and I'm guessing the men you've talked to probably feel the same.

I'm assuming you're talking about the men who react negatively when I bring up my concerns, not the ones who actually commit the sexual assault.

These men I'm talking to just aren't thinking of things in the context of sexual assault. It's not a regular reality for them. They just think I'm being a wuss or a party pooper because I don't want to (for example) walk back to our hotel through unknown neighborhoods in London at 3am.
posted by cadge at 2:07 PM on August 29, 2013 [1 favorite]


i think twice about taking a ride from a stranger too, and i teach my kids, both girl and boy, to think twice about taking a ride from a stranger, it's not a gender specific caution,

oh please.

But I really have a hard time thinking of not feeling in danger as a "Privilege"

It's funny. I never thought that being able to walk to the grocery store or bike to a library was a privilege or luxury, either. But it is.

It's just unimaginable to us normal non-rapey men that this is such a huge problem.

I dunno. I'm not a prolific dater, but if you've dated even a few women, you should realize it's a huge problem.

You don't know what any of your male acquaintances are like when they're alone with women, because by definition you can't.

Exactly. That's how you end up with a term as ridiculous as "date rape."

"Oh that guy, he's no rapist. I know him."
posted by mrgrimm at 2:13 PM on August 29, 2013 [3 favorites]


I think this comment is pointing out the hypocrisy of attacking Westerners as "colonialist" for calling Istanbul "Constantinople," when in fact the Turks changed the name when they colonized Constantinople and the former Byzantine Empire.

Which is ridiculous, since colonialism generally refers to the oppression and/or displacement of indigenous people, and yet the indigenous people had been conquered two millenia before the Ottomans even showed up. The Thracians were conquered by the Greeks several centuries BCE, who were in turn conquered by the Romans, who were themselves a hodgepodge by the time Constantine founded the city he named. You could even argue that the Ottomans, who had been living in the Caucacus until the Crusades were over and moved into Asia Minor, were more local than anyone who had run the place for a very, very long time. In other words, it's one of those tiresome "har har PC hypocrites" jokes that is itself wildly inaccurate.

/derail
posted by zombieflanders at 2:18 PM on August 29, 2013 [5 favorites]


Oh, and it's also tiresome because AFAIK nobody in the article or the thread had even mentioned anything about it in the first place.
posted by zombieflanders at 2:20 PM on August 29, 2013 [2 favorites]


I was too poor to travel until relatively late in life, but always longed for it, could never hear of another country without wanting to walk through it. But I heard the stories from female friends who had traveled, and found myself creating a mental list: not there, not there without a male friend, not there EVER... sadly some of the places I most want to see, I will likely never see, just because I don't want to get raped.
This is a sad thing in the world.
posted by L'Estrange Fruit at 2:32 PM on August 29, 2013 [4 favorites]


some had funny stories about sketchy situations they had gotten into, but not once did I hear even the suggestion that any single one of them lived or traveled with a heightened sense of impending rape.

As others have said, women will not necessarily talk about that sort of thing with men, and some women won't talk about it at all - but that doesn't mean they haven't experienced it.

Also, two of my female friends were very like that, carefree and open and innocent adventurers, until the day in Greece that ended with two male harassers from the street AND the hotel manager trying to break into their room as they held the dresser against the door. They waited them out, left for home on the next flight, and are a lot more cautious now. Sometimes the innocent are only innocent until.
posted by L'Estrange Fruit at 2:41 PM on August 29, 2013 [13 favorites]


If I may explain the ACTUAL point of that bit about conquest, it's that there's no such thing as an "indigenous people" in the first place. The whole idea is dumb. And bringing it up in the context of a place that's been conquered back and forth forever makes it obvious exactly how dumb it is.

I'm well aware that the Roman Empire was built by conquest.

I have no idea who came before the Thracians, or who came before them, but I can pretty much guarantee that there were people overrunning each other there for a really, really, long time before the earliest ones you can name.

And even if I'm wrong, if some group that's still identifiable somehow magically came by that land with no conquest in the history ever, why then that group will surely have changed culturally, and interbred, so much over the millennia that it's pretty silly to say that they're the "same people". You might find meaningless continuity like that in, say, Australia. Maybe. I don't know. But I don't think you're gonna find it in Turkey. And it's still meaningless wherever you find it.

... and even all that ignores the fact that the idea of "a culture" or "a people" is only a conceptual convenience, and the nebulous thing it names has no moral standing. People have desires and experiences and perceptions. "Peoples" don't, so they don't get to play.

You can't divide the world into "indigenous peoples" and "conquerors". You can say that people have been uniformly shitty to one another throughout history, that they often directed that shittiness toward members of other groups, and that sometimes your membership in some given group both enabled you to be shittier and induced you to be shittier. But when you fix some random point in time and say that the people who were in a place at that time are "indigenous" and magic and special, you're full of it. Especially with the Turks in Istanbul, of all places.
posted by Hizonner at 2:42 PM on August 29, 2013


Let me intoduce this by saying I'm a guy who feels like he does have a handle on how women feel about this topic, at least as much as I can because yes I don't have anything like the same experience and never will.

It's very disheartening to me to hear women say things like "and that's why I don't ever talk to men about these things". I don't want to try and tell someone that they need to talk to someone about a difficult topic... or open themselves up to attack or ridicule, cause I know that many men are shit about this and will automatically take up some defensive and frankly stupid positions.

But as many of you say guys just don't get it. And my reply to that is that large numbers of those guys aren't being deliberately blind... they really just don't get it. They don't have the personal experience and if they aren't hearing the personal stories from girls they know many of them aren't going to take it to heart. To just assume that all men are going to wake up and just get it really isn't going to happen. I wish I knew what would work, but hearing it from a number of girls, and not just the couple they've dated, but from the girls around them has got to help.

Or maybe I'm just trying to actually have some faith in human nature and it's a pipe dream.
posted by cirhosis at 2:44 PM on August 29, 2013 [1 favorite]


I love traveling alone internationally. BUT, I have travel rules when I travel alone. For example, I never go out alone after the sun goes down...because of all the reasons this woman describes in her article.

The last time I was alone in London, I started feeling a little more confident with the city, and on the ONE AND ONLY NIGHT that I broke my travel rule, I was sexually assaulted.

Afterwards I was so freaked out, and felt so unsafe and out of sorts, that I completely changed my itinerary to go see an old friend who was living in Madrid at the time.

When I got to Madrid, I was warm, and friendly, and easy-going. Even to new strangers. But it had happened, and I was afraid it would happen again.

And it has happened again, always a little different, in other places, and even in the city I call home.

This shit is real. Even behind smiling faces. That is all.
posted by whimsicalnymph at 2:47 PM on August 29, 2013 [20 favorites]


If I may explain the ACTUAL point of that bit about conquest, it's that there's no such thing as an "indigenous people" in the first place. The whole idea is dumb. And bringing it up in the context of a place that's been conquered back and forth forever makes it obvious exactly how dumb it is.

Except that no one had brought up that context at any point. But, again, this is a derail, and there's an entire other post you can write up on it if you want.

I wish I knew what would work, but hearing it from a number of girls, and not just the couple they've dated, but from the girls around them has got to help.

Sometimes it does, sometimes it doesn't. It kind of sucks.
posted by zombieflanders at 2:53 PM on August 29, 2013


But as many of you say guys just don't get it. And my reply to that is that large numbers of those guys aren't being deliberately blind... they really just don't get it. They don't have the personal experience and if they aren't hearing the personal stories from girls they know many of them aren't going to take it to heart. To just assume that all men are going to wake up and just get it really isn't going to happen. I wish I knew what would work, but hearing it from a number of girls, and not just the couple they've dated, but from the girls around them has got to help.

Two sincere, genuinely non-snarky observations:

1. What's stopping you from talking to fellow men about these issues? Yes, it's true, when women share these stories, there are some -- even many -- men who are open to hearing them, and learning from them, and recalibrating their expectations and understanding of women's experiences in the world. But fact that women don't want to do this all the time has less to do with a lack of faith in humanity, and more to do with the fact that it's totally impractical to take it on every time the opportunity arises. Honestly, it's exhausting for women to be assigned the default position of being responsible for taking the time (and believe me, it takes time) to respond to Every Single Teachable Moment with the correct combination of patience, personal information, empirical data, diplomacy, etc. etc. etc. that's required to enlighten their (male) friends, romantic partners, coworkers, supervisors, neighbors, roommates, family members, teachers, et al.

So, I ask you again: as a sympathetic man, what's stopping you from taking on some of those education duties yourself? What do you say when male friends of yours make dismissive remarks about the risk of rape to women? Or is it easier to keep silent? If you'd like to start speaking up and don't know how or what to say, there are men in this thread who provide a good model of how to do that.

2. It's generally considered more respectful to refer to adult females as women, not girls.
posted by scody at 3:03 PM on August 29, 2013 [39 favorites]


large numbers of those guys aren't being deliberately blind... they really just don't get it. They don't have the personal experience and if they aren't hearing the personal stories from girls they know many of them aren't going to take it to heart.

Right. However, how many discussions have we had about rape or harassment right here on Metafilter, where women share their personal stories and men still don't believe them, or actively dismiss them by telling them that they're wrong about their own experiences and maybe they've just misinterpreted what happened to them? It seems to happen in every discussion, and slowly, over years, it's gotten a little better. But some of us are very, very tired of having the same discussion, over and over, and frankly I don't blame anyone who at this point is just too damn tired to be the "rape and harassment are real, serious problems" 101 teacher.
posted by palomar at 3:11 PM on August 29, 2013 [17 favorites]


> And even if I'm wrong, if some group that's still identifiable somehow magically came by that land with no conquest in the history ever, why then that group will surely have changed culturally, and interbred, so much over the millennia that it's pretty silly to say that they're the "same people". You might find meaningless continuity like that in, say, Australia. Maybe. I don't know. But I don't think you're gonna find it in Turkey. And it's still meaningless wherever you find it.

This is hyperindividualist nonsense that ignores the actual experiences and ideas of human beings in favor of the philosophy you've got rattling around in your head. It is vitally important to Australian aborigines that they've led a continuous existence there for many thousands of years; you can call it "meaningless" with all the force at your command, but shouting it doesn't make it so. Yes, human history is a tangled mess and pretty much everyone lies about it or ignores huge chunks of it, but you're doing the exact same thing by trying to cut the complexity of the Gordian knot with your reductionist sword.

> And my reply to that is that large numbers of those guys aren't being deliberately blind... they really just don't get it.

As scody so eloquently said, this is their problem to deal with, not women's. Women have enough to do trying to lead their lives in a world fucked up from time out of mind by patriarchy and its discontents. If you meet a guy who doesn't understand why women are so "paranoid" and refuse to relax and have a good time, explain it to him. It's not women's job.
posted by languagehat at 3:16 PM on August 29, 2013 [11 favorites]




You have to be blind and deaf not to realize what women go through ever single fucking day with danger.

I have seen it when it's late at night, and I'm walking along a street and there's a woman ahead of me. She can hear my footsteps and she tenses up. It's fucking obvious.

So, what I do as much as I can, is to defuse the situation ahead of time. I try not to walk behind a woman - especially when it's late at night or semi-isolated situation. I cross the street and walk in parallel on the other side. If I'm coming down the street and she's coming up, I also cross the street - not ostentatiously, but as if with purpose - that way she doesn't have to worry "maybe this guy will grab me".

I am careful not to sit in a bus/train/park next to a woman if there are other seats available.

I try to defuse situations ahead of time, so that women don't have to do the 'safety calculus".

And you are unobservant if you don't see how women are harassed by men - it's blatant. It has happened numerous times in my travels, that I've intervened - subtly or not - when I saw this; as for example three young tourist women are surrounded by an aggressive group of guys in a historic church where I was taking pictures. I call out to them and pretend that we know each other and lead them out of the church. Shit like this happens all the fraking time.

I can't believe how blind some people are. Also, this may be old guy talk, but it seems to me the harassment has gotten worse - f.ex. there didn't use to be outright rapes - at least of tourists - in the numbers that are happening now in India. It's gotten much worse in Europe too. But again, I might be wrong about the trendlines, but it looks bad to me.
posted by VikingSword at 3:35 PM on August 29, 2013 [37 favorites]


some had funny stories about sketchy situations they had gotten into, but not once did I hear even the suggestion that any single one of them lived or traveled with a heightened sense of impending rape.

OK, here's a true story from when I was a young thing traveling with a group of people my age in Greece. We'd been all over Europe, and everywhere, but everywhere, men sidled up to me and asked with the accent appropriate to the location, "Are you ay-lone?" So, we were in this hotel in Greece and a friend of mine had cut her hand, and I went back to my room ay-lone to get her a band-aid and antiseptic, and a knock came on the door. I assumed it was her or someone else from the group who was trying to fix up her hand. So I said, "Yes?" And there was silence as the person on the other side of the door absorbed my female voice asking "Yes?" in English. And then he said through the closed door, unable to see anything or know anything about me but my gender and that I spoke English, "Are you ay-lone?"

So, I told this story for laughs for years. Do I need now, at this point in this thread, to tell you how afraid I was to open that door to take my things to my friend?

It may be funny that it was sketchy when it is over and we are safe, but you aren't hearing the clear implicit suggestion in our heads when it is going down about what we know could happen.

Please think about this.
posted by bearwife at 3:38 PM on August 29, 2013 [30 favorites]


Interestingly I have kind of the opposite experience. For me, "home" is where you live in fear – American cities and towns where men won't leave you alone. Travel is where I discovered places where I could do what I wanted when I wanted without this fear. In Stockholm, Bergen, Copenhagen, and other cold Northern places where I had many nights of doing enjoyable things that in American cities would be "dangerous" and wearing clothes that at home would make a walk down the street a cacophony of catcalls. I'm not saying those places don't have sex crimes, but in general the rates are lower and there is not the pervasive sexual harassment that pollutes so many other places in the world.
posted by melissam at 4:14 PM on August 29, 2013 [6 favorites]


Regarding the 'girls' bit... totally right to call me out on that. It was a dumb thing to say, especially given the thread. My apologies.

You are totally right that as a guy who gets it I need to be part of the solution. And I have no problem with that. I do call out the men around me who are dismissive of situations like we've been talking about. And I accept that I could have (should have) probably entered this conversation to help in that spirt. And I agree that it's tough and doesn't really work most of the time. But ... and here's where I guess I'm not going to get it. I do call them out, if they're open to it, then yay, if they don't, then I'm game I'll argue about it. I guess I just don't have the same repeated experience that's worn me down to this point that you (scody), palomar and languagehat come from that makes you not want to have the conversation. But to be honest I just don't see how someone could be dismissive and say it's the men's problem to deal with or the like and expect anything to change. Or it's maybe just another facet

I'm really trying not to call anyone out on this.... or trying to dismiss your exhaustion on this point, or again to tell someone they need to get into a bad conversation. It's obviously true that it's a real second problem that there are many guys that aren't willing to change their viewpoint and can get agressive and seriously shitty as a result.

I'm really to be honest unclear why i'm in this conversation. Except that I really do strongly feel that it's one that needs to happen as often as it can. Because I hope that's the way things will change. And scody that link is excellent. I've seen ones similar but I really like that one.

But to VikingSword, I'm sorry but I totally have to disagree. If your eyes are open then I agree it's pretty obvious, it's clear that you and I see these situations. I've done the sit down on a subway and notice that some lone woman has tensed up and done what I could to get away from her, to difuse the situation. Or better yet done what I could to stay out of that situation to begin with. But I'm really not of the belief that all men who don't see it are unrepentantly evil or stupid. I really think many seriously need to have their eyes opened, but dismissing such as stupid... how is that helping?
posted by cirhosis at 4:36 PM on August 29, 2013 [4 favorites]


I did some things while travelling that scare the pants off me now. Walking through London, Paris, SF, NYC alone at 2 or 3 in the morning, in heels in a short skirt. I consider myself lucky; the worst that happened was a guy at a club who was fairly insistent on going back to my hotel. I left the club and had to walk a few blocks to catch a taxi. I kept checking behind me to see if he'd followed, but he hadn't. There wouldn't have been much I could have done; the streets were deserted.
posted by desjardins at 4:45 PM on August 29, 2013


Oh great I'm about to travel on my own for two weeks in Asia.

Anyhow I'm old now and uninteresting, I hope.

I'd like to add: I've had the fear and uncomfortable experiences while traveling, and also met lovely, kind, generous people of both genders while on my own.

Yeah, it'll be OK. Won't it?
posted by maggiemaggie at 5:01 PM on August 29, 2013


I don't remember when or where I realized that I can't just roam throughout the world as I please, just because I'm cursed with lady parts instead of male. Similar to the writer, I wanted to see the world and write about what I saw. I remember an arrogant male former colleague boasting about his travels and thinking, I could do that ... wait ... no, I actually can't. I can't go too far off the beaten path, if at all. I felt angry when I had that realization. I felt angrier when I realized that if I ever have a daughter, she won't be able to travel freely either.

For example, I had been considering a trip to India in the spring. My husband isn't really interested in going to India so I was thinking of going there alone and meeting a group. With all of the publicity about women being raped, I decided that I wouldn't feel comfortable about going. I don't think I would feel that way if I was a man. Similarly, I have some experience in a slightly specialized field. As such, there are frequent opportunities to travel abroad to put that experience to work. I've only done it once. It was something I dreamed of doing but when I went the first time, I didn't feel comfortable leaving my hotel and wandering around so I haven't been inclined to do it again.

That said, I was sharing a room with a friend in Prague on my first ever trip to Europe and I noticed her tossing her stuff in a tote bag. I suggested that she carry a bag with a zipper at the top so it'd be harder for people to reach into her bag and take stuff. She thought I was being too cautious. This was when Facebook was first becoming popular and I couldn't believe that she just put her phone number on it. I still don't have my phone number on Facebook. We all deal with risk in our own ways.

I also don't know what it is but something about my face makes people feel totally comfortable approaching me and telling me whatever they want. I was in Cairo with a group when I was approached by an Egyptian man who asked if I was American, then said, "I like Americans. I like American women. You know, white legs, white breasts, white ass. Not Nubian women with the black legs, black breasts, black ass." I didn't feel threatened - perhaps I should have. I just don't understand what on earth makes a stranger think that they can talk like that to someone they just met.
posted by kat518 at 5:06 PM on August 29, 2013 [3 favorites]


cirhosis, I haven't called "all men who don't see it" "unrepentantly evil or stupid" (the harassers, yes, are jerks and/or idiots). I called them "unobservant". Think of it as any social problem of sufficient magnitude that it affects fully half the population - or make an analogy to racism, or discrimination against women. Racists are jerks, but those who don't see racism are unobservant, and those who loudly claim that racism doesn't exist, even if they are not racists themselves, can, depending on how willfully they deny it, be called "deaf and blind" to it. Women are in an inferior position in most of the world, including even in supposedly very socially advanced places, such as Scandinavia. To take just one, solitary measure - I'm not aware of any country where women make more money for the same work as men, or even the same money. And really, who doesn't know this - women are victims of violence, including sexual violence (from men) at far greater numbers than men are, whether it's from strangers or domestic violence - everywhere, including, again, Scandinavia. To deny it, seems to me, you have to be fairly unobservant or sheltered to say the least.
posted by VikingSword at 5:11 PM on August 29, 2013 [5 favorites]


A few decades ago, I took a hitchhiking trip to Florida after graduating High School. In that couple of weeks, there were two incidences. One was a uniformed Navy officer with a sidearm, who pulled way off the road to take a blatantly 'here it is' piss. The other was a guy who stuck the pointed end of a file into my throat to make his point, and that was when I discovered I have a calmness under fire and stared him down. Good for self-knowledge, but I haven't hitchhiked since.

I'm a male, weighed about 135 pounds and didn't look tough. Predators seek out the power differential. Sometimes that's purely physical power, and upper body strength for women is about half that for men. Mass counts.

"Your number one Option for Personal Security is a lifelong commitment to avoidance, deterrence, and de-escalation." We want it to be one way. But sometimes, it's the other way. If we're lucky, we learn when it's safe to go to the watering hole.
posted by dragonsi55 at 5:19 PM on August 29, 2013 [2 favorites]


I'm a woman who has traveled (and will continue to travel, I hope!) alone. It is a fraught venture, and of course in many ways the dangers are no different from what I face at home--I'm on hiatus from taking the late train home after three consecutive trips where I experienced groping, catcalling, being followed, and having to find that one guy who looked least dangerous to sidle up to as a ward against the other men. The greater difficulty when abroad, of course, is often the language barrier.

One of the most terrifying travel experiences I ever had was making the mistake of taking the cheap overnight train to Poland. I was in my early 20s, and was then (as I have always been) built like a truck. (As many women know, your body type is no protection). I spent from 3am-7am in the train station, where I caught the eye of a drunk guy who kept wandering past my bench. He never approached me, but would regularly circle by. When my train finally came, he rushed into the car right behind me. Then he started yelling something in Polish to the whole train while he tried to grab my arm. I had no idea what he was saying, and of course the normal "don't make a scene!" socialization is even worse when you don't want to be That Loud American Causing a Scene. So I was pretty frozen in terror. Finally some kind, bilingual guy asked me if I understood what was going on: it turns out that drunk guy was telling the whole car that he and I were traveling together and demanding that people make room for us to sit next to each other. So now I'm frantically whispering to the nice guy that this isn't the case, and the nice guy chases off the drunk guy, though not before the drunk guy tries to get a kiss from me. The nice guy then acted as a barrier and translator for me--and when he left the train before I did, arranged for another kindly, elderly gentleman to take his place and continue to act as a barrier.

I'm totally grateful to these men who were helpful, and did intervene--though of course the galling rub is that situations still arise where a token male travel companion is almost essential.

(These days, I don't take trips that will leave me in waiting in public transit stations after 1am, home or abroad, and like others have mentioned, will often refuse to go out alone at night in an unfamiliar city--especially if I don't speak the language. It's a huge loss, but an unfortunate no-brainer after too many close calls).
posted by TwoStride at 5:24 PM on August 29, 2013 [8 favorites]


some had funny stories about sketchy situations they had gotten into, but not once did I hear even the suggestion that any single one of them lived or traveled with a heightened sense of impending rape.

I think it's really important to understand that women tell these "funny stories about sketchy situations" for a lot of reasons. Some of it is to use humor to talk about the situation - so other people can be aware - without seeming to have been beaten by it.

For example. I too had my own "funny situation." I was coming home one night, in Korea, and I decided to take a cab home, because I didn't think the streets were safe enough to walk.

And halfway through, the guy started saying, "You're a pretty girl! Would you ever date a cab driver? Maybe I should take you home to my house instead!"

This is not the only time this has happened to me. Actually I have a host of "funny" stories about cab drivers who have tried to take advantage of me. I rarely take cabs alone these days.

I tell it as a funny story, with voices, and gestures, and laugh long and hard when I tell it.

But I was scared shitless that night, scared that the guy would do what he threatened/promised - take me to a remote area and try to "Date" me. I think I threw money at him and bailed out near a rice paddy because it meant he was less likely to follow me. I took back roads home, just in case.

So if you didn't hear the suggestion, it's possible that it wasn't that they weren't saying it. It's that you weren't listening.
posted by corb at 5:29 PM on August 29, 2013 [26 favorites]


VikingSword. I'm glad we agree. I'm sorry I misread your comment the way I did.
posted by cirhosis at 5:31 PM on August 29, 2013 [2 favorites]


The greater difficulty when abroad, of course, is often the language barrier.

Plus, not everywhere one wants to travel has a culture or institutions that will support you if you do fight back.

With her passport back in hand, a Norwegian woman at the center of a Dubai rape claim dispute said Monday that officials dropped her 16-month sentence for having sex outside marriage in the latest clash between the city’s Islamic legal codes and its international branding as a Western-friendly haven....

Dalelv, in Dubai for a business meeting, said she told police in March that she was raped by a co-worker after a night that included cocktails. She was held in custody for four days and sentenced last week for illicit sex outside marriage and alcohol consumption.

The alleged attacker, identified as a 33-year-old Sudanese man, was charged with the same offenses and received a 13-month sentence. He was also cleared by a pardon, according to Dalelv.

posted by jaguar at 6:10 PM on August 29, 2013 [2 favorites]


I always feel more vulnerable and affected by catcalls when traveling (were we supposed to anticipate the old guy we asked for directions on the Paris Metro would be masterbating as he spoke to us?). And then I feel guilty, as though there was something culturally I could have done/should have known to prevent it. And then some places (like Turkish tea houses) seem so fundamentally masculine that I can't imagine even entering them.

Also, HOLY CROW, Dreidel!!! I would have loved to charter your boat.
posted by armacy at 6:31 PM on August 29, 2013


I have an antidote to some of the bad/sad stories in here - not anything that happened to me, but something from one of the "women travel" essay collections I've got that keep me traveling.

It was a story by an American woman was taking a night train across rural India, and was riding in the women-only car. She was dressed in a t-shirt and flowy pants, and had short hair, while everyone else around her had saris (the apparel will become relevant in a moment). A couple of women looked at her outfit funny, but an older woman across the aisle smiled a hello as they were settling into their seats. Then after a couple hours, a security guard - a guy - started walking through the car, just checking up on everything. He did a take when he saw the American woman, then - suddenly - drew his gun on her. Of course this threw everyone into an uproar - what had happened? Why was the guard pointing a gun at her?

The American woman turned to the older Indian woman, hoping for some kind of a translation or assistance. The Indian woman talked to the guard, and found out the problem - the guard had seen the American woman's outfit and short hair, and thought she was a guy trying to sneak into the women's car. "He thinks I'm a man?" the American woman repeated. Yep, the guard thought she was a man. The two women looked at each other a moment - and then the American woman, facing the Indian woman, pulled her shirt tight across her breasts, so it was obvious she had them. The Indian woman cracked up, turned around to the guard and sorted everything out.

Cute story. But the very end is what stuck with me - that when they all got to their destination and were all getting off the train and going their separate ways, the Indian woman stopped the American one and gave her a long and impassioned speech about how, as a solo woman traveler, that if she ever ran into any other trouble anywhere, look for another woman to get her out of trouble. The world is a dangerous place, her new friend said, and it was possible she could run into trouble later in her travels - but other women, who knew the same kinds of dangers, would be the ones who would always, always help her out.

I haven't done it intentionally, but I've just realized that when I've been traveling and I need some assistance, I'm much more likely to turn to ask another woman for questions or directions or advice. And I think that's what's given me the courage to keep traveling even though I do have this extra step - yeah, it's annoying to have to look up the local customs for "shaming street harrasers," but it's also comforting to realize that I honestly do have that support network if things get too hairy to handle alone; the local women will see me as another woman, and they'll have my back. Because they know.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 7:23 PM on August 29, 2013 [27 favorites]


Is that women - only car a segregation thing or a safety thing? Because right now, honestly, I have to say that sounds heavenly.
posted by corb at 7:30 PM on August 29, 2013


Two related aspects of the article that stand out for me. One, her inability to quite coalesce the female privilege component of traveling - the much simpler ease of emotional intimacy women share with each other - into a narrative. She even has to convince herself within the article that it is real, has value, and is a privilege. Two, that male privilege by definition has to come with a downside in terms of traveling by creating a "literary colonization" narrative that to me comes off as naive; maybe framing the world in terms of your own lens brings its own privilege if people back home take you seriously as with her writer friend, but in my experience my mere presence in a country like India strips down my belief systems the same way psychedelics will strip you of your ego and identity whether you like it or not, revealing them as funny little fictions to be blown over like a house of cards.

I've always been jealous of the emotional intimacy and ease women have with each other whether in the context of traveling or not. Ironically in a world still framed and contemplated in terms of power, its privilege and pleasure often go unexamined.
posted by MillMan at 8:21 PM on August 29, 2013


I've always been jealous of the emotional intimacy and ease women have with each other whether in the context of traveling or not. Ironically in a world still framed and contemplated in terms of power, its privilege and pleasure often go unexamined.

There of course is pleasure there, but in the context in which the author is working, not so much privilege; literature has long, long, long derided women's experiences, emotions, and inner lives as insufficiently interesting to be considered worth publishing as "real" literature.
posted by jaguar at 8:37 PM on August 29, 2013 [1 favorite]


I do not have the "travel bug." I want freaking bodyguards around me, and if I don't have them, then forget it. I'm already a weirdo/crazy person magnet in America as is without going somewhere where I don't even speak the language and am surrounded by strangers who probably think I'm a whore.

I would seriously trade for a guy's body with the penis and the extra foot in height any day. I'm not saying I'm transgendered, but god, it'd be so nice to have that safety and privilege instead of feeling like a walking future victim all the time.

"Oh that guy, he's no rapist. I know him."

Hah. My ex introduced me to a fellow known as "Shaggy" once who was supposedly from my area. I found out later that "Shaggy" is banned from my neck of the woods legally--oh yeah, and he's a convicted rapist. I was all, "WHAT THE FUCK?! You introduced me to a rapist?!" and he was all, "Oh, he didn't do it, the girl lied. It was consensual." God love him, my ex was naive as hell. Oh yeah, and ex told me later that Shaggy and his girlfriend wouldn't mind doing a little wife-swapping with us.....OH HELL NO.

This is the part of the essay that stood out to me:

"Yet behavior taken as mere geniality in men – accepting rides or invitations, staying for a cup or tea or dinner, even engaging in idle conversation – is often taken in women to be a sign of sexual willingness. My male friend can accept a newfound friend’s offer of a drink, of a meal, of a sofa bed, without being presumed to have given sexual consent; I have no such luxury. Once, after sustaining a bad fall in Tbilisi, I allowed a neighbor to give me a lift to the local pharmacy and help me buy bandages to stop the bleeding. Disoriented from my fall and the blood loss, and eager not to appear ungrateful, I gave him my phone number. Over the next few days, I fielded between five and seven phone calls a day, as my neighbor demanded a date with me in no uncertain terms. As far as he was concerned, my willingness to get in his car was not the result of a medical emergency, but rather a proclamation of sexual desire."

This kind of thing makes me insane. I do my best NOT TO LEAD ANY GUY ON. I am as flirtatious as a rock. I don't want any guy to get the idea that I am going to put out for him when I'm not. I don't dress dowdy because that doesn't help except in bars, but other than that I treat any random guy like I would any random girl. Unfortunately with some men, just saying anything to them at all while in possession of a vagina is apparently telling them, "Hi, I will totally fuck you!" I hate dealing with that potential minefield all the time. I can't be totally rude and awful to everyone with a penis (and it's not like I want to), but you don't know who is going to erupt in crazy sexual obsession because you said a casual hi to them when you passed on the street. Or you were the one female who was nice to them. What the hell am I to do to not fall into that pithole over and over again? Other than to avoid men at all entirely?
posted by jenfullmoon at 8:45 PM on August 29, 2013 [3 favorites]


We talked about adventures and the adventurous spirit a good deal, as many were european, taking advantage of the longer summer holiday. some had funny stories about sketchy situations they had gotten into, but not once did I hear even the suggestion that any single one of them lived or traveled with a heightened sense of impending rape.

This has been talked to death, but two things:

First, note the number of women in this thread who have stories that were terrifying as they happened but are re-told as humorous. Being serious about one's terror is a real downer, and nobody is inclined to be a downer when meeting other travelers for the first time (especially when it's a woman talking about rape, since many men get defensive).

Second, every woman has a safety calculus, but every woman's safety calculus is different. Some women are comfortable in neighborhoods other women are not. Some women are comfortable traveling solo when other women are not. It is not because the solo travelers aren't considering rape, it's because in their personal safety calculus they've decided what they're doing outweighs the risk. This is very common among younger women who have not yet had enough terrible experiences to dampen their enthusiasm. But I guarantee, none of the women you talk to is not affected by the background radiation emitted by a fear of sexual assault.
posted by schroedinger at 9:03 PM on August 29, 2013 [10 favorites]


It's weird but the number one way I judge a man is by how he reacts when I say I feel unsafe and therefore do not want to take the bus because the last time I couldn't get away from the guy who was trying to hump me or I don't want to take the metro home alone at night. I want to take a cab. I'm consistently amazed how much crap I get from supposedly liberal progressive guys who basically imply I'm mildly racist and/or classist for not wanting to take public transportation alone at night. And also a bit of a princess and paranoid. Not to mention I'm wasting money.

I don't need them to agree with me feeling unsafe, but if I state that I don't feel safe doing x alone, I expect them to respect that choice without question and not give me crap about it.

Also, I've traveled to six continents, lived on four, wrestled a mugger for my purse and won while he was punching me in the head, been dragged by a motorcylist who stole my purse, didn't win that one. I'm not scared off easily, but I find the price of a cab to be worth every penny of peace of mind. And while I'll travel pretty much anywhere, I'll still never go to a bar alone for more than ten minutes and I generally avoid buses outside of North America, Australia and Europe.
posted by whoaali at 9:07 PM on August 29, 2013 [14 favorites]


I can't be totally rude and awful to everyone with a penis (and it's not like I want to), but you don't know who is going to erupt in crazy sexual obsession because you said a casual hi to them when you passed on the street. Or you were the one female who was nice to them

It's not just avoiding being nice to guys; I started having an immediate suspicion of any strange male who was nice to me (I say "was" because I'm getting to that invisible age now). Because many times even acknowledging their politeness was enough to send them down the road of flirtation.

I got into a cab to go to the airport and the driver started making small talk with me about my trip. I made small talk back and it quickly veered into whether I had a boyfriend. I instinctively said yes even though it wasn't true, and when that didn't stop him I said that he was actually my fiance. He said he had family in the city to which I was travelling, and that we should at least have lunch when he was visiting. I'm in a car after dark in a strange city, so I figured it was safest to tell him yes and I gave him a fake phone number.

You just never know when it's going to turn like that, and it happened so many times in captive situations like buses that I just started refusing to make conversation at all.
posted by desjardins at 9:30 PM on August 29, 2013 [3 favorites]


There of course is pleasure there, but in the context in which the author is working, not so much privilege;

Professionally, of course not, as you noted. It's privilege in an experiential / emotional sense.
posted by MillMan at 9:34 PM on August 29, 2013


But I guarantee, none of the women you talk to is not affected by the background radiation emitted by a fear of sexual assault

Bullshit.
I had a skype conversation with my friend, who is in Medellin Colombia tonight. she was sitting with two friends (female) in a hostel, and the four of us had a discussion about this very thread.
Their funny story of a sketchy situation was hopping a ride, just yesterday, on a flatbed truck filled with young men rolling through coffee country. everybody was nervous until someone lit a joint and the they all had a good time and no one thought about rape.

Like I said earlier..perhaps the very real experiences that i have had conversations about, in large part because i was initially fearful for my friend, are skewed because those i've talked to are somehow too naive, but the describe themselves as confident young solo travelers, who are moving through south america without the fear of sexual assault.
posted by OHenryPacey at 9:55 PM on August 29, 2013


OHenryPacey, it sounds like what you're saying is along the lines of "because some women told me X, all of the women here who say Y are lying or delusional."
posted by MoonOrb at 9:59 PM on August 29, 2013 [16 favorites]


the describe themselves as confident young solo travelers, who are moving through south america without the fear of sexual assault.

"Without the fear of sexual assault," or "without any more fear of sexual assault than they usually have"? I've traveled a lot, and I can't say I think I'm more likely to be sexually assaulted when traveling than when I'm home, but there's always, always a background buzz of caution in my mind that keeps me from totally relaxing in a lot of situations.

I mean, why else would they have been "nervous" in the truck in the first place?
posted by jaguar at 10:13 PM on August 29, 2013 [4 favorites]


You haven't read a word i've written then.
Shroedinger clearly says 'none of the women I talk to is not affected....' and i am calling bs on that.
I am also calling bs on the very title of this thread. more than half the people on this planet are women. Tara Burton may have very real fears, and i won't argue with them, but then she can speak only to herself being an intruder, a stranger in public spaces. many voices may agree, and i have read and listened on this thread. but to characterize women in general as quivering victims in waiting simply because of their gender is something that I have learned (not experienced, but learned through conversation) is not the case.
posted by OHenryPacey at 10:14 PM on August 29, 2013


Jag -- people get nervous around strangers all the time for a variety of reasons, rape is not the only one. and as the story was told to me, the guys were as nervous as the girls...anyone want to project emotion on them now too?
posted by OHenryPacey at 10:16 PM on August 29, 2013


No, no, no, I get it now. You know more through your own experience than the women who have explained their own experiences. You--a man--are able to generalize your own experience to those of women in general, but if a woman were to make that same generalization, it's bullshit.
posted by MoonOrb at 10:17 PM on August 29, 2013 [30 favorites]


but to characterize women in general as quivering victims in waiting simply because of their gender is something that I have learned (not experienced, but learned through conversation) is not the case.

Please point to a single comment in this thread by a woman who characterizes herself as a "quivering victim in waiting." Would it be this one, for example, where whoaali describes wrestling a mugger for her purse, and consequently prefers to take cabs?
posted by scody at 10:21 PM on August 29, 2013 [2 favorites]


Jag -- people get nervous around strangers all the time for a variety of reasons, rape is not the only one.

Oh, and how often do you find yourself nervous -- even fleetingly -- around strangers because of your own personal fear of being raped, beaten, or killed? Would you say it's daily, weekly, or merely monthly?
posted by scody at 10:23 PM on August 29, 2013 [9 favorites]


I have not made one generalization...i am simply debunking the one made in the article.

OK here is my experience. I am a man. 6'3" and white.
twice i've been assaulted. once by a gang of black kids with baseball bats in philly and once as a solo traveler in manila at knifepoint.

If i were to write an article saying that i live, when i am in public spaces, in fear of brown people; that i cross to the other side of the street when i see them coming, that i dont feel safe traveling in africa, or asia, or south america becasue people of color are know to assault peopel, and i myself am living proof. would we be having this same conversation, no matter how many people piped in and said yeah....i've heard those stories too and i live with those same fears?
posted by OHenryPacey at 10:23 PM on August 29, 2013 [1 favorite]


If i were to write an article saying that i live, when i am in public spaces, in fear of brown people

Do you live in a world where 1 in 6 white people are assaulted by people of another race?
posted by scody at 10:26 PM on August 29, 2013 [7 favorites]


But she admits she'd be in more danger in her home town than out traveling. those statistics are fine, but not relevant to the point of the article. i am not trying to minimize sexual assault. I am trying to say this article,which makes no statistical claims at all about the prevalence of sexual assault on women travelers, smacks me as a wild generalization, and when i have explored the topic, because it is relevant to me, i have found the opposite to be the case. i dont see why that's so difficult to understand.
posted by OHenryPacey at 10:32 PM on August 29, 2013


and when i have explored the topic, because it is relevant to me, i have found the opposite to be the case.

You have anecdotes from three or four women. The women in this thread have also explored the topic, as it is also relevant to us, and we have different conclusions. I'm perfectly willing to believe your friends are not worried about sexual assault; I don't know them. But claiming that their beliefs somehow negate my beliefs makes no sense.

This article is not about the prevalence of sexual assault on female travelers, but on the prevalence of the fear of sexual assault among female travelers and how it affects our choices. I'm very willing to believe that it doesn't affect some women's choices at all, but I don't think that's the norm, and I'm unsure why you're clinging to that one data point of your friends as being representative of all women, or somehow more truthful or real than what the rest of us, or the original author, are sharing here.
posted by jaguar at 10:39 PM on August 29, 2013 [14 favorites]


I don't know them. But claiming that their beliefs somehow negate my beliefs makes no sense.

where have i done this
posted by OHenryPacey at 10:40 PM on August 29, 2013


If I had a magic wand that could only solve relatively trivial problems, I would use it to stop men from coming into threads about women's experiences and insisting that those experiences are false. As a special wand bonus, I would then stop the threads from turning into a back and forth between one guy either a) arguing in bad faith or b) in good faith insisting that the whole thread needs to become about his beliefs and not the actual topic of the post.
posted by c'mon sea legs at 10:42 PM on August 29, 2013 [27 favorites]


Do you live in a world where 1 in 6 white people are assaulted by people of another race?

I didn't make the initial claim but I decided to look it up and, honestly, if you substitute "country" for "world" (which I think is legitimate) the answer is probably a lot closer to "yes" than you are implying. The lifetime rate of victimhood for violent crimes among white males is 88%.
posted by Justinian at 10:43 PM on August 29, 2013 [1 favorite]


(I was also surprised.)
posted by Justinian at 10:43 PM on August 29, 2013


I would use it to stop men from coming into threads about women's experiences and insisting that those experiences are false. As a special wand bonus, I would then stop the threads from turning into a back and forth between one guy either a) arguing in bad faith or b) in good faith insisting that the whole thread needs to become about his beliefs and not the actual topic of the post.

Yeah, I'm actually done with this. I would love to hear more about other women's experiences traveling, or other reactions to the article at this point.
posted by jaguar at 10:44 PM on August 29, 2013


I didn't make the initial claim but I decided to look it up and, honestly, if you substitute "country" for "world" (which I think is legitimate) the answer is probably a lot closer to "yes" than you are implying. The lifetime rate of victimhood for violent crimes among white males is 88%.

Most violent crimes are committed by someone the same race as the victim, though.
posted by jaguar at 10:44 PM on August 29, 2013


over half, yes. But that still leaves enough of a chunk of 88% to get close to 1 in 6 that scody mentioned.
posted by Justinian at 10:47 PM on August 29, 2013


[Comment deleted. OHenryPacey, you need to cut it out now; you've said your piece, and this is not about you.]
posted by taz at 10:48 PM on August 29, 2013 [3 favorites]


I am have a lot of experience traveling alone. I am currently trying to plan a cross-country road trip that I have dreamt about for years. Without exception, every single person to whom I have mentioned this, even in passing, has tried to dissuade me from such a trip because it is "just not safe for a woman to do alone." Literally no one is excited for me or encouraging me to undertake this adventure.

I've started testing scenarios in which they (men, women, young, old, family, friends, acquaintances, coworkers) would concede that maybe it might be worth the risks: that I would never drive or walk at night, never sleep in my car or in a tent or in a National Park cabin, never drink a single alcoholic beverage, never go hiking, and I would put a real-time GPS tracker on my car, and I would carry bear spray, and I would have two cell phones plus backup batteries, and, and, and, and... and I still haven't come up with a set of precautions that has reassured them that I am not unreasonably putting myself in danger because I am a woman.

This is real. This weighs on me. It constrains and depresses and infuriates me that I either have to heed these warnings and miss out on Oregon microbreweries and the Redwood Forest and Bryce Canyon and the Grand Tetons and the Badlands... or overrule them and gird myself for constant second-guessing during the trip and being blamed if anything bad happens. I'm still looking for the sweet spot in between, and trying not to take offense at people who suggest that these are not real factors in my freedom to enjoy solo travel.
posted by argonauta at 10:49 PM on August 29, 2013 [13 favorites]


OHenryPacey, I would love it if this weren't the situation! I'd love it if I could just say "Jeeze, I'm being overly paranoid" and then go travel alone in Greece like my male relatives do.

But it's not the situation. There's a reason that every one of my Lonely Planet guidebooks has a little section in the back under the heading "Women Travelers."
posted by cadge at 10:50 PM on August 29, 2013 [3 favorites]


To be clear, I was just curious about the actual statistics. I'm not totally on OHenryPacey's side here.
posted by Justinian at 10:50 PM on August 29, 2013


It is interesting that men are more likely to be the victim of a violent crime and yet don't generally walk around holding onto the same constant low-level fear about assault as women generally do. I assume that it ties into the victim-blaming that's endemic to sexual assault, so that women have been told we need to police our own behavior or else we deserved it, while men aren't getting those same messages in anything close to the same way. It floors me the risks that men will take, sometimes, and not even see them as risks.
posted by jaguar at 10:51 PM on August 29, 2013 [6 favorites]


And surprise, just like I said above: "I also wouldn't bring it up to men because whenever I do, they tend to take it personally. [...] They get defensive and it shuts down the conversation."
posted by cadge at 10:54 PM on August 29, 2013 [8 favorites]


> i think twice about taking a ride from a stranger too, and i teach my kids, both girl and boy, to think twice about taking a ride from a stranger, it's not a gender specific caution,

The primary reason you don't take rides from strangers yourself is because you feel that the risk of being raped is too high? Specifically rape, above all other dangers?
posted by desuetude at 11:39 PM on August 29, 2013


Most violent crimes are committed by someone the same race as the victim, though.

Right, this is the point I was trying to make (though somewhat obliquely/inelegantly). OHenryPacey is making the specious argument that women being afraid of being sexually assaulted by men = white men afraid of being assaulted by black or brown people. He seems to be implying that since the latter is racism (and therefore wrong and unfair), then the former must be sexism (and therefore also wrong and unfair). But this argument doesn't hold any water because the majority of violent crimes against white men are committed by other white men, and thus why the fear of black-on-white crime is racist/unfair/overblown. Women's concerns about being raped or assaulted by men would only be analogously sexist/unfair/overblown if the vast majority of sexual assaults and rapes were in fact committed by other women. (Although, given time, I'm sure there's some rape apologist out there who will contend exactly that.)
posted by scody at 11:39 PM on August 29, 2013 [5 favorites]


[And... just to follow up, let's now try to move past making this the "all about what OHenryPacey thinks" thread. Thanks.]
posted by taz at 11:54 PM on August 29, 2013 [2 favorites]


argonauta: I'm excited for you! Go do it. I did a bunch of the west on my motorcycle last year and then went to Mexico. Basically everyone in the US and Canada told me not to go down there because it's "common knowledge" that Mexico is murder 24/7, we never stop except to reload. Everything was fine of course. The primary danger by far was the risk of being hit by a car.

jaguar:
It is interesting that men are more likely to be the victim of a violent crime and yet don't generally walk around holding onto the same constant low-level fear about assault as women generally do.

Part of how people process risk and trauma is created by external expectation and as such it's different per gender. It's a fascinating subject and I'm curious how it varies for different demographics, particularly people from different countries. These threads are generally not good places to have that conversation, though.
posted by MillMan at 11:57 PM on August 29, 2013 [1 favorite]


On the flip side of this issue, there's a sort of a well-intentioned but knee-jerk paternalism that just...exhausts me. "Where are you going? No, you can't walk to downtown, a woman, it's not safe, we'll call you a cab if you NEED to go somewhere."

Look, I already have internalized all this fear-of-rape stuff that we begin to be taught as toddlers. I've learned to quickly assess complex risks within social situations while maintaining a pleasant look on my face. I have learned to move a certain way, make eye contact or not, and generally watch my own back. I have thought very long and very hard for a long time about what role race, class, and gender play in my assumptions about threats from people around me, recognized and confronted my prejudices, re-calculated my alarm-bell parameters, and acknowledge that this work isn't "done" at all.

But I (again) keep a polite look on my face while I try to figure out whether this is legit non-gendered advice about a neighborhood or whether it's only dangerous because women need the generic one-size-fits-all protecting. Mental check for defensive stubbornness. Double-check own knowledge and ability to assess safety. Stalk off on my own being conscious to not look idiotically overconfident, and besides, no time to be distracted, I've got to get my real risk-assessment eyeballs back on the job.
posted by desuetude at 12:07 AM on August 30, 2013 [4 favorites]


I was never afraid of travelling by myself at night anywhere in Central America, but the few times I traveled with women at night, were the only times I was afraid for _my_ safety, let alone theirs. Travelling alone, I'd just be ignored on the streets at night. With women, we got attention, and not the kind that gave me warm and fuzzy feelings.
posted by empath at 12:09 AM on August 30, 2013 [3 favorites]


Basically everyone in the US and Canada told me not to go down there because it's "common knowledge" that Mexico is murder 24/7, we never stop except to reload.

You wouldn't believe how many people told me I'd be killed and/or kidnapped in Guatemala, El Salvador, etc... Never experienced any real problems (aside from the aforementioned street harassment of women)
posted by empath at 12:11 AM on August 30, 2013


And, btw, women don't just need to worry about 'locals' I've heard multiple reports of women being assaulted in hostels by fellow backpackers.
posted by empath at 12:12 AM on August 30, 2013


cirhosis: I guess I just don't have the same repeated experience that's worn me down to this point that you (scody), palomar and languagehat come from that makes you not want to have the conversation.

Bingo. A small sampling of the conversations here: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7

But to be honest I just don't see how someone could be dismissive and say it's the men's problem to deal with or the like and expect anything to change.

Many of us are entitled to be burned out and to point out that Hey, more men can take their turns playing Whack A Sexist / Aggressively Ignorant / etc Mole. In fact, considering that asshole men are more likely to change their behaviour when they experience other men saying "That shit's not cool," change will be far more likely, and speedier, when greater numbers of men speak up about these issues. If this became commonplace, what a different world we would live in! As it is, many women who aren't already burned out will continue to speak up and many of us who are, may come back to it when we feel like being Sisyphus again. And it'll make the same difference it has through millennia: incremental change, often at great individual expense. Because as long as the majority of men think of this as "women's problems, therefore of course it's up to women, not me, to speak up about asshole men," social and cultural norms that trivialize and ghettoize women's voices and experiences will keep on truckin'.
posted by cybercoitus interruptus at 12:43 AM on August 30, 2013 [6 favorites]


Argonauta, I'm excited for you too! I never traveled across the country alone in a car because highway driving gives me the willies, but I've traveled alone across the country in buses and trains, and with friends in cars, and I think you should be fine, and that it would be a great time. The redwoods alone are worth the trip.

It is interesting that men are more likely to be the victim of a violent crime and yet don't generally walk around holding onto the same constant low-level fear about assault as women generally do.

I think this reflects the different messages about violence that men and women face. In the US, women get three messages. One, anybody could rape you, including people you know and like. Two, if you ever watch television it seems like some stranger is always kidnapping a woman and cutting her into tiny pieces and storing her in his freezer. Three, if you get hurt, it's likely to be your fault for putting yourself at risk (by drinking, walking alone, wearing a short skirt, driving cross-country, etc). Meanwhile, men get the message that they might get randomly beat up by strangers while walking home in the dark.*

The messages-to-women are perhaps more hobbling because the idea is that violence against women is ubiquitous, perverse, and women's responsibility to avoid.

I mean...if Argonauta were an Argonauto, can you imagine someone telling him that statistically men are more likely to be the victims of violent crime and then trying to dissuade him from taking a cross-country road-trip? I can imagine his MOM maybe making that argument, but pretty much nobody else.

*The message to men is mostly accurate. (According to the National Violence Against Women survey, men are about 50% more likely than women to get assaulted, and the vast majority of those assaults are committed by strangers.) But the message to women is not so accurate: while it's true that women are about 18X more likely to be raped and 3.5X more likely to be stalked, something like 75% of violent crimes against women are committed by their intimate partners -- not acquaintances, and not Hannibal Lecters either.)

I wonder, also, if men are more likely to be assaulted by strangers because they are more likely to be wandering around at night, exploring abandoned buildings etc. and all those things that single women are very unlikely to be doing...?

posted by feets at 12:50 AM on August 30, 2013 [6 favorites]


In the US, women get three messages. One, anybody could rape you, including people you know and like.

This is not so much a message that they get as an experience that happens to them. And if you are a male, you will almost certainly never hear about it from even women that are very close to you, because A) it's painful to talk about and B) there is a pretty significant chance that men in the past have negated or dismissed their experiences.
posted by empath at 1:00 AM on August 30, 2013 [8 favorites]


I am currently trying to plan a cross-country road trip that I have dreamt about for years. Without exception, every single person to whom I have mentioned this, even in passing, has tried to dissuade me from such a trip because it is "just not safe for a woman to do alone." Literally no one is excited for me or encouraging me to undertake this adventure.

Here is the thing about 'travelling alone'. You might leave the house alone, but that doesn't mean you will always be by yourself. In 3 months in central america, I was maybe completely alone for a week or two at most. I was almost always travelling with people I met in hostels or with tour groups. It's easy to make friends on the road. Just be careful. Travel with larger groups when you can, don't travel alone at night. Pay attention to safety warnings.
posted by empath at 1:11 AM on August 30, 2013 [1 favorite]


I'm a woman currently living in a northern European city. After my first spring here, I realized something: I could put on a sun-dress and walk out into the sunshine and not get harrassed.

My mother has spent most of my life trying to convince me to dress more femininely, and what I realized that spring was: I don't have anything against more feminine clothes. It's just that in every American city I've ever lived in, even putting on a v-neck t-shirt and a pair of well-fitting jeans and then walking out into the public sphere meant having to constantly brace for contact. The amount of bullshit attention and harassment was more than I wanted to deal with. But I'd also decided that traveling on public transportation and spending time in public spaces was really important to me. So I started dressing in a way that would draw the least amount of attention to myself so that I could keep taking the bus.

That makes it sound like a conscious decision, but it was mostly a half-conscious process of trial and error. My closet got sorted, not by which clothes I liked best, but by which ones allowed me to get through the day with the least amount of harrassment. That's pretty screwed up, really. Particularly because, as a lot of women know, what you're wearing often doesn't matter, so all I was doing was reducing the odds of being harrassed rather than eliminating them altogether.

So when Burton says, "I am an intruder; I am a stranger; I am a woman in public spaces," that really resonates with me. And it also means I am going to try as hard as I can to stay here: in this country where I can wear whatever I want and get on the subway and walk around the park and browse in the bookstore and eat alone in restaurants and not get harrassed. I've been here for a year and a half, and it hasn't happened once.
posted by colfax at 2:54 AM on August 30, 2013 [9 favorites]


And, btw, women don't just need to worry about 'locals' I've heard multiple reports of women being assaulted in hostels by fellow backpackers.

This is definitely also an issue.

I wonder how much of the added danger while traveling comes not from the added prevalence of sexual assault in the particular country - because I think they're much the same - but from the added variable in your safety calculus that you are, in fact, a stranger, more vulnerable, without people to call or a knowledge of where to run or what to do?

Because I've been harassed and put in fear by expats as well, who, when I trusted them, would take me out into strange places and then try to get me drunk and offer to take me home "to sleep it off". Since, you know, you're in such a strange place, and how could you get home alone from here?

This is not to say that the danger is only while traveling, but more that it is specially felt while travelling, because travelling is where you really miss the most, because you can't easily navigate safety-point-to-safety-point, and you don't always know the words in the other language. (I sometimes think someone should make a travel book for women for other countries, which includes the helpful phrases 'Help, he is trying to rape me' or 'Please hide me, fellow women, there is a man after me.') Because you can count on other women, but only if they know you need help.
posted by corb at 3:36 AM on August 30, 2013 [2 favorites]


I am currently trying to plan a cross-country road trip that I have dreamt about for years. Without exception, every single person to whom I have mentioned this, even in passing, has tried to dissuade me from such a trip because it is "just not safe for a woman to do alone." Literally no one is excited for me or encouraging me to undertake this adventure.

Another woman chiming in here with "yay go for it" encouragement, based on my own cross-country trip. I didn't do anything different from what I usually do to stay safe in public - only one situation had me spooked, and that was when I was checking in to a cheap motel in Kansas and when I said it was only one person in the room, the guy at the desk looked up from his notes and leered, and said "Really?" I calmly and "innocently" said yes, I was meeting my fiance in Nevada in a few days. His face fell and he turned back to his notes. I still spent the night with a chair propped in front of the door.

But everything else went just fine (well, except for me getting totally lost somewhere outside Joplin, MO and stopping for lunch to try to get my bearings but the situation got to me and I ended up having a meltdown in a chicken restaurant in the middle of nowhere), and it was a blast.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 4:23 AM on August 30, 2013 [2 favorites]


I've travelled solo for business and pleasure since I was 16 and luckily have a ease with languages that helps hugely. On almost every single trip I have a story, some really frightening especially when I was younger, like the bus trip from Ciudad Rodrigo to the Portuguese border when I needed a stamp on my passport to remain in Spain. I was alone on the last stretch to the border and I could see from the looks the bus driver gave me that there was going to be trouble. He assaulted me as I left the bus and told me he'd be waiting. I didn't have enough money to do anything other than get back on his bus for the return but I waited until I saw an old lady get on and sat next to her. I explained to her what had happened and she insisted I get off at her stop as I would again be alone, put me up for the night and insisted her son drive me into CR the next morning. I was 17.

I've often had to go into new countries cold for work, no previous knowledge, no language, no contacts other than a few business leads I needed to impress. You can't impress a Seoul agent by asking him for help from his own countrymen so I developed a coping mechanism of studying the local language enough to get by in travel, ordering, and always, always learning how to speak respectfully to older women, whatever linguistic inflections that might require. It has saved my bacon on three occasions.

The thing is I refuse to be less open, friendly, outgoing despite knowing it draws sveeves like moths and I have adapted to a quite restricted travel pattern just for safety sake.
I do still say yes to invitations and new experiences and my life has been so much more enriched by these that the safety calculus I use works for me. It's not just a privilege thing either, people think its worse when travelling poor.

I was once setting up some meetings for Irish businesses in Brazil, one of the most amazingly beautiful countries in the world, staying in 5 star comfort on my county's dime when I had to go ahead to Rio 5 Days before the rest of the delegation.

I had read so much about the dangers of Río that when trouble presented itself in the shape of a Santa Clause looking Spanish agent who'd followed me from our previous business in Sao Paolo to the hotel, I stupidly invited him into my room because I thought he was one of the good guys. I had to fight him off for quite sometime and only knocking the phone to the floor and managing to press 9 for reception while screaming got security to my door.

That man made it clear that he would tell all my key agents in Brazil that I had invited him up to Río early for sex, 'man to man' and destroy my reputation if I even suggested what happened. Everyone who knew me was aware I had a husband and 2 small children at home, like all solo female travellers you speak a lot about your home life hoping men take the hint. I had to sit in meetings, presentations and conferences for 2 days aching from bruises all over with that man and conduct business. That was harder than the attempted rape.
Men can do so much worse than assault and rape us, at least in my experience, they can destroy our reputations, work life, impact our family life, and sometimes they do.



I love the men in my life. I choose them very, very carefully (in general!) They bring colours and symphonies of experiences I would never experience otherwise. I rarely tell them all of my negative experiences with their chromosome mates....why would I?
posted by Wilder at 4:31 AM on August 30, 2013 [26 favorites]



I haven't done tons of travelling alone but would really like too. I have driven across both Canada and the northern US a few times alone though. I absolutely loved it! I didn't experience any problems but I was in my car most of the day. Like many other women in this thread, taking precautions is just something I did, without thinking about it much.

I have a dream trip I'm working towards and in an ideal world I would do it alone. It's a three month trekking trip from Austria to Turkey along a route called the Sultans trail. It does go through boonies and involves several days camping in mountains. Although I don't want to when the time comes to do it I will find a companion and likely a male one at that. I'm not against taking the risk just going by myself. I do have that sort of adventurous side but I've decided that just having less to be concerned about in general would outweigh what I would get from doing it by myself. I also don't want to be in a situation where I really want to go and do or see something and not be able too because of being female.

It totally sucks but that's reality.
posted by Jalliah at 6:37 AM on August 30, 2013


And, btw, women don't just need to worry about 'locals' I've heard multiple reports of women being assaulted in hostels by fellow backpackers.

Aw, dude, when I lived in China it was the white people I worried about, and the white people with whom I had bad interactions. I've written elsewhere about the older guy who was studying Mandarin and thus staying in the student dorm who hit on and pressured virtually every young woman and who kicked my co-teacher in the thigh so hard that she had a huge bruise because she refused to sleep with him. And the foreign guy on a short-term hitch who got turned down by all the other young foreign women on campus, finally worked his way around to me (I was the ugly one) and insulted my looks after he was unable to get me drunk and date rape me. And there were lots of other incidents. All these guys felt like they were off the leash because they were in China - that itself being a gross, colonialist assumption - and could act exactly as they pleased. And the truth was, there wasn't much recourse in intra-white-people situations - the Chinese police and university administration didn't want to make trouble by interfering among foreigners and the embassy was useless. I can only assume that white dudes who abused or assaulted Chinese women also got away with it.

Which is something I wanted to say - the OP is framed as "I can't travel because women get harassed when traveling" but every place where women strangers get harassed when traveling is also a place where local women get harassed all the time. There have been instances, in fact, when I know I am not getting hassled like local women are, because I'm white, visibly middle class and clearly Not From Around Here and thus implicitly have enough power to potentially be a pain in the ass.

As far as this "oh, you're just too scared of rape, my women friends who I just talked to never worry about that" business: I am not scared of rape. As I said upthread, I've never really worried about it. But the thing about being in the world as a woman, (particularly if you have any compounding vulnerability such as being a woman of color and/or being visibly queer) is that you get hassled a lot when you deal with men. And it's gendered and often sexualized harassment. And it's wearing. And you never know when it's going to slip over from insults and macho posturing into actual violence, which I do sometimes worry about. That's the kicker. I've always felt that the "Schroedinger's rapist" scenario doesn't set this up very well. The issue isn't nearly so much that any totally random man on the street may suddenly drag you into the bushes; the issue is that any totally random man on the street really, truly can say creepy things to you, that a fairly large percentage of these men will say creepy things to you and that a certain percentage in certain situations may escalate that. There's a middle term - you don't know who is going to start hassling you, and while stranger rape is very rare, stranger harassment isn't.
posted by Frowner at 6:45 AM on August 30, 2013 [13 favorites]


I am scared of rape. Getting raped once was plenty for me, thanks. And as it was a "friend" who did it, I never made a report. Most women don't, particularly when they are overseas. I'm not sure how much the statistical info helps us given the fact that we can't measure what isn't reported.

I am not some shrinking fearful person. I go alone to many places, including on business trips. I love traveling, in the US and elsewhere, and do it a lot.

But women are at risk of sexual assault at all ages, no matter what our size or "attractiveness," especially when we don't know our environment well. That's one reason why women respond so well, I think, when asked for help by other women. We don't doubt their good reason for asking.

The only thing that makes me angrier than my inability to be as truly free and independent and adventurous as men is being scoffed at or demeaned for disclosing my experience and feelings.

Also, when I said to please think about this, I meant it. Please think about this does not mean, I can't wait for your next dismissive remark.
posted by bearwife at 8:57 AM on August 30, 2013 [13 favorites]


This has been instructive. As a male, I freely admit to being guilty of having underestimated (or even, to my shame, dismissed) these risk factors when trying to understand someone's reasoning for doing—or not doing—something.

Eyes opened. Thank you all for sharing your stories.
posted by flippant at 9:16 AM on August 30, 2013 [14 favorites]


Well, I'm traveling now, mostly because I can afford it, but mainly going to large cities with a similar culture and a language I speak so I can read my safety cues.
My husband also prefers it because, as a former world wanderer, he is ACUTELY aware of how dangerous some places are for a woman alone (and some for a man alone, to be fair). I do what I like, in general, but were I able to swallow my concerns and seriously plan to travel to somewhere that he considers dangerous (from first-hand experience), I think I'd see his foot come down for the first time.

I think also I didn't travel somewhat earlier on because I was too wary of the danger possibilities of cheap travel option, like hostels, and I was still of an age/appearance to attract unwanted attention in my home territory. Now I can afford to spend more to stay in hotel rooms alone, because it's safer; and I'm of the "invisible age", as someone so beautifully put it.
I travel alone, because travel is a wonderful adventure for me and I like to be free to follow my fancy, but my fancy does have to live within certain limits of sense and safety that make a smaller zone of possibility than the limits of sense and safety that men generally travel with.

It's sad that there are many places I'll likely never see, but at least there are still many, many wonderful places to visit where I can feel safe enough; but just writing "safe enough" made me feel sad again.
posted by L'Estrange Fruit at 9:29 AM on August 30, 2013 [3 favorites]


And, btw, women don't just need to worry about 'locals' I've heard multiple reports of women being assaulted in hostels by fellow backpackers.

> Aw, dude, when I lived in China it was the white people I worried about, and the white people with whom I had bad interactions.


Really, the male travel writers who Burton envies -- with the "the riotous, Panama-hatted approach to adventure" and "the world in which the storyteller, with his witty quotes and charming misfortunes, becomes a kind of literary colonizer" -- are espousing the exact attitudes and beliefs that often make women unsafe, "reduced [like the locals] to mere background objects, picturesque scenery" who don't have their own agency.

So reading those sorts of stories is a double-whammy for the non-powerful. You want to be the fearless powerful adventurer, but you can't... because the fearless powerful adventurers have made the world a worse place for you.
posted by jaguar at 10:48 AM on August 30, 2013 [5 favorites]


If you're a female traveler in the San Francisco Bay Area and you run into this kind of trouble, our home is a safe space, and we will come get you if that's necessary.

Hell, if you're in the Bay Area and you run into trouble, same deal, but you all know what I mean.

MeMail works, but at least two of the mods have my personal contact information, and I'm fine with them giving it out if a Mefite needs help or shelter or whatever.
posted by scrump at 1:08 PM on August 30, 2013 [12 favorites]


I do a pretty good amount of exploring solo, mostly in sparsely populated or unpopulated areas. Here in the U.S., the one thing that has curtailed my adventuring in recent years is the uptick in meth production and use in some of those areas. For example: there are areas of the California desert that I used to love to wander in that are now no-go zones for me -- I've just seen too much sketchy human activity, or signs of same. It makes me very sad, both for the people in the grip of those addictions, and for the ripple effect their addiction is having.

My international travels have been mostly to wildnerness areas, with quick pass-throughs of large cities, so I can't speak to the fear of wandering alone in a big urban area. In those travels, I had no issues. A few times, hiking out in the wilds, I crossed paths with men, but did not feel vibed or threatened.

I'm not suggesting my experience is the norm, but neither am I suggesting that it's special or unique to me. Just putting it out there to add to the database of solo women travelers' experience.
posted by nacho fries at 1:12 PM on August 30, 2013 [2 favorites]


I'm currently on vacation (in the US), and literally 15 min ago had an encounter with a terrified 14 year old girl, who ran into the hotel elevator in nothing but a bathing suit, soaking wet, crying and apologizing for not having a towel and for being upset, because she said there was an older guy who had been following her around, trying to get physical and not leaving her alone, and that he was making her feel so unsafe that she was literally on the run from him. Her parents were upstairs, waiting for her, but she hadn't been able to get away, and she was really, really scared. So my daughter (also 14) and I talked to her, calmed her down, and went with her to her hotel room to make sure she got to her mom safely.

This is in a "safe, family-centered" amusement park–based hotel/resort, with hundreds of people around on a busy night, and getting groped in the hot tub by a stranger who wouldn't take no for an answer is the last thing this kid from a faraway country expected. Or deserved.

In a way, I felt as helpless as she did, trying to calm her down with small talk about who she was and where she's from, trying to make her feel like a person, reassuring her that she did the right thing. I was glad I was there, but sad it had to happen at all, and sad to have to explain to her—and my own daughter—that it wasn't her fault, and that she had a right to be there, like everyone else enjoying the pool and having fun on a hot summer night.
posted by mothershock at 6:46 PM on August 31, 2013 [16 favorites]


mothershock, I'm so sorry that happened to both you and her, but I'm so glad you were the one she spoke to -- not everyone would have been so understanding, and I think you did both her and your daughter a real service in responding as you did.
posted by jaguar at 7:23 PM on August 31, 2013 [1 favorite]


Three cheers for you, mothershock!
posted by bearwife at 11:01 PM on August 31, 2013 [1 favorite]


"I wonder, also, if men are more likely to be assaulted by strangers because they are more likely to be wandering around at night, exploring abandoned buildings etc. and all those things that single women are very unlikely to be doing...?"

That's awfully close to "and she was wearing a short skirt."

I think Burton's romanticizing a lot about traveling.
posted by Ideefixe at 5:00 PM on September 1, 2013


The thing is, you don't actually know that. You don't know what any of your male acquaintances are like when they're alone with women, because by definition you can't. People behave differently in different circumstances. Every time there's some horrific crime, friends and relatives are quoted to the effect that the accused is such a nice guy they simply can't believe it. For that matter, the victims of rapes frequently can't believe it's happening because "he seemed like such a nice guy" (as has been repeatedly said on MeFi). Rapists and harassers are not some vile population of subhumans that come out of the sewers when it's nighttime and women are going where they shouldn't go, they're all around us, they're our friends and relatives, and women know this. They can't afford not to. That's why they're so "paranoid." Men tend not to know this, because they don't learn it in the course of their daily lives. That's why these MeFi threads are so vitally important. Read, learn, absorb!

languagehat, I wanted to highlight and repeat this, because in a post full of great comments, this is one that stood out. It's the thing that we all don't want to know, don't want to believe, but some of us (especially women) have to. This was what I was trying to express, badly, in the kerfuffle over the Tsarnaev Rolling Stone cover - people hated to see him all dolled up looking like a rock star, because we want our bad guys to be unattractive and obviously bad. Sadly, they're not. The guy who held the elevator for you could be same guy who minutes or even days later rubs up against you in the elevator when no one is there to see. The guy who tells you he likes your outfit may follow it up with, "But it would look better on the floor around your ankles." The guy who offers you his seat on the train could spend the rest of the trip looking down the front of your shirt with a leer on his face. It's exhausting, disheartening, and awful; the only thing worse is trying to explain it to someone it has never happened to and who therefore doesn't believe it ever happens.
posted by jennaratrix at 9:02 AM on September 3, 2013 [6 favorites]


jaguar: "It is interesting that men are more likely to be the victim of a violent crime and yet don't generally walk around holding onto the same constant low-level fear about assault as women generally do. I assume that it ties into the victim-blaming that's endemic to sexual assault, so that women have been told we need to police our own behavior or else we deserved it, while men aren't getting those same messages in anything close to the same way. It floors me the risks that men will take, sometimes, and not even see them as risks."

I have pointed out about a million times (and expect to lather-rinse-repeat) to my partner and the other men in my life that if it's not safe for me to walk solo from the bar/restaurant/venue to the next corner to catch a cab, then it's not safe for a man to do so solo either. Muscles, willingness/experience to fight, greater size, and general manliness is not going to mean a goddamn thing when you're outnumbered or outarmed. Which generally you would be in street muggings, at least around here.

But ohhhhhhhhhhhh I could be raped, too. The guys won't say it, they don't even want to whisper it, they just mutter darkly about "things that could happen" for fear that the bogeyman will hear them. But the fear of that risk (no matter how infinitesimal and unrealistic) trumps all other possible risks one of them could face. And do face, often with a good deal less common sense than I am using.

But I should think about how terrible everyone who cares about me would feel if something "like that" happened to me before I do anything stupid -- like trust my own extensive experience to make a judgment about my safety. Even in a completely familiar part of town which is not isolated or unusually dangerous. And this is from men who would be the first to scoff at the notion that I am weak or naive...but I cannot get through to them that this sexist blind spot is infuriating.
posted by desuetude at 1:09 PM on September 3, 2013 [1 favorite]


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