Thursday, September 1, 2011

Looking on the bright side starts with questions.

I'm pretty sure that if I sat down next to Forrest Gump right now and told him about my traveling woes, he'd be telling me how it's like a box of chocolates. And he'd be completely correct.

On the one side, traveling makes you a more worldly person. You see things that bend and completely break your perception of the way things work, and you can find understanding and compassion for others in a way that the Discovery Channel just cannot relate. You can feel. You can think. You can see the world in a way that makes you want to, if you are so inclined, do something to make it better. And if you're not in to all that, you are at least assured the ability to impress others. Yes, you can tell your friends and family about all the wonders they have and haven't ever heard of, and cook them a more accurate, local dessert in a flash if they are craving some Thai and have some coconut milk laying around. And if you're not so cool, you can even gloat and make others wish they too had the balls to travel down dark alleyways in foreign countries.

But there is a trade-off, and at the risk of sounding like a complainer I need to get this out into the world. I could try to sound more diplomatic about the issue, but the main point will come to this:

traveling as a girl kinda sucks.

It will always suck. It doesn't matter if you speak a common language, know self-defense, or spit and grunt like a grandpa. It doesn't matter if you avoid eye contact with everyone you meet and wear sunglasses past dusk. It doesn't nor will it ever matter if you dress completely conservatively, or if you wear shorts and a scandalous-shoulder-bearing tank top when walking down the street. You can be alone, you can be in pairs or groups of women. It doesn't matter. You will be pegged, and you better be ready to get the raw end of the deal while your male counterparts or GTWB (Girls Traveling With Boys) walk past you on the same street with blissful grins like they are actually, really, on vacation.

I know I'm generalizing here, and for that matter, I know I'm being hypocritical, too. I mean, traveling is my personal choice. I was not forced to venture off, and at the end of the day it is my time off to explore and I wouldn't trade it for anything. I also have had plenty of positive experiences around Asia and do not think that all people are out to assault/yell at/grope/mug/steal from/bother/harass/generally creep me out on a daily basis. I also understand that all travelers must be aware of their surroundings and use street smarts in order to have a safe, pleasant-as-possible trip.

But why is it that, being a girl, I am a definite target to local men, no matter the country I visit or the clothes I wear?

Why is it that, being a girl, if I do have a negative experience with a local, the first question asked is, "What were you wearing?"

Why is it that, being a girl, I have to say no a million more times than guys of my age who travel the world?

Why is it that the same men can go out and drink late into the night, and even have the 'power' to engage in illegal prostitution, while in some countries I don't feel comfortable staying out after dark?

I'm smart and I'm responsible. Why is it that others, who may or may not even have the same amount of maturity or commitment to sustainable traveling as I and other women travelers, have the privilege to travel more freely, while we have to fight upstream just to avoid a negative experience?

And more importantly, if these are the people who are able to travel freely, how can we find a way to help others in our global community without getting stuck in viscous cycles that every society faces? And, personally: how will I ever feel comfortable traveling in the places that really need help?

And lastly: will anyone ever take me seriously, or am I doomed to walk foreign (and maybe my local) streets as someone who is easy to take advantage of, when I have so much bigger plans for myself and those I want to impact?

Maybe I'm complaining. Maybe these questions will never have answers in my lifetime. But if we don't ask, and just accept, then how can we get anyone to take notice?
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