“You’re so brave for a girl!” Considering I can’t even sit through Scary Movie without having nightmares, I hear this a lot more often than I feel I should.
People usually proclaim this after hearing about my travels or when they realise blogging is my full-time job. But instead of being flattered, it annoys the hell out of me.
I understand what they’re getting at. Choosing an unconventional career despite spending lots of time and money on an unrelated university degree may seem like a bold choice. Similarly, travelling to places like Lebanon or Ethiopia can sound dangerous to some people.
The truth is that there is nothing inherently courageous about blogging and travelling. Unless you think staring at a screen without blinking for hours on end is a heroic feat. Or that posing for a safari selfie basically makes you Jane Goodall.
But it’s not the bravery part I take issue with. Who wouldn’t want to be considered brave, even if it was for the wrong reasons? The thing that gets me is the female qualifier. People don’t think I’m brave, period – they think I’m brave for a girl.
And that’s exactly what I want to talk about today. Is there a difference between male and female travellers? Should we encourage women to travel differently? Before I get started let me just say that this post may offend you. I might, but it shouldn’t. I’m just trying to start a conversation and hope you’ll share your opinion in a comment below once you’re done reading.
Oh, Solo Female Travellers
Many bloggers call themselves “solo female travellers”, highlighting not only how they travel but also what’s between their legs while they do it. They encourage other women to cast aside their fears and travel the world so I should applaud them, right?
Right… but every time I hear the term I get a sudden urge to scream. This might come as a surprise from someone whose blog is literally called Girl vs Globe. Someone who runs a female-only Facebook group and pretty much exclusively writes for women. Don’t worry, the irony is not lost on me.
Being a woman has shaped how I view the world ever since the day I was born, moulding me into who I am today from the first time I was complimented on my pretty pigtails. We get treated differently and have to put up with even more shit than our male counterparts. It sucks, both on a personal and professional level.
I completely understand why our experiences make us feel like we’re a different breed of traveller altogether. But the truth is we are not.
You’re Not Great For A Girl
Although we experience the world slightly differently – as do other minorities be they LGBTQIA, disabled or people of colour – we don’t require a new vocabulary for our experiences.
You know what’s even better than being a successful female CEO or an accomplished female cardiovascular surgeon? Being recognised as somebody who is good at their job, without making it a gender issue.
We don’t need a special qualifier placed behind our achievements. We don’t want to be great for a girl, we want the same respect men get. After all what’s the last time you heard a man call himself a male executive or – to go back to my original point – a solo male traveller? Even writing it feels ridiculous.
Here’s the problem with putting too much emphasis on gender. Whenever someone tells you that you’re successful for a girl, strong for a girl or smart for a girl, they’re also saying two other things.
First, they’re asserting that women typically aren’t good at that thing. But even worse they’re saying that you only get to play in the female league. “You may be good,” they say, “but you will never be as good as a man. This is our domain.”
But that’s total BS. Women are incredible and so are men. There is no weaker sex, no gentler sex, no prettier sex and no better sex. Every single human being is great in their own right.
Best Countries For Female Travellers
With that said, do we really need endless lists telling us which countries are and are not ok for female travellers to visit? Are posts about “top destinations for solo female travellers” and similar topics beneficial or do they help perpetuate a harmful stereotype?
Look, I get it. Certain places don’t have a good track record of women’s rights. Travelling alone can be daunting and it’s important to feel safe while you do it, so choosing a less challenging destination can be a good idea.
But as long as you’re cautious being female shouldn’t stop you from seeing any country in the world. Tonnes of women have backpacked through India, hitchhiked around Iraq and explored other places where women are not treated like equals and often sexually harassed. It can definitely be done.
I realise the bloggers who write these lists are probably just trying to be helpful (and get more traffic #cynic). But I think they’re accidentally reinforcing an unhealthy stereotype. Let’s not tell women which countries they’re allowed to visit. No, no, no. Let’s leave that decision up to each individual and instead help them be safe while they visit whatever place they feel drawn to.
Our half of the population has a long history of being told how to act and it’s done nothing but harm us. So if anyone tries to tell you where to go, you can tell them where to go. To hell.
But Wait A Second…
Can emphasising the fact we’re female travellers ever be useful? Kind of. In highlighting your otherness – not that women are a minority, which makes our situation even more incomprehensible – you are reminding the world of all the obstacles that stand in your path.
That is an important conversation to have. It’s the reason why I write a woman-centric blog and run a female-only community. Having a safe space where we can discuss our fears and hardships is crucial to overcoming them. There’s nothing wrong with celebrating our femininity, quite the contrary.
It’s important to acknowledge that travel works differently for women. We have to deal with sexual harassment and personal safety issues much more frequently than men do. We aren’t even granted what seems like basic human rights in some cultures.
Moreover, let’s not forget those women who are also members of other minority groups because they experience further difficulties on top of these gender-related obstacles.
But even though it makes it more challenging, your vagina doesn’t magically render you unable to travel wherever you damn well please. So the next time you refer to yourself as a solo female traveller, please just think about what the term really means and what implications it carries.
The bottom line is this… I don’t care whether you run your own business or have a PhD in astrophysics. I don’t care whether you’ve given up on your dreams to take care of an ailing relative or get up at 4am day after day to cook breakfast for the homeless. It doesn’t matter whether you’re the CEO of a large company or the author of a dozen bestsellers.
Mothers, scientists, athletes, teachers, politicians, I hate to be the one to break it to you but you’ll never be great for a girl. Why? Because you don’t need a special qualifier placed behind your achievements. You’re not great for a girl – you’re just great.
Do you like and use the term solo female traveller or do you share my sentiments? There’s obviously no right or wrong answer here, so I’d love to hear your opinions and have a little discussion in the comments below!