Thanks for your patience, guys. I’ve got my legs underneath me again, and am starting to get pretty well adjusted to the Cymbalta (though holy fuck, that was one rocky-ass road). We now return you to our regularly scheduled programming.
A month from now, Corinne will have spent two days in Milan adjusting to the time zone differential, and will be en route to a week in Berlin. After that, she’ll head to Salamanca, Spain for a Spanish-intensive summer semester, paid for with
a piece of my soul my tuition remission benefit. She smartly decided that since she’s already going to be there, she might as well get in some serious budget backpacking around Europe for not too much extra cost.
The catch is that she’s never planned her own travel before and she’s kind of overwhelmed. I, on the other hand, would have made a great travel agent if online booking hadn’t made them mostly obsolete. I plan trips for fun – with spreadsheets, budgets, itineraries, and everything. I’ve even made them for trips I’ll probably never take, because I’m one of those weirdos who finds planning the trip to be as much fun as taking them, especially since they come with a bonus of not requiring a financial outlay or multiple recovery days. Besides, half the fun of a vacation is the joy of saying, “oh look! It’s just the way I read about it!”
So yeah: while I was home struggling with the brain fog and anxiety of recovering from my breakdown, I was also helping plan a nineteen-year-old’s first solo trip abroad. I realize that to some of you I might as well have just said, “so I found this old airplane and I don’t know how to fly it but I went ahead and took it up anyway and I took my kid along, and there was this old parachute so I suggested she use to to skydive for the first time.”But the fact of the matter is that she’s a grown woman who knows her own limits far better than I did at her age (or possibly even now). I took plenty of absurdly dangerous risks at 19, but since I never left my home state to do it (except that one time I flew to LA to meet a friend I only knew online – which was AMAZING by the way, because not everyone online is a predator) nobody really even blinked about it. My mom hitchhiked from Chicago to San Francisco in the late Sixties at around the same age. Nineteen is a perfect time for exploring and taking risks. Most of them go fine, but we sure do love to fixate on the ones that don’t.
And fixate we do. There’s nothing like helping your adult daughter launch herself across the Atlantic to uncover the absolutely stunning amount of sexism attached to the idea of a woman traveling solo, and to begin to see American sexism in a new light.
What really grabbed my attention was the trip to Marrakesh she was planning to take right after Spain. In researching the experience (like you do), I found plenty of blog posts and forum discussions about women traveling to Morocco alone, and most of them talked about how to cope with street harassment and how exhausting and stressful it is – but also how it’s completely worth it. These women wrote about how you have to concoct a husband or boyfriend who will be right back (and for +10 constitution, wear a fake wedding ring!) so that men will leave you alone, because it’s not really customary for women to do anything alone there. And when men full-on grope you for being an American woman alone in public, you have to be ready to shame them and slap them or they won’t leave you be – the one nice thing is that when you do, all the other women will come running over to support you because women have each others’ backs there.
That last part is what really got me thinking – specifically about how difficult it is for American women to speak up for ourselves. We are taught that when we’re harassed, we should silently ignore it or else we’re encouraging them and/or deserve whatever violent retribution occurs. I imagine that, for better or worse, Moroccan men must read our passive silence as consent when they’re used to being reined in with a harsh “shooma!” and a swarm of protective sisterhood, which (along with porn) is probably what perpetuates the legend that American women are sluts. Can you imagine any one of us saying to an American street harasser, “what the hell’s the matter with you? How dare you treat me like an object instead of a human being! Shame on you!”? We wouldn’t dare. Why?
Something about looking back at our culture through another culture’s lens brought into sharp focus the many ways American women have been taught to subjugate ourselves:
- If something happens to Corinne while she’s abroad, it will be mine and her father’s fault for “letting” her – a grown-ass woman – travel by herself. And it will be her own fault for being stupid and putting herself in that situation. It will never be the fault of the horrible people who were horrible, because they just took advantage of an easy opportunity that presented itself. If she goes to someone for help, they’ll probably dismiss her as hysterical because men don’t trust women’s feelings or experiences. If she didn’t want to be a victim, why was she traveling alone, anyway?
- Women here are rarely even aware that they’re in constant competition for the scarce resource of male approval – publicly, socially, and professionally. There is very little assumed sisterhood out in the world (which is why I’m such a huge fan of the Red Tent Temple movement); if another woman is harassed in public, who among us would have the courage to stand with her and have her back, rather than avert our gaze and keep walking? I find it interesting that this Arabic monarchy whose culture plenty of American women might judge as backward and oppressive in actual fact has women who feel more empowered to protect themselves from harassers than we do (yes, they’re expected to go out accompanied, but at least they have each others’ backs). But it’s the water we swim in, and we see that we’re “allowed” to wear whatever we want and marry whoever we want and go alone in public, and that somehow adds up to freedom instead of a naturalistic zoo enclosure designed to protect us from…whom? The very people who tell us it’s for our own good.
- Women ALWAYS have to have a plan for what happens if something goes wrong, and where to steer clear of, and what to do if it’s getting dark, and how to know who to trust, and how to escape notice, and when you just have attach yourself to some men to do so. Our adventures come with a gauntlet of concerns that, sure, everyone has to think about, but not as carefully or completely as we do.
- Pretty much everything she said.
Personally, I’m optimistic about Corinne’s ability to cope with Moroccan street harassment since she spent her adolescence in Philly, which has plenty of homegrown aggressive men of its own. For some reason she still trusts my judgment, so with excitement and trepidation, she booked her trip.
A week later she changed her mind.
She’s worried that constantly dealing with defending her body will be exhausting and stressful, and she’d rather wait to go to Morocco until she’s a more seasoned traveler. I respect that choice (see above re: knowing her limits), and can hardly blame her. She’ll lose the money she spent on airfare to Marrakesh, and then to Rome afterward, but she’s decided it’s worth it.
Now she’s back to trying to decide where to spend the week between Madrid and Rome, but everything she looks at seems to come with some sort of caveat about how dangerous and difficult for women it is, and she’s overwhelmed.
Corinne: I looked up “Budapest experience” and the first thing that came up was the serious scams people get trapped in…like to the tune of $200-800.
Me: Think on it a little bit: scams are everywhere. Forewarned is forearmed, they say.
Corinne: That’s true. But no doubt they’re especially bad.
Me: I’ve also heard people say that Budapest is their favorite place.
Corinne: Yeah, it’s definitely beautiful and has a huge hipster scene.
I’m gonna be honest, if something doesn’t go wrong I’ll be a little disappointed. Only because even the US Embassy’s view on women traveling is bedtime 8 o’clock and don’t forget your daddy (parental guardian or otherwise). If you’re gonna look at me like a child there damn well better be reason for it.
Me: LOL! Don’t worry, no matter what happens to you it’s your fault for traveling with an unaccompanied vagina.
Corinne: Literally, like how can you across the board just say don’t do it alone? Are you kidding me? Is Canada any more dangerous than the US !? Should I just go to bed at 8pm and be surrounded by a sausage shield 24/7????
Me:NOW you’re getting it!
“Sausage shield”- you guys I am so proud right now I could cry! But also angry because SERIOUSLY, US State Department? What year is this?
Know what I think? I think that whatever happens she’s going to have an amazing, transformative trip. Hold the sausage.