Just beneath the surface of normal

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Traveling While Female? Don’t Forget Your Sausage Shield

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?


The internet is sadly lacking in shields made of sausage.

Know what I think? I think that whatever happens she’s going to have an amazing, transformative trip. Hold the sausage.



Delayed Live-Blogging: NYC

Monday, 4:04pm – I’m writing this from a hotel room in Manhattan. Jim had to travel for work this week and Corinne is with her dad, so I would have been alone on my birthday, which would have sucked, so I tagged along.  But Jim won’t let me blog or tweet about being in New York until we get home, because he’s pretty sure that burglars scan Twitter, Facebook, and my barely-read blog looking for proof that we’re out of town so that they can go burglarize our crumbling old house in a blue-collar neighborhood and take our thousand-pound antique piano. So since I can’t write about it as I go, I’m going to collect my thoughts here and post them all at once when I return.

Here is the view from my hotel room:

How unfair is it that I can’t share this view as it’s happening?! Also, the park down there is Irish soil. So it’s like I can go across the street and visit Ireland whenever I want.

So today Jim went to work & I puttered around, then went to Thrift Shop Row on 23rd Street. OMG, you would not BELIEVE how expensive thrift stores are here! I guess because there’s so much designer everything. Also, all the shoes are heels. How do these women walk all the fuck over the place in heels? They’re insane, that’s how. They must all have epidurals or foot botox to numb the pain or something.

But so I was walking down 23rd street and I saw this no fewer than half a dozen times:

Tights, shoes, coat…no visible skirt. Who decided this was a good idea?

Usually when I go to New York, I worry endlessly about being judged a behind-the-times nerd who can’t keep up with their evanescent metropolitan chic. The fashion in boots has changed almost entirely in the two months since I was here last (WTF, New York? Boots are expensive!). But when you start dressing like you forgot to put something on this morning? I reserve the right to feel smug and not worry too much about wearing comfortable shoes. I guess skipping out on wearing bottoms is how you afford all those fucking boots. Personally?That’s not a battle I’m willing to pick.

Monday, 7:00pm – met Jim’s Project Manager for dinner at City Hall. He is delightfully nerdy and hilariously inappropriate. We were joking about blow-jobs within an hour. I want to keep him, but he lives in Arkansas and Jim says we have to let him go home.

Tuesday, 1:47am – Dear City That Never Sleeps: you might get more sleep if your garbage trucks didn’t pick up at 2 o’clock in the fucking morning. I’m on the 9th floor and they sound like they’re inside the room; are those even trash trucks I’m hearing or have the Decepticons invaded?

Tuesday, 4:09am – I don’t think that coffee after dinner was decaf. It may be that I spend my birthday in bed.

Tuesday, 5:04pm – well, it was a beautiful day as best I could tell from being mostly too tired to leave the room after sleeping so badly last night. For what it’s worth, I did invite The Bloggess to go do weird stuff in NYC if she was bored. She wasn’t, but she was very polite about it. It was probably for the best because I was too tired to be properly entertaining.

Tuesday, 6:20pm – The hotel sent me up a complimentary bottle of Prosecco. We opened it and drank a bit. I couldn’t get the cork back in, so I stuffed the corner of a hand towel into the bottle to hold in the bubbles. Classy.

This is why I tag along on business trips. I wish I had photographed my towel hack. What was I thinking?

Tuesday: 8:30pm – Stuffed myself ridiculous on the excellent fare at the North End Grill, and I drank two scotch bonnets (a single malt cocktail with honey and stuff, not liquefied hot peppers) and they brought me birthday dessert of butterscotch pots de creme (which is really just a fancy way of saying pudding, but nobody would spend ten bucks on pudding…unless it’s FRENCH pudding!) with a candle and a beautifully-scripted greeting:

And this is why I have no shame in telling anyone who will listen that it’s my birthday. They may pity my gaucheness? But free dessert, motherfuckers: I win.

The best part? Those are SINGLE MALT-MALLOWS, bitches! Whoever invented booze-flavored marshmallows should be sainted.

Wednesday, 7:50am – The Prosecco is still fizzy. No point in wasting a free fifteen dollar bottle of sparkling wine. Bought a $5 glass of OJ from the hotel and set in to finishing that bitch off.

I hereby decree that the morning after birthdays shall be mimosa time.

Wednesday, 9:37am – WHY are champagne bottles so damn BIG? I am awfully shitfaced for this early in the morning. Still approximately two glasses to go. I think I’ll have a nap, then finish it off.

Wednesday, 11:45am – FINISHED! I win the Most Mentally Disturbed, But Frugal prize. I’d like to thank everyone on Facebook who supported me in achieving this great achievement. I swear I’m not an alcoholic – I hardly ever drink, and I think I’ve only even had enough to get sick like once in my life. I have mostly-full bottles in my liquor cabinet that date back to the mid-nineties. I don’t even know if they’re still safe to drink, they’re so old. But I don’t waste free shit. Thank you for your thunderous applause. You’re too kind.

Wednesday 2:00pm – I had to go buy leggings so I could give the Bloggess a panty hat at her book signing later. I bundled up and walked like a mime against the tropical storm-force winds to Century 21, a giant 6-story department store where all tourists go to shop. It’s a weird place, populated mainly by Asian and European tourists with no sense of foot traffic and marginal fluency in the English language. But they’re cheap and near the hotel (though I had to walk all the way around the World Trade Center construction site, which makes it farther than it needs to be. Not that I’m trying to disrespect the victims of a horrible tragedy with my inane whining about weather or anything. What I mean is that when the winds are gusting to 45 miles an hour, you curse the terrorists all over again). I also got warm hat-hats, because it’s cold and we were going to have to take a train to the Upper West Side and I wasn’t going to ride the subway with a panty on my head before its big debut so I just wore it as a scarf (plus Jim’s new hat has ears on it, which is awesome; and he says panty hats are for girls, which is less so). Turns out it was only cold and windy down in the financial district. I’m pretty sure Dante said the lowest level of hell is the coldest part, too. Coincidence?

Wednesday, 5:27pm – Jim came back to the room and told me that his PM isn’t feeling well and is bailing on coming to the book signing with us. I am sad. I told Jim to tell him I said he’s a pussy and should just suck it up and ignore his debilitating back arthritis. He refused because he is unhelpful. But that’s okay; I can do inappropriate all by myself.

Wednesday, 6:50pm – We arrived at the Barnes and Noble on the Upper West Side. The only remaining seats had views partially obstructed by support beams. I found one in the back with a decent view, so of course a tall blonde with a top bun sits down right in front of me and her short friend sits in front of Jim, so I’m all weaving side to side to see around her anyway. Sigh. I made up for it by getting increasingly anxious about meeting someone I admire and began nodding vigorously to everything Jenny said, like a very agreeable bobblehead on cocaine. I was last in line, and she was very friendly and relaxed and funny and I was forced to wonder if she was really as likeably crazy as she made herself sound, or if I really am the only one. But she was game for panty hats, and her assistant took a picture of us, in which Jenny looked like a model and I looked like Dieter from Sprockets. We got downstairs before I realized that the picture didn’t save and I had to go back up and beg for another picture, which I already posted. She is the best sport EVER, putting leggings on her head twice in one night, and she appeared to be happy to be given leggings, so that was nice. She has clearly spent time in the mirror practicing photogenic poses, and if I’m going to get published I’d better start logging some hours in front of a mirror too, because seriously, I take TERRIBLE pictures.

I don’t remember that much else interesting happened after that, but I can say for certain that even though it’s not a fancy, modern, 9th floor hotel room facing the Hudson river, where people clean up after you and the cabinet re-spawns candy bars every day, there’s no place like your own bed.

Also, I think I might have gotten addicted to napping.