The Top 5 Best & Worst Things About being a Female Solo Traveller

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As a woman, it can be hard to take the plunge and travel solo. Everywhere you turn, someone is telling you how dangerous it will be, or there is another sensationalist horror story in the news. But there are also so many reasons to pack your bags and do it anyway. The experience of a lifetime will only be made more exciting, more enriching, and more enlightening by the fact that you faced your fears and proved to all the naysayers that you are stronger than they think.

Here are the ten best and worst things about being a solo female traveller:


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Best:

Nothing will make you feel more empowered

There are so many things that make it hard to take the plunge and travel by yourself if you’re a woman. The news is constantly splashing sensationalist stories about women being kidnapped and assaulted, your mom can’t even talk about it without having a panic attack, and even your friends question if it’s a good decision. So when you bite the bullet and get out there, you will feel not just out in the world, but also on top of the world. Every wonderful experience you have will be enhanced by how much you have to be proud of. You’re a badass lady! Own it.

Other women will be inspired to take their own trips

Because there are so many cautionary tales, other women need to see your example and hear another women’s recommendations and amazing stories to feel secure enough to put themselves out there. Because of all the things working against us, women really need each other to lift us up and encourage us to get out there and experience the world. Everyone deserves to feel the amazing gratification and incredible enlightenment of travelling solo.

It proves all the haters wrong

Take that, Fox News! We can take care of ourselves, and we’re not afraid to go and eat the most amazing pad thai or aloo saag or shawarma of our lives and post that business All. Over. Facebook. We know you’re jealous!

For every creep, there’s a million people who want to help you out

When you’re on the road, there are so many people who will recognize the leap you’re taking by getting out there on your own, and they will want to support you. Whether it’s a smile, directions, or an invitation to something amazing, every country is full of wonderful people who want nothing more than for you to have an amazing time in their homeland.

You’ll make friends that last a lifetime

One of the best and most beautiful things about travelling alone is that it really opens the door to new friendships. Instead of staying in your own circles, or alienating people by talking to your old friend about the folks at home when you travel in a group, you are a free agent, completely open to strike up new conversations and say yes to opportunities and invitations on a whim. And other women travellers will be especially excited to meet you and bond over all of the amazing things that you have in common. They also tend to be some of the boldest, bravest, and coolest people on the planet. So what are you waiting for?


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Worst:

Everyone feels the need to comment on how “risky” it is

When you’re travelling alone as a woman, every stranger on the planet will feel the need to tell you, probably completely unsolicited, about how dangerous the world is. And it gets really old. Being talking down to is never fun, but being constantly discouraged by strangers is a real drag. But just take it in stride and let it fuel your fire, girl.

Single rooms are more expensive

Travelling with a partner can be way cheaper. Splitting the bill is always a good way to go. But no worries! You’ll make friends to go dutch with in no time.

Creeps

Yes, there is some validity to all the cautionary tales. But the unfortunate truth is that there are creeps in every culture. You’re not any more likely to encounter one on the road than you are in your own town. So just be smart, take care of yourself, and don’t let hypotheticals stop you from having the ride of a lifetime.

People will underestimate you

Whether it’s well-intentioned or just condescending, people will constantly underestimate your strength, your smarts, and your travel-savviness. People will tell you that things would be better if you found some guys to travel with. But you and I both know that you are as smart or smarter as any other traveller and probably twice as capable from a lifetime of being the underdog.

Now nothing you do will feel as cool as that time you travelled alone

Now that you’ve completed your solo trip, told the haters to shove it, proved to yourself that you are wonderful and capable and worldly, and made the best friends of your life, what’s next? It’s a tough one, but you’re a tough cookie and I know you’ll figure it out. And hey, maybe it’s just time for your next trip!

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Originally published over at the Happy Nomad:

http://www.bambaexperience.com/blog/top-5-best-worst-things-female-solo-traveller/

A little feminist rant to start the day off right

I write this from my parents’ couch with unwashed hair and no pants. Post-grad ecstasy. Or severe, helpless ennui. However you wanna slice it. I just used a Neti pot and watched some incredible and incredibly colorful things come out of my face, which will probably be the most productive part of my day.

I just read a beautiful blog post on bravery by a thoughtful and talented acquaintance (are we friends? I hope we’re friends) who has managed to turn her post-graduate-student-loan-homecoming slump into a productive and inspiring foray into public introspection. So now seems as good a time as any to talk about what’s on my mind. At bat, as per usual: a close-up encounter with some not-so-casual sexism.

Two nights ago I went with some friends to participate in Trivia Night at BeauJo’s pizza in Boulder (big night out in the big city!) It was a nice night–the questions were easy, the beer pitchers were two dollars off. Sure, one of the guys on our team renamed our group, changing it from my (hilarious) Georgia O’Keefe pun to “Man Team” in a crisis of masculinity, but he was a stranger and I like to go with the flow, so like, whatever, man.

But this turned out to be a pathetically sexist omen for misogyny to come. When going over the answers to a question about Jessica Simpson and daisy dukes, the emcee started cracking “jokes” about what’s “sluttier,” a girl in daisy dukes or yoga pants. ‘Cause let him tell you, he works on a college campus and there are a lot of girls out there whose parents don’t love them enough.

My friend and I stared at each other, kind of disbelieving that these words were actually pouring out of this idiot’s mouth through a godforsaken speaker system. And then. He directly followed up this sexist, objectifying, slut-shaming bullshit with a question about what century they discovered the properties of chloroform, coining the “PICKUP LINE,” “does this cloth smell like chloroform to you?” I’m not too into poking fun at date rape, so my friend and I decided to cut out early.

But I was a little tipsy and a lot upset, so I figured, hey, why not talk to the creep with the mic. I have nothing to lose. I slowly approached the stand and waited until he reached a breaking point in his scoring. He looked up at me (it’s important to note here that I have a very short, masculine haircut) and before I opened my mouth he said, “Oh, did I offend you?”

I’m frustrated by so many things that happened that night. That he tried to placate me with a free beer, that my male teammates thought I was “overreacting,” that I’m naive enough to think this shit doesn’t happen regularly, even in “liberal” towns, and that my relatively calm and thorough explanation of why what he had said was sexist and harmful were probably shrugged off as abrasive and “bitchy” and likely didn’t change anything for this guy. But I am glad I said something. And I’m glad I got mad.

I think that too often we’re taught that anger isn’t a productive or healthy response. And people are told not to worry, you can embrace feminism, because real feminism is about happiness and rainbows and equality, and certainly not about angry women. But I am angry. I have every right to be angry. And I want to use that fire in my belly, not lose it.

I want to keep confronting and ranting and venting and all those things that are “negatively” associated with feminism. Because I need to for my own sanity. And because 1 in 4 women are sexually assaulted. And because only white women make 78 cents to the male dollar. For Black and Latina women it’s much, much less. Because women on college campuses wear yoga pants for comfort and are turned into sexual objects and then punchlines and then victims.

These things–rape, domestic abuse, oppression–start with comments and jokes and casual stereotyping. I am working more and more on not being a bystander and overcoming my own self-doubt and unlearning anger and vocal protest as unproductive and overly aggressive. I’m not always successful. Sometimes I let things roll off my back. And then I regret it. But I think I’m getting better every day.

Better Late than Never: My Take on Miley at the VMAs

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I had a hard time committing to this topic. Has it been written about too much? Is it old news? Is it a waste of brain cells? Does Miley really need any more attention? Even harder than bringing myself to settle on Miley’s Video Music Awards performance, however, was thinking of a more culturally relevant, more salient example of the construction of sexuality and American moral panic. I didn’t choose Miley. Miley chose me.

It’s no secret that sex sells. All of our media outlets are clogged with sexual objectification and scantily clad, segmented women. You would be hard-pressed to find more than a handful of advertisements that don’t cater directly to the male gaze, even for distinctly un-sexy products. American lives are filled with sexual imagery—billboards, television commercials, magazines and newspapers, product packaging, you name it. So why then is it so shocking when a teenage pop star named Miley Cyrus flaunts her sexuality at the MTV VMAs, a production more or less synonymous with mainstream, sexualized commercial culture? Cyrus’ performance of her single “We Can’t Stop” was a perfect storm of sexual archetypes that conflict with American narratives of what’s good, pure, and acceptable for Cyrus’ stereotyped identities—young, white, rich, and female. Cyrus’ behavior isn’t the reason that Twitter’s servers had the most intense workout of their lives, it’s our societal expectations, puritanical notions of sexuality, and patriarchy that are to blame.

One of the biggest factors involved in many moral panics is American society’s fear of childhood sexuality. Logically and scientifically, there’s neither reason nor evidence to show that children are asexual. In fact, anyone who spends time around kids knows that very young children masturbate, often publicly, because they do not yet understand our socially constructed shame around sexuality. Despite these facts, the cultural narrative about the purity of youth—especially young girls—persists.  Due to Cyrus’ history as a Disney channel superstar, she continues to be associated with children and youth culture despite her best efforts to push away from Hannah Montana and “childhood innocence”. Moral panic is built on the idea of one bad, horny apple spoiling the whole bunch. Thus, Cyrus’ “impurity” is not isolated nor is her sexuality her own. On primetime television, performed by someone who was once a children’s icon, Cyrus’ sexual agency is a threat to the socially constructed sanctity and purity of American (female) youth at large.

Due to her age (20 years) and her feminine identity, it is troubling to our social norms of sex, gender, and sexuality for Cyrus to be so unapologetic and assertive in her sexual agency. Cyrus is clearly not interested in representing her sexuality as private, adult, or procreative. She also is not interested in assuming the passive, feminine role expected of young women. In her VMA performance, she acted as the initiator and aggressor, gyrating on Robin Thicke, slapping black women’s asses (more on that later), and even suggesting that she is perfectly capable of autoeroticism, using a foam finger as a sexual object more often than other humans. In other words, she is shattering every aspect of the purity myth. Her performance left no doubts that Cyrus has a sex drive, is unashamed of her body, doesn’t want anyone’s “protection” from the big, bad, sexual world, and doesn’t care if you call her a slut.

Not only is Cyrus a young woman, she’s a young white woman. This aspect of her intersectional identity is absolutely vital to understanding why one 20-year-old girl can send the entire country into a morally outraged tizzy in under five minutes. In American culture, women of color have a long history of being hypersexualized and objectified. Cyrus herself perpetuates this when she uses black bodies as props in her “We Can’t Stop” music video as well as the VMA performance in question. In contrast, as the privileged and therefore normalized class, white sex is seen as more pure, more vanilla, and more natural. White girls are given the benefit of the doubt. They are presumed to be innocent. Therefore, when someone like Cyrus (read: rich, white) blatantly disregards that assumption, it is far more shocking than whatever Nicki Minaj or Azealia Banks may be doing to assert their sexualities because, as black women, they are already perceived as hypersexual. Cyrus’ gender performance has led many writers, musicians, and the tweeting masses to accuse her of “acting black.” This does not say anything about Cyrus’ racial identity or sexuality so much as it speaks volumes about the sexualized archetypes for black women in America.

One way to look at the socially constructed understandings of sexuality that led to the post-VMAs moral panic is to look at who did not cause a stir. For one thing, no one seemed remotely shocked, nor did they even seem to notice, the hypersexualized black women that danced in sync with Cyrus, often performing exactly the same moves, except when Cyrus was slapping them. Also, the man who was in almost all of the pictures and almost none of the commentary, the Hottest Misogynist of the Summer 2013, Robin Thicke. Looking at Thicke’s actions this summer and on stage at the VMAs is a prime example of the sexual double standard for men and women. Thicke’s smash hit single “Blurred Lines” is far more sexual in nature than Cyrus’ “We Can’t Stop”. Where Cyrus sings about partying and dancing, Thicke sings about the “blurred lines” of consent and glorifies the domestication of women. Thicke unapologetically contributes to and justifies rape culture and no one bats an eye. In fact, we commend him on his catchy beats and savvy sampling. Miley Cyrus asserts her own sexual agency and CNN makes it its cover story. This, in a word, is patriarchy.

Though it takes two to tango, as the saying goes, sex and power belong to heterosexual men in American society. (Hetero)sexual aggression is as essential to hegemonic masculinity as passivity is to ideal femininity. Robin Thicke was not chastised for being hypersexual and predatory in his “Blurred Lines” video as Cyrus was in her “We Can’t Stop” video because these are traits that are expected of male gender performance. Cyrus came under fire for precisely the same behavior, but her gender performance was exactly the opposite of what is expected of a young woman. Masculinity, if performed successfully, is a role of dominance, power, and control. The same things that make masculinity so powerful, however, simultaneously make it precarious and in need of constant reinforcement. The reason that Cyrus’ VMA performance caused a widespread moral panic is not because of her own sexual agency or moral corruption. It is because in her assertion of her own sexual dominance and her disregard for set gender roles threaten to upset existing systems of dominance and oppression. By vigorously and publicly slut-shaming Cyrus, American media and the morally outraged citizens of Facebook and Twitter are reinforcing their patriarchal values and sending a warning to girls who might be tempted to follow Cyrus’ lead. The message is clear: step outside your box, and be ridiculed, shamed, and disrespected.

Miley Cyrus continues to be a hot topic of conversation, fueled in part by this week’s release of her music video for “Wrecking Ball” which features the starlet nude and licking a sledgehammer. She doesn’t have to do much—a couple music videos and one five-minute performance do not a movement make—to start an outright moral panic in our hair-trigger social climate. While “Wrecking Ball” is a far cry from feminism, Cyrus is challenging the constructed notions of gender roles and leaning into the snarling face of a slut-shaming culture. One has to wonder, is Cyrus’ post-feminist utilization of the male gaze and self-objectification progressive?  Is her apparent enjoyment of patriarchal moral outrage empowering? Her public persona has certainly gotten people talking, but until the dialogue of shock, horror, and slut-shaming is combined with and counteracted by a feminist curiosity, our rigid rules for gender and sexuality are not going to budge.

More Than Meets the Ally

When talking about the queer community, we tend to throw the word “ally” around without ever really stopping to examine what exactly is meant by it. We skim right over the concept of alliance to what’s “important,” the bigger political issues and decoding that alphabet soup of an acronym, LGBTQ. Because of the lack of dialogue surrounding it, alliance is one of the most basically important and least understood tenets of the queer community.

An ally can be many things: a friend, an advocate, a sympathizer, a partner—it’s this powerful combination of elements that makes being an ally so crucial and so misunderstood. Alliance is much more complex than any one of these things, but also not such a big commitment that it should be daunting.

Being an ally means valuing someone not because of and not in spite of their sexuality or gender identity, but including and/or in addition to it. If you find yourself saying, “I can say that, I totally have a gay uncle and a transgender friend of a friend!” or “Of course I’m an ally. I love the gays!” you’re doing it wrong. Alliance means recognizing people’s intrinsic worth as complete individuals and not as beings defined solely by their gender, sexuality, or any other isolated component of who they are. Not all gay men want to go shopping with you.

You don’t have to like every single gay, trans*, and bi person to be an ally. We’re all human. That’s the point. But sometimes you’ll hear people wanting to discount an entire community, or feel yourself wanting to accept some factions of the LGBTQ communities and not some others which may be harder for you to relate to. You don’t have to understand every kind of gender and sexual identity to be an ally. But you do have to be open-minded and compassionate, even for those that you don’t fully grasp.

Furthermore, being an ally means refusing to be a bystander. All your great intentions and personal beliefs only go so far if you’re unwilling to stand up for them. I’m not saying that you need to go march in a pride parade, start a Queer Alliance in your neighborhood, or write to your senator (although those are all great things to do), I’m saying that it’s more fundamentally important not to stay silent within your own communities, particularly when prejudicial situations arise.

It’s not just saying, “that’s lame” instead of “that’s so gay,” it’s asking others to do the same. It’s explaining why. It’s saying, “actually, the phrase ‘no homo’ is offensive and homophobic.” Being an ally is not always an easy job, but someone’s gotta do it. In fact, we all gotta do it.

Anyone and everyone can—and should—be an ally. Assuming the role of an ally does not necessarily mean you’re straight. Alliance is something that everyone, even people who identify as LGBTQ, need to strive for. We all need to stand up for each other and be advocates for those who have lost their voice or who were never given one.

Alliance takes effort. It’s an active process that requires a constant monitoring of your own behavior and prejudices as well as the strength to ask others to monitor theirs. Having gay friends is one thing, but being an ally is something that you can really be proud of.

Originally written for the USF Foghorn

My Thoughts on Porn as a 21st Century Feminist

One of the things I struggle with in my life is my tendency to be sexist towards men. As a feminist and a gender studies student, I see and study a lot of things that make it easy to believe that men are power hungry sex fiends who can’t see the women for the vaginas. The issue of the porn industry only magnifies this.

Today in my Gender and the Media class, we watched an extremely powerful documentary about the porn industry called The Pain of Pleasure. The film interviewed current and former sex workers, enjoyers and condemners of porn, and went inside the nation’s largest adult film convention. This was all mixed with clips from relevant porn films and behind-the-scenes footage from the sets. The result was without a doubt the most disturbing, upsetting, and depressing film I’ve ever seen. Requiem for a Dream ain’t got nothin’ on this.

We live in a world that is thoroughly steeped in pornography. Its influence in advertising, films, and television shows–especially those targeted to teens and watched by much younger children–is obvious and unapologetic. I’m not saying that we should return to Puritanical schools of thought and teach our sons that masturbation causes blindness and if a girl enjoys sex she’s a prostitute. I’m just saying that a culture which allows Toddlers and Tiaras to be successful and in which half of the the sex portrayed on television is between characters who are meeting for the first time may need to re-evaluate our codes of gender and sexuality. What they are teaching us about ourselves and how we should look and act?

The Pain of Pleasure is a deeply frightening and important expose of these effects. In it, we see that almost 98% of the 100 most popular porn videos feature sexual violence against women. In addition to being choked, slapped, and tied up, these women are also endearing verbal abuse, being called “dirty sluts” and worse. And this turns people (mostly straight men) on. We see the rise of shocking, distinctly un-sexy abuse to hold the gaze of an audience who’s already seen it all. We hear from male viewers that though they realize that porn is unrealistic, they can’t help thinking about it when having sex, even when the thoughts are unwanted. Others attested to not being able to orgasm without visualizing porn scenarios.

While objectifying women is not the same as actually treating them as objects, it’s not very distanced. When boys are growing up watching programming and seeing in everyday life that women’s bodies are created to please men and that women who enjoy sex are unintelligent and of lesser value, is it any surprise that sexual violence is a pervasive social issue? Is it any wonder that young girls turn this pressure to be perfect into rage against the body, manifesting itself in cutting and eating disorders?

I don’t mean to suggest that men aren’t objectified in modern American culture. One episode of True Blood or one Abercrombie and Fitch ad will prove otherwise. The difference is that when men are objectified, it’s either funny (like in this year’s Magic Mike) or it’s a flattering testament to one’s manhood. When men are objectified by women, they don’t typically experience any of the fear or the threat of sexual violence that women have learned through real-world experience to fear.

In a post-feminist world, many of us take the dominant vs submissive nature of men and women for granted, and therefore seek to make the best of a tough situation by embracing and capitalizing off of their own sexuality and objectification. But when did we decide to give up on gender equality? When did we decide that feminists were so prude and uptight? In a nation where the average boy begins watching porn at age ten, we clearly need another approach.

Men and women, but mostly men, I urge you to think about the greater implications of what you’re watching and the ways in which you’ll never be able to shed the weight and influence of what you’ve seen. How can we ever expect to find gender equality when the playing field is so uneven? When in order to be taken seriously, a woman has to ignore the messages of beauty and sexuality that have been thrown at her her whole life, but also has to maintain a degree of standard femininity? At this rate, porn is not going away. But can we please open up some discourse about what progressive porn with gender equality would look like?