December 3, 2018

Asking this Question is a Shaming Mechanism.

As a traveler, one of the questions I am most often asked is if I am scared to travel alone.

The question is typically accompanied by this comment: “You are so brave for traveling solo…”—and then the three little words every girl longs to hear—“…as a woman.”

This got me thinking.

What does my vagina have to do with being a brave traveler?

Society reinforces the plans of men. This is a good thing. However, it does not reinforce or encourage the plans of women. I am careful with who and when I share my plans, knowing that, to some degree and because my anatomy goes in instead of protruding out, not only will my plans be questioned, but I will be questioned as a rational human being for having them.

Asking a woman if she is scared to travel alone is like asking her what she was wearing on the night she was sexually assaulted. It’s an accusation, a deeply rooted one that attempts to diminish a woman’s life into acceptable ideologies of femininity. The question is a shaming mechanism, even subconsciously, to dissuade women from living beyond patriarchal constructs.

Habitually, women hear emotionally manipulative protestations covered in a blanket of concern.

“I just don’t want you to get hurt.” Or, “I couldn’t live with myself if anything bad happened to you.”

We don’t ask male solo travelers if they are scared. In fact, we don’t ask them anything at all, apart from what gear they’re using. Society respects that men are going out into the world for a purpose, whether that’s a public or private one, and even suggests radical places for them to visit or foods to try while they’re out. Solo male travelers get the proverbial pat on the back, while solo female travelers get slut shamed.

When I am told that I am brave for traveling alone, the word “brave” masks the intent. The purpose of the comment is to communicate that I am asking for it; that if I go, not to look for emotional respite when I get what I deserve; that it serves me right for thinking that I could live autonomously without consequences.

The much deeper subliminal message is that boys will be boys and, therefore, will not be held accountable for their actions. The marks boys leave on the bodies, hearts, and minds of women become the shame of the women who carry them—not the shame of the boys who make the marks.

Society accepts blaming the victim because fault is easier to point out when there’s a visible representation of brokenness. It’s the bruise that shows up, not the bruiser.

When society puts femininity on the endangered species list, men want to capture you and hang your head on the wall, each one priding himself on his trophy. It’s fear and greed that desire to kill healthy divergence, not the liberty of women.

This is the first time in global history that in certain countries, society agrees that women are human, and by which I mean complete beings with intrinsic purpose and a fully functioning person-hood. However, the patriarchal idea that women shouldn’t is still pervasive and spans across more categories than just travel. It permeates our offices, nights out on the town, and our most trusted interpersonal relationships.

Women grow up learning that men are either our protectors or perpetrators, and it’s up to us not to choose to be assaulted. This blame-shifting men’s responsibilities onto women is only being challenged now because, with irreversible success, women have fought to invaluably contribute to public society. Although not its intention, the patriarchy has raised women to utilize their intuition, brains, and ingenuity to corporately come forward and recreate culture.

Therefore, I am not brave for traveling alone. I am human. I am curious and conscious, and desire to continue learning. Because of circumstances completely out of my control, I was born in a time and place that propels the liberty of women forward instead of many exclusive societies that strip women of enacting their basic human desires. I am able to exist beyond what being female represents to much of the world, while still existing in my body as a woman.

For this luxury, I am forever thankful.

Through traveling, I have experienced human camaraderie by the innate commonalities that connect us and delight in seeing the things we have in common, instead of focusing on our disparities. Regardless of the historically adopted patriarchy, women and men have equal intrinsic value and purpose. We’re all made up of the same goop.

Therefore, while I have my being, I will travel.

I certainly will live; and along the act of being, I trust that I will meet humans who will continue to ask the question of bravery, with fear in their eyes.

Though tiring, I now welcome the conversation because those asking are on their own solo journey beyond comfort, and their curiosity inspires me to continue happily venturing into the world with myself. After all, every human being is ultimately a solo traveler.


author: Jamie King

Image: Fred Mouniguet/Unsplash

Editor: Catherine Monkman

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Patricia Kennedy Jan 18, 2019 9:37am

I love parts of this article. I do think it’s “brave” for women to travel alone, certainly NOT because I think they are “a slut” and “asking for it” if something happens. Simply because I was raised in a society that tells me I am not safe, that men can be preditors and for that reason I have fear. I fight through the fear and do things that I didn’t think possible. I am in my early 50’s and do things that other women “of my age” do not do. 🙂 I do admire and respect woman who strike out, who move past the fear. You are my inspiration. I long for a world where the only thing said to a woman with plans to travel is “Oh! Where are you adventuring this time? That sounds wonderful!” So I love aspects of your article but not the assumptions made that the question or comment is judgement filled. Good thought starter though… thank you!

Jessica Ruff Dec 12, 2018 11:48am

As a feminist and fellow solo traveler, I love this article. Happy traveling and don’t let anything stop you!

michael mitchell Dec 10, 2018 5:11pm

Great article. I’m an idealist and believe everyone should be free to live and travel as they like.
But in this world as a man I am afraid of what others might do to me. This is a violent world and people will hurt you and rip you off without any remorse.
Be careful out there. Don’t let your anger or pride get in the way of those who want no harm to come your way.

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Jamie King

Jamie King is a poet, traveler, yoga instructor, and somatic teacher who believes, at the source, everyone is an artist. A contemplative being, she spends much of her time in the mountains photographing nature, singing with the birds, and pretending she’s a shepherd in the 18th century.