What People Said Before I Left
I’m a woman. And a traveler. As 18th Century as it sounds, people still have issues with that. Especially if I’m solo. Because everything is safe and sane if I had a man on my arm. So what were some of the things I heard when I told people about my tiny 3-month trip?
“You’re still young and foolish.”
“Jeff’s not going with you!?”
“I could never do that.”
“Wow.” (More like “wow you’re foolish” rather than “wow I’m impressed.”)
The biggest reveal of their opinion isn’t their words, but their eyes. Filled with doubt and judgement, pity, and even humor. No one believes I can do this. No one believes I can even do one trip, despite this being my career choice.
Do they say the same things if a woman wants to go to medical school? Do we doubt women’s abilities so much that they still can’t even be trusted to navigate a country on their own? How much more capable does society view men, that simply traveling with them makes this completely feasible? What about having a man with us makes us any more safe? Men get lost constantly. So they can’t help me with that. Protection? I’ve taken more self-defense, kickboxing, and krav maga than any man I know. So while the likelihood of me being attacked is higher, I’ve done all I can to protect myself and am more confident then simply having a man on my arm for protection.
So why isn’t their initial reaction genuine pride or amazement? Why is it always laced with doubt and humor? Why are we still discouraging women from doing amazing things on their own?
It’s fucking 2017.
Perhaps sometimes it isn’t that they doubt my ability, but rather they don’t think I should even try. This isn’t the first time I’ve done something confrontational, as a woman. As you might now, I decided to be childfree. This not only went against my ingrained religious beliefs (that I did shake), but against my “duty” as a woman. Even despite hearing my dreams of travel and freedom, people are still shocked to learn I don’t ever intend to reproduce. My husband may get the occasional naysayer, but he’ll never face the criticism I will for this choice. To many, my place is in the home. Not traveling the world (even if I can). So it’s perhaps not that I can’t, but that I shouldn’t.
And to that, I say fuck off.
This isn’t a foreign concept for me. When I left religion, when I got a tattoo, when I had my first drink, the support I thought I had weakened until it is now wafer thin. As I become more and more the person I want to be, the person I’m thrilled about becoming, the woman my younger self didn’t know was possible, I’m finding myself less supported than ever. Because it isn’t me who is supported. It’s the ideal version they’d like to see that’s supported.
So it is my job to prove them wrong. Prove them wrong on my abilities AND my purpose. They will doubt this trip. They may doubt a little less the next trip. But by the third trip, even if many believe I shouldn’t be doing this, they’ll no longer doubt my ability. The impression will be genuine, even if it is tainted with disapproval. The doubt and humor will be gone. It’s ridiculous that I have to prove them wrong in order to be given the respect a man would have immediately. Because if I were a man and claiming to do the same, I know I wouldn’t be met with doubt or humor or judgement.
But I’m not a man. I’m a woman. And women are sadly still having to prove themselves just as capable and competent as men. So while I want to do all I can for feminism, the act of traveling alone might be my biggest contribution. For everyone that knows me, everyone that doubts this is possible, their hearts will be changed by this, even if only a little. So next time, they might not doubt a family member or friend or even stranger who wants to do something great, even if it goes against societal norms.
This is my hope at least. But it’ll likely take much more to change the hearts of people, mostly men. When I tell women, I sometimes see this spark of longing, of admiration in their eyes. Men smile appeasingly, shake their head, their eyes wide with doubt. While the women on their arms, unbeknownst to them, would dream of doing something like that. Their men may never know.
My solo travel plans aren’t the first to be met with doubt and lack of support, and they won’t be the last. I’m going against what society wants for a woman. And it’s something I’m coming to accept. The more I define myself, the less support I’ll have.
And that’s okay.
So while it won’t be magnanimous, it won’t be overnight, it will do something. My trips just might help change a man’s confidence in women, and it might just inspire a woman to go after her own dreams, no matter how many men have told her it’s “foolish”.
And now, some amazing quotes from awesome women to bolster my spirits (and yours too!):
“I am not afraid of storms, for I am learning to sail my ship.” –Louisa May Alcott
“The final forming of a person’s character lies in their own hands.” –Anne Frank
“I declare to you that women must not depend upon the protection of a man, but must be taught to protect herself, and there I take my stand.” –Susan B Anthony
“A lot of people are afraid to say what they want. That’s why they don’t get what they want.” –Madonna
What have you done that people doubted? Was it because you are a woman? Have you slipped up and doubted someone because they were female? Tell me about it!