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The Spectacle of a Woman Traveling Alone – Powerful Woman Monologue #15

May 7, 2012

About the Author: Nicole Sweeney is a graduate student living in Paris. Her degree will supposedly be in Global Communications, but she thinks of it more as “YouTube Studies” with a minor in “croissant eating.” She is obsessed with road trips, maps, and her deeply held belief that everything can be improved with glitter. Nicole blogs, vlogs, and tweets when she should be working on research papers.

“I would love to be able to come back with a boyfriend or husband.”

I thought this and immediately cringed. It’s not as though I said it out loud (but now I’m putting it on the internet, which is even worse) but the second my brain put the thought together, I wanted to unthink it.

The thought didn’t come from place of, “This could be so romantic.” Rather, it was about the implications of traveling as a woman without male companions.

I am a fairly independent person. No, that is understating the matter: I am a fiercely independent person. I do not do well with feeling attached to or in any way dependent upon other people. This can be a bit of a problem in its own right.

I have been fairly lucky: my family does not hassle me about my lack of relationships (though I suspect that they think it is a little weird) and they are incredibly supportive of the kinds of things that I choose to do for myself instead.

One of those things is travel. As an undergraduate I got to spend a semester in Ghana. This year, I decided to make use of my two week spring break and my proximity to the country (OK, no, France isn’t exactly right next door, but it’s certainly closer than anywhere in the United States) to return.

Sitting at a bar, peeling the label off my Star beer, and explaining that I was not married, the insidious thought crept in and took hold.

Perhaps because of how dearly I wished to wrench it free from my brain, it nagged at me throughout my trip. I have spent the last several weeks now obsessing over what was meant by it.

To be clear with myself: I was not saying that I needed a guy around to help me find my way around or do things. I was — and am — perfectly capable of all of that, and I knew it.

It was about mitigating the spectacle of being a woman traveling alone. (Or, in this case, with a female friend.)

When I was backpacking around Europe with my little brother, there were incidents here and there that called this issue to mind. We spent the night at Gare du Nord before taking a 5am train on our way from Paris to Barcelona. My brother slept while I stayed awake and watched our stuff.

Some teenage boys started hassling me, and my first thought was to make enough noise to wake my brother and the other man sleeping in the station.

Had a woman been nearby, would the thought have been the same? If I had the choice between who I should wake, who would I have chosen?

I have been taking cross country road trips in the US for as long as I have had a driver’s license (longer still, as a passenger). When I share these stories with people outside my family, the responses remind me how lucky I have been.  How lucky that my family should not view me as any less capable than my brothers.

How absurd is it that this is a thing that makes me feel “lucky”? Shouldn’t that be a given?

People are quick to tout the infinite horrors that could have fallen upon a sixteen year old girl alone on interstate highways. The focus is always on the threat created by “girl” rather than “teenager.”

Even at twenty-four, I get similar reactions. When I discuss my road trips, I am fully prepared for the conversations about the ways in which you can make it look like someone is asleep in the passenger seat. (I have employed many such tricks over the years.)

What bothers me about all of this isn’t the implication that I am in greater danger because I am female. This is perhaps true; I concede that I may be a more likely target, and that is unfortunate.

More bothersome, is that I am not expected to have considered this and taken precautions against it. What troubles me most of all is the idea that I am supposed to live my life a little less, in accordance with this supposed threat. I am, by virtue of being female, expected to water down my choices, lest I fall victim to the big scary world.

And that’s just bullshit.

For the remaining days of that recent trip to Ghana, I made arts-and-crafts projects out of my labels as I spouted off outlandish stories about my husband(s) back in the US; I made a personal game out of the kinds of things that I convince unwanted suitors to believe. It was better when I could laugh about it.

Each time someone I had known for approximately 90 seconds insisted that we should get married, the insidious thought snaked its way around my brain. “This would be so much easier.”

Perhaps. But what a silly way to view relationships, and what a cop out that would be, wouldn’t it? Setting aside the absurdity of reducing a relationship to these kinds of calculations, I can’t attempt to tip the scales, to make things any different, by accommodating the idea that I ought to seek male supervision.

It is, in truth, a relatively inconsequential price to pay. If anything, those moments are reminders of my own autonomy. They are reminders of just how wrong the idea of needing male supervision actually is. Because I’m there. I’m there and I’m having an amazing time and I am perfectly self sufficient.

I can only hope to encourage this view in those that I meet, and eventually raise any daughters I may have with this same self-assuredness — and tell that thought that it has no business in my decision-making.

About the series: Powerful Woman Monologues are compiled in response to the media’s representation of women as inspired by the film Miss Representation. If you would like to participate, email me. Any kind of creative contribution is welcome from anyone.

Special thanks to Ashley of Little Leaf Photography & Design for graciously creating the badge for our series!

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7 Comments leave one →
  1. May 9, 2012 9:34 am

    It’s so amazing how much of this “training” is in our heads. When you told me about your cross country tips, the internal gasp was definitely there. I know it’s something that was, maybe inadvertently, instilled by my mother, who is scared of all things.

    You are right, though. You are independent, and more, adventurous. It’s a beautiful picture of a powerful woman,

    • May 9, 2012 5:11 pm

      It is absolutely something that people are conditioned into. I don’t mean to imply that there is any sort of ill intent on the part of people who make comments like this. On the contrary, it usually comes from a place of concern for me — I just happen to find that concern coming from an under-examined place.

      Thank you ❤

      • May 11, 2012 1:04 pm

        You didn’t imply that at all. I know you know people are concerned. It really is just a shame that that’s so abnormal to hear of.

        Anytime, dear.

  2. August 7, 2012 7:34 am

    I’m always surprised by my confidence traveling when I’m alone. You get messages from the whole world almost that, like you said, your precaution means you need to live a little less, and I’ve found it makes me needlessly nervous. Once I’m out there, everything is fine, if not better than traveling with others. I’ve had more meaningful chats with folks while I’ve been solo, more invitations into homes, etc., though I sometimes wonder if that’s as a result of others wanting to “take care” of me while I’m all by myself. Anyway, interesting read!

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