How the road made me a feminist


travel and feminism

Back in my home country the Netherlands and especially in Sweden – where I used to live last year – feminism was (and still is) a big topic. I as well considered myself a feminist, but honestly.. I did not see the exact need for being one. Of course I would support women empowerment and equality between man and women. For sure! However, if you would have asked me back then if I felt discriminated or differently treated because I am a woman I would probably have shrugged my shoulders and complain about the low percentage of women in high and powerful positions in the government and corporations.

If you would ask me the same question right now I can give you an entirely different and much more extended answer, because ever since I started traveling alone.. my perspective on feminism completely changed. The road really took my view on this topic to a whole new level.

Traveling alone has taken my view on feminism to a whole new level.

Allow me to explain..

While studying, working, traveling – basically living my live in different countries – I could do similar things as men do without any problems. Except for the ‘safety issue’, which I didn’t come across much, I didn’t notice a lot of differences between the two genders. Whenever something was not considered ‘safe’ for a woman there was always a solution. From my gentle male friends who offered to bring me home in the dark to a random male friend I found to join me on my travels. Even when I started to travel more extremely by using hitchhiking and wildcamping – with a male friend – I didn’t perceive much resistance from my surroundings on the whole ‘being a woman’ thing.

Resistance stared to come, however, when I decided I didn’t need to depend on a guy to be able to travel – or to be able to do anything for that matter. When I decided that I could be completely independent (which is something I was lucky enough to have been told I could be), things changed.

I realised I could also go out of this ‘safety cocoon’ that apparently existed as long as I travelled together with a guy.

And when I did that, I apparently went too far.

Because, you know.. no matter how many times our western society tells us that women are equal to men and that we can do anything we like… you will never know what that means in practice until you go to the extreme.

I was picked up by so many people who proudly tell me about their sons that are setting of on a journey, or that they themselves used to travel the world when they were young – but who also tell me they would lock their daughters up if they would do the same thing.

The times I have been told I could not/should not/must not hitchhike alone as a woman are countless. Since I started hitchhiking by myself I have heard such a range of different stories why women shouldn’t do what I do. That it is dangerous out there for women. That ‘certain things’ can be a problem for women. That the world is bad for women, because men are animals and women should watch out for them. 

Notice that I am not talking about cultural differences here. This is Western Europe. This is Scandinavia, the Netherlands, Germany and the countries surrounding it. This mind-set comes from the business people, the mothers, the used-to travellers, students, left- and right wing people. This perspective turns out to be very common among all the different ranges of society.

(Of course men also get to hear hitchhiking is dangerous, but they do not get to hear that it is dangerous because they are a man. To make clear what I am talking about.)

I started to realise we really have a problem here. And the problem was not me – as supposedly crazy individual who is going out there on a journey that is not supposed to be for women. It is the perspective of society on both men and women – in the whole word in general and for the sake of this argument in the western world in specific – that contains still so much more sexism and discrimination than I thought it would.

Because – why would it be dangerous because I am a woman? Why is the world a bad place for women? Why are men considered to be bad, dangerous creatures? Are you kidding me!? Aren’t we trying to teach our society right now that men and women are equal to each other – different physically and maybe mentally in some aspects – but still equal. I thought we were, I still believe we are.

Men are not animals. Women are also not fragile dolls that have to be protected all the time. Djeez. Hell no.

Encountering all these prejudgments and over-concernedly regarding me traveling by myself made me think where this ‘men are bad, watch out for them, you women’ perspective comes from.

From the day we are born we are put in some kind of roll. Boys are given blue clothes, cars and violent computer games. Girls get pink dresses, dolls and bracelet making stuff. We teach the boys to be tough, to be ‘a man’, hide their soft side and to be protective and respectful to women. We teach the girls to be caring, hide their aggressive side and to be careful for the desires of these so-called man creatures.

The roll game has taught us that as a guy you have to ‘hunt’ women, and as a woman you have to passively wait until a guy comes to you. As a guy, you are encouraged to talk shit about women and brag about how many of them you have seduced. As a girl, you are told to be careful for the sexual desires of men and not give in too fast.

Society actually teaches us from the day we are born that it is normal for men to become dangerous for women and that women should watch out for them. Try not to provoke (and apparently, hitchhiking alone is seen as a provoking something). Fact is, in this way we all encourage to go on with this system of thought. We all participate in a society whereby this is a normal view on men and women.

Who wants to be stuck between the borders of perception, without the possibility to move freely between them?

I don’t think this is satisfying for either of the sexes. Who wants to be stuck between the borders of perception, without the possibility to move freely between them? What if you earn more than your boyfriend does, or as a husband you would rather stay at home with your kids than working fulltime? What if a guy likes to build up an emotional relationship before getting intimate with someone, or if a woman likes to go after a guy herself for some casual sex? They are being judged by society as either being gay or a slut, which wouldn’t happen if the genders would be switched.

I think it is time to realise that this perception of men and women is nothing more than just that: a perception.

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