By FREYA SAWBRIDGE

 

The other day I was sitting in the pub after hitchhiking and couchsurfing around Ireland. While discussing my adventures with a local Irish guy, I could see him becoming increasingly angry. Eventually he accused me of being “totally naive” and “irresponsible” for putting myself in such risky situations and told me he would “never let his sister do this.”

I paused, having found myself in the ever-common limbo state between brushing off his sexist judgement and challenging it. A quote that I had seen earlier that day pressed in on me, “If you remain neutral in times of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor.” I know this quote isn’t strictly applicable as it refers more to major moral debates rather than casual pub conversations, but I have personally adapted it to the following: No change ever comes from sitting quiet. 

There is definitely a time and place to confront fear and prejudice but if you always let things slide, for the sake of ease, or to avoid the label of being “that crazy b*tch,” nothing will ever begin to improve. So I spoke.

For women to stop travelling alone would be acknowledge that we are to blame if anything bad happens and, by extension, to collaborate in our own oppression. My gender is continually emphasised to the detriment of my independence; my vulnerability is signalled rather than my strength and courage praised. Half the world is to submit whilst the other half continues to enjoy what it views as provocative and wilful when exercised by women. Men corrupt cause and effect in order to perpetuate their sense of entitlement and their social and political power.  Is it really me who needs to change?

Amidst all the sexism and prejudice stands this vital fact: Women are never to blame when they are beaten or molested by men. If I get sexually abused while couchsurfing at a stranger’s house and you condemn me, your belief is as corrupt and simplistic as that of those who tell a woman who gets raped that it is because her skirt was too short. If I get attacked while hitchhiking and you tell me I am to blame for taking such a risk, again your opinion is as wrong as the aforementioned. 

We can’t, and won’t, escape the possibility of attack whether we are in our own community or on another continent, so to suggest that no woman should travel alone is illogical when no country has successfully tackled, or stopped, gender inequality and sexual violence. I take safety precautions when travelling because I am not arrogant enough to believe I am invincible, but I want to take these precautions because I am human, not because I am female.

I travel solo and I take risks while travelling because I believe that the challenges faced and obstacles overcome are what life is all about. I will not succumb to the fear induced by the potential actions of others and stop living the life that is mine. Moreover, refraining from any activity through fear will never stop attacks from occurring.

Challenge sexism, refrain from judgment and always extend compassion. And one final note to the guy in the bar: I’m glad I’m not your sister. 

 

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