The view from here
"The first problem for all of us, men and women, is not to learn, but to unlearn." — Gloria Steinem
The news coming out of Hollywood over the last few weeks has been both disturbing and empowering. The fact that women feel supported enough to share their stories and start a dialogue is a shining light in an otherwise upsetting situation. Finally the victims can take comfort in each other’s collective stand and hopefully get some justice.
I think we can all relate in some way to the neverending stories about sexual misconduct. Being allowed to talk about it feels strange though. And uncomfortable. We’ve been trained for so long to brush it off or just accept it as part of life that giving the subject air feels foreign. I think for many it is still too weird or too hard to join in the chorus of women saying #MeToo. It’s not quite safe out there yet.
I wrote a blog last year about getting harassed in Samoa, and while I shared it with some circles, I didn’t share it on Facebook for fear it would make people uncomfortable. And I guess that’s a big part of the problem. I didn’t do anything wrong and yet the onus to make people feel comfortable falls on me. And once the story is out there, everyone has an opinion. Judging whether it’s “bad enough” to share. Judging if you did the right thing. Maybe feeling sorry for you. Judging your motives for sharing it. It’s amazing what vastly different conclusions people can draw from the same information.
You’re probably now curious about the severity of that encounter. A natural reaction. But how will your feelings about it change once you know the details? And what details will you need to make your decision?
I think we all need to ask ourselves why our first response when hearing of an assault involves rating a woman’s “deservedness” of that assault. Myself included. This shit runs deep!
Good girl versus bad girl
Coming back to Hollywood, the epicentre of popular culture. The male-driven message delivered in every medium is that the chaste and honourable girls are worthy of our sympathy. But the edgy ones who break the rules are not worth a second thought. They don’t bag the Prince Charmings. And they are usually causing trouble somewhere in the plot. The bad boy can always be tamed by a virgin. But the bad girl can never be cured. She’s irredeemable.
When women are presented in this way, it gives this black and white perception of who you can be and how you should be treated. Women are not to be given human-esque qualities like the men are allowed, you know - flawed and yet good. You are a perfect woman or a nasty woman - there is no in-between.
Translation: If something bad happens to you, it must be your fault. Good things happen to good girls. Bad things happen to bad girls.
And society buys into it in every possible way.
When we first started Travelher, I would l write a weekly blog post rounding up the most recent annoying and frustrating headlines in the media about female travel. They were usually clickbait phrases hinting at the dangers of women traveling alone, or commentary on tragic events that had befallen a female traveler.
As a travel writer and a champion of female travel, it enrages me when, upon hearing about a young woman murdered in Mozambique or an English teacher getting raped in South Korea, the public response falls somewhere along the lines of, “Well, what was she even doing there?”
The media fuels the fire with their account of the background story. They speak of the country in question as a dangerous minefield of hazards for a woman, goading the reader into the conclusion that the only way to have prevented this inevitable outcome would be for her to have just stayed home like a good little girl.
Social media jury verdict
And then the comments section goes wild with pearls of wisdom like, ‘why would anyone want to go there?’, ‘you go to these backward countries, you deserve what you get’, ‘you had to know what would happen if you went there alone,’ etc. etc.
It’s the contempt that really stings when I read these comments. Somehow the notion of traveling to a foreign country is more offensive to people than the act of physically harming someone. They dissect the woman’s existence and question her choices. Her friends and family can’t help but wish that she just never went there at all.
Hey, as long as we’re wishing for something, shouldn’t it be for a world where certain men don’t feel entitled to a woman’s body? Why is the go-to wish that our girl had chosen to live a smaller, safer, quieter life?
By putting all of the focus on the actions of the female, we are basically giving the male the benefit of the doubt that he just can’t help himself - essentially equating his behavior to that of a wild animal. Her presence alone is enough to set these terrible events in motion.
Maybe it’s easier for people to believe that such a heinous thing can’t just happen without provocation. So reasons that look like fault are created to make sense of it and bring back a sense of control. What did you do to trigger that sort of behavior? Clearly it must have been something! Ah yes, you were there. And a man has no self control. It’s simply impossible for him not to assault you when you’re there, looking like a woman.
Do you see how ridiculous this sounds? Why do we let this continue?
I’m not saying that women don’t have to take steps to ensure their own safety. Of course we do. Men and women both do. But when we equate locking your car door at night with “dressing appropriately”, we perpetuate the idea that a woman is to be thought of as a possession - there for the taking if not locked up tight.
Who are you all dressed up for?
How isolating and demoralising for a woman to experience an assault while fulfilling her dreams (whether that is seeing the world, getting a part in a movie or anything else) only to then feel guilty for ever having those kinds of ambitions? Going down a shame spiral because simply existing as a female makes you vulnerable to an attack at all times. How dare you let your guard down - don’t you know how dangerous the world is?
If it takes a man having a daughter of his own, or thinking of a victim as his mother or sister to care, what does that say about the value of a female? Shouldn’t we care if something sinister happens to another human being, full stop?
It’s about time we recognise and acknowledge that 1) The toxic ‘boys will be boys’’ justification is an excuse to pass the blame for abhorrent behaviour onto women; and 2) Women are so used to carrying this responsibility that it’s hard to unravel it from our existence.
I must admit that with all of these stories coming out I have sometimes felt sorry for the predator being publicly embarrassed in such a way. Trying to justify their behavior in my head, because that is the knee jerk response. “I’m sure he didn’t mean to do that on purpose. That just happens sometimes. Maybe it didn’t go down the way she said it did. Maybe it was more normal back then. Maybe he didn’t know any better.”
All garbage. They know what is wrong. But it’s such a trained response to shy away from the truth and try to smooth things over. “Shhhhh, don’t say such horrible things, can’t you see you’re making everyone uncomfortable?!” My inner obedient child wants to take the shame and embarrassment back be buried in the female camp instead of putting out in the open where it belongs.
The compulsion to keep the peace to our own detriment runs so deep it’s tough to fight it alone in front of my computer, let alone out there in the face of a deeply entrenched culture. But if we continue to explain away the predatory actions of men, they will always be excused. And if we continue to treat sexual assault as an inevitability, it will continue to be inevitable.
Men are not faultless animals with no self-control.
Women are not prey or possessions to be used as entertainment.
This is not just a Hollywood problem. Or an American problem. Or a foreign travel problem. And it isn’t going to change overnight. But it does have to change. And we have to change.
It will feel incredibly uncomfortable to start. You might have to look at people you know a little differently, or respond to them in a different way. Maybe you take a deep breath and tell your story, or offer support to someone else who told theirs. Maybe you take a stand in a situation where you’d normally just ignore it or laugh it off.
Bit by bit, attitudes will start to change and the tide will shift.
This feels like an important moment in time. Let’s seize on it and start working for a future where no one thinks to ask, “what was she even doing there,” and no one has to say #MeToo.
Author - Meghan Advent
Meghan is the co-founder and head editor of Travelher. She is passionate about travel, women's rights and every cat everywhere.