Sunday, September 15, 2013

On Week 2 of being a solo woman traveler

I am not new to travel, but I am new to traveling alone. When I told my plans to family and friends I met with a lot of concern and heard "be safe" a lot more than "have fun". Sadly, there's good reason for that. As a woman traveling alone, I am a target. I wish that wasn't the case, wish I could ignore that that is the case, but I can't.

Two weeks into my trip and there is already absolutely no doubt in my mind that traveling alone is way different than traveling as a group or a couple, and traveling alone as a woman amplifies and adds all kinds of problems. I knew that would be the case when I left, hence no small deal of anxiety about the trip as it approached.

When planning my trip, I read several blogs by women who travel solo, most notably a little adrift. One thing that struck me when looking at their packing lists were three items that appeared over and over: the DivaCup, a whistle, and a doorstop.

I'll probably talk about the DivaCup at some other point, but trust me ladies, it's awesome (once you convince yourself it isn't any grosser than what you already use...and for the record, my experience with it was significantly less Macbeth-ish than this Jezebel poster's...).

Then there's the whistle. I always carry a whistle when I backpack, but it's to protect myself from bears and help people find me if I'm lost in the woods. These women weren't backpacking in the woods though, they were traveling in urban environments. The whistle was for protection from other humans.

My doorstop
Finally there's the doorstop. The "put this behind your door at your hotel/ hostel/ guesthouse/ family stay so that nobody can come in and rape you" doorstop. Because that's an issue? Men breaking through flimsy hostel locks to rape women? Am I the only one who things, not, "oh, great idea, I'll get a doorstop," but "WHY THE FUCK IS THE WORLD SO MESSED UP THAT THIS IS NECESSARY??"

I got a doorstop.

And I was damned glad I had it last night.

Last night, when a 40-something year old man staying at the hostel latched onto me, standing close to me while I cooked and touching my arm and asking me questions, most of which I didn't understand, and when I communicated that I didn't understand, would get closer to me, stroke my arm, and slur his Spanish even more in what I'm sure he thought was a sexy voice but which I thought was creepy as shit. Then sitting right next to me at dinner and insisting that I drink with him (I drank from my own glass from my own bottle of wine, and stayed sober), smoke with him (heeeelll no), telling me repeatedly that I should go out dancing with him, asking the others at the table to tell me that he wanted me to dance, making kissing noises and following me when I went to wash my dishes. Afraid he would follow me to my room, I stayed at the table until he disappeared to use the restroom, then bolted to my room, locked the door, and stuffed the doorstop in. Sure enough, later that night he stopped by, knocked and said something, and I ignored. He tried the door, which was locked. He knocked more. Eventually he left, but I had that whistle ready and was glad for the extra level of security the doorstop added, since the lock would not be hard to pick and the door easy to bust open. Later that night I overheard two girls saying that "the creepy guy is asleep on the floor". Awesome.

I stayed in my room until late the next morning, hoping that if I came out late enough, he would be gone. Backfired. Just as I was eating breakfast, he arrived and sat with me. Pulling the same arm stroking (yanked away arm, he didn't stop, said "No!", he didn't stop) and one-way conversation shit as the night before. I stood up, and walked to my room. He followed me. I was glad I had left my room unlocked so that I could slip right inside and slam and lock the door before he got there behind me. He knocked, stayed at the door. When I ignored him I heard him walking back and forth down the hallway, probably pretending not to be standing at the door since the hostel proprietor was nearby.

I sat silently on my bed in my room for at least an hour and wept into my pillow, pretending to be invisible, doing the whole turtle thing I always do when in situations like these. I felt helpless, terrified, trapped.

But a little voice said, "This is BULLSHIT. Bullshit that I am locked in a room because of some sleazy creep. Bullshit that I am here, in Argentina, wanting to have an incredible time and enjoy some life after 6 years of grad school, and am afraid to leave my room. B-U-L-L-S-H-I-T.

So I grabbed my whistle. And I left my room, locking it behind me so he couldn't surprise me inside when I returned. I walked to the hostel lobby, and with my translate app on my phone told the hostel proprieter that the guy wouldn't leave me alone, and asked when he was leaving.The proprieter looked concerned and assured me that the guy would be leaving later that day. And then I sat in the lobby and worked instead of hiding in my room like before. And that time when the guy walked in to bother me, the proprieter was there, so he didn't. And I felt just a little bit better, a little bit stronger, and a little bit proud of myself for not letting the creep confine me to my room. I actually did something, even if it was a small something, a huge departure from my usual curl up and cry and try to disappear until the perpetrator leaves the scene routine.

I've got a long way to go before I really feel good about the way I stand up in situations like these. There's a balance to strike between being paranoid, and being safe. Between provoking a physical conflict that I am not likely to win (I'm feisty and will scratch, claw, bite, kick, and scream if provoked, but mass simply isn't on my side) and responding in a way that makes me feel weak, small, and defeated. Between being rude and offending people who are simply used to different cultural standards of behavior, and accepting and encouraging behavior that I feel puts me at risk. Between being the warm, open, caring, and friendly human being I want to be, and being cold and rude and treating people like they are invisible to me in order to make my lack of sexual interest completely clear.

And that's the heart of the issue. It makes me angry that I have to, by default, treat every man I come across in my travels and my life as a potentially dangerous dick on a stick until I get to know him well enough to trust him. That I have to be wary, have to be mistrustful, have to be careful not to smile too often, not to make too much eye contact when I talk, not to ask too many questions or express too much interest in the person--another human being who I would like to get to know, learn from, understand--because too many men in my life have taken that friendliness and genuine interest and basic love for my fellow humans as sexual willingness.

So I'm just going to put this out there: No. Blanket no. I don't care who you are, how attractive you think you are, how much better you think you would be for me than anyone else I've ever dated, how awesome you think your dick is, how sexy your voice is, how well you dance, how well you cook, or how romantic are the sweet nothings you creepily whisper into my unwilling ear, the answer is N-O. I'm not on this trip to pick up your nasty STDs or even to pick up a perfectly wonderful boyfriend. I'm here to be alone, I know it's hard to believe, but I want to be alone. So if it's sex you want, stay the hell away from me, I don't want it. If you try anything I'm going to blast your fucking eardrums out, and god help you if you harass me again while I'm chopping vegetables, because you'll be eating your own Rocky Mountain Oysters. [insert threatening Carie face here]

With all that said, I am glad and very grateful to be here. In numbers I have had far more good experiences here with people (including men) than bad. Women face this shit wherever they are, not just while traveling, and I am seeing things I've always wanted to see, doing things I've always wanted to do.

Not going to let creeps stop me from enjoying this.

By throwing myself into a situation where I'm bound to face some of my greatest fears and be constantly made uncomfortable, I'm forcing myself to either become who I want to be or go home (and I'm no quitter!). I am, every day, becoming a little bit more confident and comfortable in my own skin. And that's one of the goals, isn't it?