Anger can be unbecoming of a woman. This sentiment may have been an old proverb or uttered by a frightened husband.
A lone lady hopping to destinations is prone to a plethora of emotions. After all, this rare breed of traveler is subjected to stimuli that can’t be deflected off someone else.
From unlivable hostel hovels to break neck tuk-tuk rides to ingesting dog entrails that leave us writhing alone in that hovel we complained about five hours ago.
Truly, we are all on our own.
Another thing that we are left to deal with is the barrage of male attention.
Whether you are gay, straight or bisexual – it seems men in the Arab world, Europe or Asia usually assume you are an erect arrow and fair game.
This is when we rise to anger.
The attention, while sometimes flattering, can also go from 0 to 360 degrees of annoying.
The simple task of walking down the street is fraught with intense catcalls, potential groping or outright marriage proposals.
And all we wanted was to walk down the street and buy some damn oranges.
So, how to deal with shadowy characters – the hungry dogs encircling? That never ending mating dance?
According to an article by Huffington Post, the Canadian government recommends we don fake wedding rings and keep pictures of our phony husbands in a side pocket. Like a calling card that you drop on the table should things turn ugly.
“Her Own Way: A Women’s Safe Travel Guide” first made its appearance in 2000, a guide targeted to female solo travelers, offering tips and advice on how to deal with sexual harassment or find safe accommodation.
The updated 2011 version advises women to devise the fake ring and photo scam, because “being seen as married will lower your profile and stave off uninvited advances.”
What makes this Canadian travel brochure so unique is it’s the first authoritative body to publish such findings. The justification for the findings was gathered by consulting “dozens of experienced women travellers, missions abroad, consular case management officers and travel experts.”
Do I believe it? Certainly do. Do I think we should? This is where I’m torn. And slightly embarrassed that Canada released such a guide.
I was alive in 2000, believe it or not. Solo trips were undertaken during the first part of the millennium, and frankly – my ring finger remained bare.
To this day, it’s remained bare. I have only ever pulled out the boyfriend story twice. The first time was in Jaipur, when my self appointed guide suggested we go to a park where men and women kiss. The second incident was in Udaipur when on the back of a motorbike my driver declared me the most beautiful girl he’d ever laid eyes on. The instinct to burst out with an imaginary boyfriend had to do with the darkness and my terrible mapping skills.
As a general rule, I won’t wear a ring nor dislodge my downloaded photo of Fabio (how they are going to know he isn’t really my husband) to thrust it at a man who longs to taste the nectar of Jeannie.
You might wonder, what makes me so smug. A commanding voice over the PA system?
I’m in the field, I should know.
This is when I rise to anger. I don’t see why I should. Why I have to bend to the power of a ring – fake or not. That I cannot rely on the power of myself. Riddle me with the bullets of an idealist.
That badge, I will wear proudly.
In my fieldwork, when a man is aggressive, he simply is – whether I’m cloaked in the illusion of marriage or not. Even after I told the motorbike suitor of “Dave”, he still persisted in sullying me with why I was as beautiful as a mountain spring.
When I’ve gone in as my solo self, the tide can turn. Instead of being on constant guard and suspicious of every move or vocal engagement, the chances of encountering some special moments came to me. Sharing tea at someone’s home or swapping stories over a meal at an outdoor café. That swell of exchange that I love so much. To potentially cut myself off is akin to removing a limb.
Naturally, of course, there’s another reality. Some women are scared. Worried. Instead of prattling on about me, what about you?
The tone of the Huffington article might sum up this thought well:
“It’s an approach that some Canadians believe is deceitful, paternalistic and preachy, while others think the lie is a good safety technique for women..”
Maybe I’ve been riding on pure luck and my time is about to end. Could be that I’m just not attractive enough to garner heaps of proposals. Or I move through that shantytown or this favela with an over confident swagger that leaves men weak-kneed and stupid.
Another factor to consider is outward appearance. I’m neither blonde nor fully Caucasian, thus the reactions I receive are probably different than what other women get.
To come to the point, it really is up to you – the individual woman to decide what to do.
Will I jump on that bandwagon? Never. Not because I won’t back up your decision, but because I can’t.
Existentially, I’m just not that kind of solo female traveler.
Photo: Kathleen Waters Photography