Back in my home country the Netherlands and especially in Sweden -– where I used to live last year –- feminism is a big topic. I also considered myself a feminist, although I didn’t necessarily saw the need for being one.
Of course I would support women empowerment and equality between men and women. 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 complained about the low percentage of women in high and powerful positions.
If you ask me the same question right now I can give you an entirely different answer. Ever since I started traveling alone my perspective on feminism completely changed.
How the road changed my view on feminism completely
While studying, traveling and working in my home country as well as abroad 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 – always together with a male friend – I didn’t perceive much resistance from my surroundings on the whole ‘that’s not safe for women’ thing.
Resistance stared to come, however, when I finally 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 be told I could be) things changed.
I put myself out of the invisible ‘safety cocoon’ that existed as long as I travelled together with a guy, and with that I also seemed to have crossed an invisible line. Suddenly people were incredible worried about me, told me not to go out on my own and tried to stop me from doing what I wanted to do.
It appeared to me that it doesn’t matter how many times our western society tells us that women are equal to men and that we can do anything we like, because you will never know what that means in practice until you go to the extreme.
People who picked me up while I was hitchhiking in on my own proudly told me that their sons were also setting of on a journey, or that they themselves used to travel the world when they were young. However, they also told me they would lock up their daughters if they would try to do the same thing. The times I have been told that I could not hitchhike alone as a woman are countless. ‘It is dangerous out there for women, ‘certain things’ can be a problem for women, the world is bad for women, and so on.’ Fact is, hitchhiking and other extreme travellers options such as wildcamping, involve a risk no matter if you are a man or woman. Men who hitchhike often get to hear it is dangerous for them as well, although people would never say it is dangerous because of their gender. Women are still seen as the weaker sex, no matter how much equality is being promoted. This perspective still shows in Western Europe among all different ranges of society.
I started to realise we have a problem here. The problem could be me – as supposedly crazy individual who is going on a journey that is not supposed to be for women – but in sake for all the women that want to follow their hearts regardless of their gender, I think we more have to deal with a society problem. Specifically, the perspective of our western society on both men and women, which still contains so much more sexism and discrimination than I thought it did.
Role playing and perceptions on men and women
As I believe women and men should have the same rights and opportunities, I refuse to stop traveling by myself just because I will face more challenges than men. Yes, maybe the world is a more dangerous place for women and especially for women solo travelers, but that doesn’t mean we should stop doing what we love to do. The collective created fear is usually more dangerous than the danger itself.
From the day we are born we are put in some kind of role. 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 towards 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 role game has also 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.
Society actually teaches us that it is normal for men to become dangerous for women and that they should watch out for them. To try not to provoke (and apparently, hitchhiking alone is seen as a provoking). Fact is, in this way we are all encouraging to go on with this system of thought. We all participate in a society whereby this is the normal view on men and women.
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 casual sex? They are being judged by society as either being gay or a slut, which wouldn’t happen if the genders would be reversed.
I think it is time to realise that this perception of men and women is nothing more than just that: a perception.
Kim Berghout is a Travel Journalist and Freelance Writer. Her work has appeared on VOA PERSIA, STOP AND STARE, REAL IRAN, and more. Follow her travel updates and adventures on her Facebook page.