“You are travelling alone?” is an incredulous question I am sure every solo woman traveller has come across at some point in time or the other. This will be followed by a string of curious questions about where you come from, why you are not married and others, basically, what the hell are you – a woman – doing travelling alone. Then there will be some moments of disbelief, silent judging, contempt or worse, mockery. And of course, let’s not forget the underlying envy and jealousy too!
Well, this is what most women who travel solo are deeply familiar with. In a patriarchal society like ours, the sole duty of a woman seems to be to learn household chores as a kid, get married to a suitable suitor eventually, look after kids as a housewife and die a non-existent death soon after. A woman’s journey is supposed to be limited to a captivated life under the sheltered arch of a father or a husband.
Thus, it may seem pretty daunting for a woman to live or even dream of a life of freedom. However, there are many women all around the world who are defying this and still pursuing their dreams. There are many inspiring stories of women who are breaking gender stereotypes and setting an example.
Solo female travellers are an example of this breed of women. Initiated by inspiring women from Western countries, many women from India are joining this trend by emerging out of their protective cocoons and heading out to conquer the world. Completely oblivious to all obstacles, they are challenging our constrictive social norms with their courageous activities. Their blogs are shining examples of what women can do when they embrace their individuality without a worry about others.
In spite of their valiant acts, the solo female travellers too face a lot of criticism for their choices and the naysayers who discourage them are many. Here are 8 stereotypes that solo women travellers face while travelling and how to break them with style.
- Girls are weak: For years women have been termed as the weaker sex. Femininity has always been anointed with fragility. It is believed that women are incapable of physical labour and doing tasks that require a lot of strength. Even their emotional strength are belittled. However, the truth remains that all of this is false. According to a research, women have a longer life expectancy than men. The world’s oldest living person, 117-year-old Violet Brown from Jamaica, is a woman. This proves the longevity of the feminine gender. Moreover, women are equally suited to physically challenging activities. Women travellers are equally adept at hiking, trekking and other adventurous activities. Take for example Bhumika Sharma, a 21-year-old bodybuilder from India who went on to win the coveted Miss World title at the World Bodybuilding Championship in Venice.
- Girls should not travel alone: This tops the list of “do nots” that women have to listen to. People always try to portray the world as this grim place full of violence and crime and it is especially unsafe for women to venture out into it alone. But unfortunately, that’s rarely the case. What they forget to mention is that they are the ones who make it so and let it remain so. The fact is that safety is dependent on awareness. To avoid all dangers all you will need is to be alert. So a place which is dangerous for men will be equally dangerous for women and vice versa. Thus women should travel alone provided they have done the preliminary research about a destination and avoid potentially dangerous places and stay alert.
- Girls can’t play sports: Another stereotype that does the rounds are that women are not made for sports. This is again a reflection of deeply entrenched patriarchal values lingering in the society that equates sports with masculinity. This completely diminishes the ethos of the game. Sports is more a form of empowerment rather than a show of strength. It boosts confidence, infuses vitality and harbours competitive spirit irrespective of gender. Several women like Saina Nehwal, Mary Kom, PV Sindhu, Mithali Raj and others completely bash the myth that women are not good for sports.
- Girls can’t drive: A very common stereotype that we see around us every day is the prejudice for women drivers. It is as if all drivers who drive badly are supposed to be women. This prejudice even lacks a logical reasoning. There is a lot of unnecessary peer pressure that falls on women with regards to this, Thus it takes double the effort for a woman to prove herself. In this field too, women have proved their worth and cracked the misogynistic mentality of men. Consider the example of Mira Erda, the 17-year-old woman driver who is also the youngest Indian driver to participate in the Euro JK series of F1 racing.
- Girls should be back home by 7 pm: Girls are faced with many restrictions imposed upon them because of their gender. One of the pertinent ones is that girls shouldn’t be out at night and should be back home by 7 pm. There are plenty of rape, molestation and sexual abuse cases filling the papers every day. When asked for a solution for this, the most common answer that arises is that why should women be out in the dark at all. The sad part is that women are expected to change their behaviour even though they are not the perpetrators of the crime. In the context of travel, this is again a burning issue. Although the onus is not on men to decide the time when a girl should or should not be out, it is prudent for a woman to take account of the risks before venturing to any place. While you shouldn’t let prejudices restrict your movements, having a little bit of common sense is not bad too.
- Girls should be pretty: The process of social judgement is unending for girls. For ages, girls have been objectified on the basis of their looks. The first characteristic attributed to a girl is her prettiness. Only then comes others like wit, intelligence etc. This shallow form of compartmentalisation is sickening. Girls aren’t just meant to be pretty. One can imagine a woman to be so much more than just her looks. By confining her to just her facial features, one limits the entire capability of a woman. This debilitating habit is downright outrageous. A woman can have so many feathers on a cap. Her achievements are in no way defined by her looks.
- Girls are blondes: Another one that follows closely on the heels of the previous one is the dumb blonde stereotype. This shallow categorisation is based on the colour of a woman’s hair. Apparently, girls with blonde hair are considered to be dumb. Not only this is untrue but outright insulting. According to a scientific research, it has been proven that girls with blonde hair are smart. So that’s another myth debunked!
- Girls can’t be friends: This has been heard so many times. Not only does this stereotype roam wildly in celebrity circles but it can also be heard in other arenas. It is often believed that two girls cannot be best friends. A look at travel blogs of several solo women travellers can easily burst this bubble. The kind of camaraderie shared by women travellers is amazing to observe. Moreover, there are huge communities growing around women travellers that offer advice, tips and guides to inspire other women to take the step. This shows the amount of goodwill that is exuded among the gender. Not only are girls good friends but they also travel together.
So all female Wravelers, bash all the stereotypes trying to pull you down, get your backpack and go!
Break the stereotype. Be a Wraveler for life!
Do you have any experiences of stereotypes to share?