Most of my travels have been problem free and gone pretty smoothly. I’ve felt safe as a solo woman on overnight buses in India and walking around Istanbul at night. But unfortunately, dealing with creepy men while travelling is something that you have to face sometimes, especially as a solo female.
My experiences have included a waiter following me home in Konya and a random guy yelling at me after I turned down his advancements in Istanbul. A boy groped me in Antalya. A group of guys followed me and yelled at me in Kochin. In Delhi, a guy insisted on giving me a ‘sexy massage’ – special free price for me. All across India, men asked me for selfies with their arm awkwardly around me, even though that is 100% weird and inappropriate in their culture. These things can be really scary. And they’re only minor incidents compared to what other solo female travellers have experienced.
I’m not saying this to scare anyone from travelling because I don’t think it should stop you. But it would be unfair and disingenuous of me to gloss over the reality.
There have also been less dramatic instances. Guys have interrupted my afternoons of solo beach relaxation. They assumed that it’s okay to sit next to me and start asking me where my husband is. A solo wander through the Grand Bazar became a prolonged affair of turning down requests for my phone number. It does not make me feel flattered or complimented. It’s just humiliating. It makes me feel like my value lies in my butt instead of my brain.
It’s also really upsetting to have a pleasant, friendly conversation with someone only to end with an awkward rejection when they ask for more than friendship.
No matter how much I covered up, my hair, my skin and my mannerisms made it obvious that I’m not a local in many countries. The depiction of women in Hollywood has also portrayed Western women as ‘loose’ if you get what I mean, so some guys in conservative cultures think we blondies are up for anything.
So. In light of these experiences, there’s been one big thing that I’ve learnt that has completely changed how I feel in these situations. **drumroll please**
My number one tip is:
Remember that you don’t have to be nice.
Too simple? Definitely. Will it stop the harassment? Absolutely not. Will it make you feel empowered and badass in a dehumanising situation? It did for me.
SOOO many times I’ve given out a fake number. Or let a guy put his arm around me because I didn’t want to make things socially awkward. I’ve made up elaborate lies about an imaginary husband waiting for me at the hotel.
I wanted to be friendly and polite all the time. I didn’t want to make someone feel the uncomfortable sting of rejection. In situations where I feel intimidated and scared, my first reaction is to make the scary person feel more at ease. Why do I feel like this?
Since I was little, I’ve been taught to be a well-mannered people-pleaser. I call my elders Mr. or Mrs. whatever, and never raise my voice (or my fists) against someone. It’s so ingrained that I feel obliged to treat people with respect, even when I know they’re only talking to me because they think I’d be an easy fuck.
I’m so done with that.
I don’t care if the guy has been brought up in a misogynistic society (who hasn’t been?!). I don’t care if they don’t know any better. I don’t care if they didn’t have the opportunity to take feminism 101. There can be no excuse for dehumanising and sexually objectifying someone.
Women have every right to tell say they’re not interested or express their discomfort in a situation. We can say ‘no’ if we want to. Women can tell you to go away and leave us alone. Girls can be angry at you for acting inappropriately. We don’t owe it you to protect your pride or shelter your ego. We don’t have to politely laugh it off.
My new favourite travel phrase has become: ‘I don’t like to talk to strangers.’ (This is a lie. I love talking to strangers and meeting new people abroad) But when a creeper approaches me on the street asking ‘where are you from?’, this is an easy way out. Repeat it like a mantra, darling.
Two last things that this post can’t go without:
Most guys don’t want a scene, so they’ll leave you alone after you’ve firmly asked them to do so. However, some guys who are particularly lacking in self-esteem and courage, will not take your rejection with grace. They can react aggressively and sometimes, violently. Then it’s time to get back up ASAP. Call the authorities, rally your friends, and scream as loud as you can.
If you reject them politely, they don’t get the message. If you reject them firmly, you can face aggression. This is how the world is and it sucks.
I want to acknowledge that this is a white girl’s experience. The way that men have treated me has been influenced by the fact that I’m white and blonde. People of colour will have a different experience that I can’t represent. I’m sorry if this post fails to be inclusive because of this.
Here are some links to other posts about travelling while black:
5 things to expect when travelling while black – Matador Network
Experiences of a black traveller – Travel Noire
Travelling while black – New York Times
How do you deal with creepy men while travelling?