Gender, Sex And Travel

Friday, January 14, 2011

One of the things I am the most aware when I travel is my presence as a woman and what that means. In particular, I remember the constant phrases from the men in Buenos Aires. It was weird because by the end of my sojourn in Argentina’s capital, I barely noticed.

“At least we are not in Mexico,” my friend from Durango, Mexico told me. “There, they will grab you and not even apologize.”

My entire life, I felt like I should be appreciated beyond the superficial and that I could do anything on my own. But, as I got older and realized I wasn’t a superhero, I understood that I couldn’t do everything on my own (that’s why we have family, friends, and yes, partners). Then, when I began my life as a traveler, I started listening to what other cultures had to say, especially about women. The ones that stick out the most were the interesting conversations with some Argentines. They were confused about why some women in North America were so offended by “advances.”

“But a woman is so beautiful, she is a goddess! Why would you not want to tell her that everyday?” they would ask.

It made me think. A lot. Especially about cultural gender types and travel and adaptability. Then, reading this recent World Hum article called “The Sexual Lives of Sri Lankans” helped solidify a thought: perception.

The article described how Sri Lankan men were shocked because the author of the article (a white woman) yelled in retaliation against their propositions. Then it was, at a guesthouse, she learned one of the reasons behind “men’s unabashed sexual aggression towards white girls” was that some of these women went to the guesthouse for sex.

For some reason, reading this made me think about walking the streets in Phnom Penh and seeing the cafés crammed with older business men and young Cambodian women. I remember being repulsed. But, I eventually realized that these men were probably just lonely (not that I condone nor condemn any actions). Perhaps it is because some will quickly judge sexuality, that some people travel far and wide in order to find a little bit of affection (or what we perceive as affection). And it’s not just some men, the article suggests that some women are feeling the need for the same thing.

But when the author, Hannah Tennant-Moore, describes her conversation with one young Sri Lankan girl, I noticed a shift in the tone:

“Doesn’t your boyfriend try to do more with you?” I asked.

“Oh, no!” She tossed her shiny black braid over one shoulder. “He says, ‘When we marry, you are mine. Until we marry, I protect you.’” I tightened my jaw against a sense of vicarious suffocation. But then Sarasi flashed me an excited smile, her eyes widened mischievously. I couldn’t help grinning back.

“Well then,” I said, “I hope he will be a good husband.”

She smiled and understood.

A few months ago, when I returned home, my personal borders had shifted a little and I let some guys whistle their thing. But, most importantly, I also discovered where my personal boundary stops (at the physical touch). I will absolutely not tolerate a stranger grabbing my arm or putting his arm around me and I will (absolutely) bat the arm away and yell “no me toques!” But, I am happy to say that my perceptions have been expanded.

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