Some guy on a motorbike just honked my boob.
What, are we in India now?
I’m not really upset. More than anything, I’m just angry with myself for not getting a better hold of his shirt — just a fistful that fell away as he sped off — so that I could have dragged him right off of his crummy bike and bashed his nuts with my hardcover copy of David Copperfield.
Ok, I suppose I’m a little upset.
I wish I could say that I was wearing a skimpy outfit and that he must have mistaken me for a hooker, or that I was operating outside of common sense and walking alone down some dark alley, or that this is just a one-off, a crazy one-time incident that is unlikely ever to happen again, but that’s really not the case. Firstly, I was wearing a loose-fitting grey T-shirt that has a logo I don’t understand on it. On my bottom, I was wearing my fluorescent Thai fisherman pants — the ones that couldn’t get me laid if I had a hundred dollar bill hanging out of the pocket. I wasn’t trying to pull anybody.
Secondly, we were walking down a main avenue, and I was just 2 steps behind a brawny surfer guy (with a mustache, for Christ’s sake!) from Santa Barbara. We were patrolling the streets for fried chicken. I wasn’t looking aimless, and I wasn’t alone.
Thirdly, this isn’t the first time this has happened to me. After I finished running after him, throwing rocks and pieces of garbage, I just sighed and added it to the list.
India is notorious for this kind of thing, and I’ve gotten similarly honked in Laos. There seems to be no difference: alone, in a group, wearing shorts, wearing a long skirt, hair up, hair down, on the way back from the restaurant, on the way to the restaurant. The pervs will not be dissuaded.
Apparently, it happens to local women as well, and it’s largely considered to be a byproduct of a hyper-strict society. I dunno. But the feeling of helplessness…the feeling of having had something taken from you…that’s the part that’s hard to swallow, especially as an independent female.
That being said, when I tell people about my plans to travel, I nearly always find myself replying to the same questions and comments:
“Aren’t you scared?”
“But, you can’t do that as a single female.”
“It’s just not safe for a woman.”
To these remarks, I often explain that travel from the perspective of men and women is simply different. Yeah, as a girl, you suffer all kinds of irritations that men don’t, but you have all kinds of opportunities that they don’t as well. When you look at the full picture, neither one is more dangerous than the other, and I’ll tell you why.
For one thing, women, with our limp wrists and lack of facial hair, seem more innocuous than most men. This means many things. In terms of hitchhiking and bumming places to sleep, it means that we, quite simply, have more options. When a woman thumbs, at least 3 times as many cars will stop for her as for a single male. This gives us girls the security of knowing that there is no harm in turning down a ride — another one will be along shortly. This kind of cool-faced assurance is absolutely essential to safe hitchhiking. You never want to get into a car you’re not 100% about.
Also, while I’ve heard stories from many male travelers about having to sleep outside (my friend Jarred even spent a night sleeping under a bush in a cemetery once. Brrr!!), I’ve never had to do it myself…and I’m shit at planning ahead. Even in the most hostile situations, I’ve always been able to score a room for half-price, or get taken in by a local family, or get a patch of floor in a 24-hour office to sleep on, because most people wouldn’t dream of pushing a wide-eyed single girl out into the streets after dark. They may grumble a bit, but they’ll never leave you to fend for yourself, and they usually find a nice soft mat and some sheets as well. After all, you are a weak and dainty female — you’re not accustomed to hardship!
Secondly, as a woman, you can almost always enlist the help of people that men can’t approach without getting the wary eye. This applies to security guards, snotty-looking businessmen, and young children. None of the aforementioned parties would turn away a girl. You are not seen as a threat, and most men are very eager to show off their gentlemanly qualities. This is particularly true of gangster-looking, Mara-13 types in chauvinistic settings. Say what you want about gangbangers. They are easily some of the most helpful, protective people you will meet on the road. You are a delicate female. You must be protected. You shall no longer be lost or hungry.
Thirdly, as much as I mumble and grumble about the pains of traveling as an Asian American (such as this blogpost HERE), being a brownie certainly has some perks. While I don’t exactly blend in, nobody can tell where I’m from. Light-skinned women, whether they come from the U.S. or Northern Iran, are usually lumped together into the “Over-Sexed Westerner” category. Their fair skin draws people from all over to look and touch and marvel. But me? Dark-skinned, slanty-eyed, brunette little ol’ me? They don’t often give a damn.
Yes, I may not have gotten all the winning lottery tickets in life, being a small, colored female with bad eyesight, but I definitely have it pretty good for travel.
The flipside of all of this is that local men often think of foreign women as easy targets, and I’ve had to adopt a no-fuss, don’t-even-try attitude so often that I’ve even found myself being rude without really knowing why sometimes. “Helpful” bus drivers will insist on taking you all the way to your hotel while making lewd gestures and saying, “Two? I, you. Two?” The guy at the internet cafe helping you to turn on your desktop will steady himself by grabbing onto your thigh. Guys that pick you up hitchhiking don’t try a thing for the whole ride, but then cop a squeeze on your bottom as they help you down from the back of the truck.
It’s aggravating and can make you feel awfully helpless sometimes, but in the end, no one’s really got it better than anyone else. Travel is tough, and you don’t always feel completely comfortable or happy. After all, that’s what we’re after, right? We’ve all got the money to do the all-inclusive resort vacation, but we choose not to. Why? Because we want the kinds of stories you get from traveling on a budget and making your own way. Some of these stories are great…about the limitless kindness and generosity of most of the world’s people. And some of them are about some prick on a scooter honking your boob. Gotta just take them as they come, I guess.
“Among other things, you’ll find that you’re not the first person who was ever confused and frightened and even sickened by human behavior. You’re by no means alone on that score, you’ll be excited and stimulated to know. Many, many men have been just as troubled morally and spiritually as you are right now. Happily, some of them have kept records of their troubles. You’ll learn from them — if you want to. Just as someday, if you have something to offer, someone will learn something from you. It’s a beautiful reciprocal arrangement. And it isn’t education. It’s history. It’s poetry.” — J.D. Salinger, Catcher in the Rye