I’m walking solo along the side of the road. Its midday, the sun is shining, there is no reason to be worried, except that it’s just me. A young man is walking towards me from the other direction. Two policemen on motorbikes drive past moments before we cross paths. Would they check in their rear-view mirrors to make sure I was o.k.? Would they turn around if they saw I wasn’t? Would they stop? Would they?
The young man and I continue towards each other. What will he do? Will he smile? Wil he say hello? Or will he say something more? Will he comment on my clothing, my appearance? Will he tell me to smile? Will his comments be in passing and I can keep moving, his words drifting past my ears as just the latest occurrence of street harassment in the life of a woman? Or will he stop dead in his tracks and try to engage me? Will I have to be polite as I smile and walk away, weary that if I react in any other way I could get myself into a lot of trouble, alone on the sidewalk, the police on their motorbikes long since gone? Will he? Will I?
I can see his eyes now he’s not really looking at me, we’re both nearly at the peak of the bridge, I stay right, so does he. He mutters a friendly and casual hello, his face, his posture holding steady with not a break in his step.
Welcome to the world of a women. Welcome to what it means to be a solo female traveler. Welcome to what empowers and terrifies me every time I step out into a new and unfamiliar country and its culture.
These thoughts float through my brain everywhere I go. They never go away, not entirely. They can’t and they shouldn’t, I always must be on the guard. But they can be comforted, calmed, and quieted. It happens when I cross paths with a man and he couldn’t care less that I’m there. When I cross paths with ten of them and they all don’t care, my worries steady. When I cross paths with those ten men all in a group and they still don’t raise a brow, turn a head, or whisper sweet nothings, I feel o.k.
But perhaps, more than anything it is not how the men react to me but it is how the bystanders around us react to the men reacting to me. That, knowing that a stranger might stand up, that those sweet nothings will not be allowed in this space, that is what can actually make me feel good.
All of it, the action and the reaction, all of it is cultural, it starts with understanding how that man will react alone on that bridge. It is the reason why Morocco holds steady at the very bottom of the list of countries I have enjoyed. It is the only thing I was fearful of moving to Vietnam, a fear which proved to be unfounded. It is what determines how I move, how I dress, where I go, when I go, if and how much I drink, how I hold myself, and who I am in every new place I step foot.
Perhaps it is all just simple street smarts. Or perhaps not, perhaps it is just what it means to be a woman in this world.
The Country Jumper contains some affiliate links. If you make a purchase through these links, I will earn a commission at no extra cost to you. Thanks for reading!