Girls, Stay Home

Risking a tank top in the most dangerous country for women.

Clickbait is clickbait because it works. It is also frequently maddening, especially when the title of the article seems purpose-built to make you, personally, click. So it was with the 20 Most Dangerous Places for Women Travelers that Forbes threw (up) into my RSS feed. Obviously I clicked through. And then I was obviously distraught that Forbes was, essentially, dissuading women from traveling because, you know, danger.

My husband and I frequently disagree on what constitutes danger and what constitutes safe, smart choices. I blame his suburban upbringing for his trepidation; he blames my urban upbringing for my hubris (if Ed Koch’s New York didn’t kill me, I ain’t afraid of you, foreign land). But since this is my space, I get to give you my perspective: being a woman puts you in danger, period. So I guess you have two choices: nunnery or not being stupid. I am statistically more likely to be killed in a car crash every day than by doing almost anything else. So I’ve opted for not being stupid.

As I read through the list, the first thing that obviously piqued my interest was that South Africa claims the number 1 spot. Because, you know, I was literally just there, by myself. I would class the relative level of danger I felt to be about on par with sleeping through your subway stop in 1994, ending up somewhere in the Bronx, and having to change tracks and go the other way back home. Potentially fraught? Yes. Sufficient to dissuade you from ever taking the subway again? No. I drove by myself. I took myself to dinner both in the toniest of neighborhoods and whatever the polar opposite of tony neighborhood is. I used Uber. I was advised not to walk. I doubted how much trouble I would be in had I walked, but I also had no good reason to flout the recommendations of the internet, the hotel, and my Uber drivers, so I didn’t. I didn’t have anything to prove. I got the same amount of attention from men that I get at home and used the same tactics to dissuade them that I do here. The end. The article recommends against hiking alone in South Africa, but I’d be hesitant to hike alone in Switzerland, so that doesn’t so much apply. And I would be about as likely to wander through unfamiliar neighborhoods at night in South Africa as I would any place in the world. Darkness is a tool that people who want to violence against you use to their advantage. I try not to give people those advantages. I would no sooner walk alone after dark in Johannesburg than I would in Miami.

Gasp! Respecting local preferences for modesty in country #7.

In fact, walking alone at night is one of the things mentioned several times throughout the list making me wonder how many of my fellow women are doing a lot of walking alone at night in places with which they are unfamiliar. Girlfriends, don’t do that. It’s stupid. Should you live in a world where you can walk wherever you want whenever you want? Totes. But you don’t live there. That world doesn’t yet exist. Abide by the shitty guidelines your world puts forth because: violence.

I also didn’t understand why they put such emphasis on things like intimate partner violence and gender inequality. Surely if your intimate partner is going to violence you, it doesn’t matter where in the world you are, so I don’t quite see how this is a factor for travelers; similarly, I would hope that all people traveling to foreign countries do enough homework to understand that liberties you enjoy stateside aren’t liberties you can expect other places. Which is why maybe not so much with the crop tops and hot pants in places that expressly tell you they’re not down with that. Again, what on earth are you trying to prove? And at what cost. Of course you don’t deserve violence if you walk through the streets of Tehran in your Fleabag jumpsuit (we’ve all bought one of these now, yes?), but you won’t really garner all that much sympathy either. Because what are you doing? Remember: you can smoke your face off in downtown Denver, but not so much in downtown Dhaka.

My mini-dress didn’t cause our new friends to run screaming in country #11.

And while I might not like that Ukraine doesn’t think gender-based discrimination in the workplace is a real thing, and it might tempt me to not spend my tourist dollars there, how on earth does that have any relevance to my experience as a tourist? – unless you’re conflating shitty attitudes towards their own women with shitty attitudes towards people who are in town for a week. The inclusion of statistics about how local women are poorly treated by their countries is a way to scare you away from travel. Because, honestly, why aren’t you traveling with your husband or other male guardian?

You should always take every precaution, everywhere on earth to ensure your safety. I don’t wear my engagement ring in places where that would be foolish flaunting; I don’t count money in the middle of the street; I don’t spread out my thousands of dollars of camera equipment, owned and rented, on the cafe table in front of me. But avoiding travel because you’re afraid of violence is as stupid as avoiding leaving your house because you’re afraid of car wrecks. It’s no way to live. And most of the places that are “dangerous” for women are dangerous for men too. Ask my brother which of us got mugged more often in the early 90s.

So thanks for your paternalism, Forbes, but the kickass women I know, and those I’ve met on my travels – I’m looking at you, Dana, the Canadian I met in Mozambique who was hitchhiking her way around central and southern Africa – aren’t going to unpack our bags any time soon.

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