It’s not right or fair, but as a professional traveler, pragmatism forces me to err on the side of safety, and that means copping to a convention I’d otherwise avoid.
Something about a woman who is obviously traveling by herself somehow makes her universally more approachable to men. It is her separateness that seemingly attracts attention and more often than not, interaction. I take lots of proactive precautions when I’m traveling to protect myself from unwanted adversities, but these precautions do not often cause me to compromise my feminist principles. Except with one huge caveat: When I’m traveling–whether it’s to Maine or Madagascar or Mongolia—I wear an engagement ring and wedding band like an amulet to ward off the advances of men.
In my day-to-day life, I wear a simple wedding band as a romantic symbol of the everlasting love I have for my partner. I’ve never wanted or been interested in wearing or owning an engagement ring for a variety of reasons that start with the outdated notion of dowries and end with blood diamonds. (Full disclosure: I love engagement rings on other people. They are pretty as heck and I really like looking at them. Please sparkle on without judgment.) But shockingly, my uncomplicated wedding band isn’t enough to fend off the charms of an entitled man set on knowing what I’m doing stag–perhaps its ever–so-slight deviation from tradition is enough to hint at “deviance” from conservative coupling. In my experience, the engagement/wedding ring combination (I personally don a triangle-cut moonstone ring for verisimilitude) does more to convey conventional monogamy—it really lets a man’s-man know that this particular cow has already been purchased.
Please Do Not Talk to Me, I Do Not Know if You Will Kill Me
The dangers of sexual harassment can range from I’m-very-uncomfortable-with-your-overt-solicitation to are-we-going-to-get-in-a-car-accident-because-you’re-looking-at-my-breasts-and-not-the-road and even extends to are-you-going-to-kill-me-if-I’m-not-interested-in-engaging-in-your-boring-chatter? That is an extremely wide spectrum, but when one end concludes with my potential rape and murder, I tend to err pretty far on the safe side. Many women know about disarming men in the most careful of ways: leaving an ego intact is more likely to save your skin than any other way to play it.
It is the rage, the *entitlement* that perceived slights elicit in men—especially men who are drinking in bars, which happens to be one of my favorite travel activities—and how those perceptions of offense can quickly turn violent.
And for a man with hubris, the easiest way to let him down is by making sure he understands it’s not about him, not about your choice. You are spoken for. Someone has liked it enough to put a ring on it. Because if it were rejection based on a woman’s actual accord, her reasoning could be disregarded as flighty, be interpreted as “hard-to-get,” or characterized as stuck up. These negative judgments of me might sting, but it is the rage, the entitlement that perceived slights elicit in men—especially men who are drinking in bars, which happens to be one of my favorite travel activities—and how those perceptions of offense can quickly turn violent.
These are complex interactions and interpretations of interactions with men that solo female travelers make extremely quickly, and prevention of any escalation at all is, in my professional experience, the easiest and surest way to shut down advances. A big old sparkle on my ring finger says, “It’s not you, it’s me,” without saying anything at all.
I Am Very Busy Looking at and Enjoying Entirely New Surroundings, and You Sir, Are Not on My Itinerary
In many places in the world (certainly not all) visual cues can intimate who is local and who isn’t, whether that’s via race, language, or demeanor. I think it’s safe to say that as a 5’10” cis white woman speaking American-accented English and flailing my lengthy limbs about for emphasis, you might not instinctively think I’m native if you were to spot me out to eat in Southeast Asia or West Africa. Since you’ve picked up on these visual cues while I’m ordering my dinner, you might be curious as to my status. Here are some reasons I might sitting alone at a table in a restaurant:
1. Experiencing a new place and culture solo is a fascinating and thrilling experience
2. I wanted to see this place and no one could/would come with me
3. I’m working
4. I damn well feel like it, I don’t need a reason to sit alone
I don’t know if men have been watching too many rom-coms or reading lusty romance novels but the meet-cute, to women, is oftentimes more “cute” in theory. IRL, a man pursuing a solo woman who’s just trying to eat a meal/buy a dress/grab a taxi/have a religious experience/witness the wonder of the world can feel off-puttingly aggressive. And when I may not be able to communicate in my first language or feel comfortable in my surroundings, my hackles are going way up at the instance of any man who leers, catcalls, or makes a pass at me.
Sometimes (the Saddest Times), I Cannot Be as Rude to Men as I’d Like to
Hotel managers, PR agents, concierges, tour guides, and all sorts of people working in the tourism industry undoubtedly find it advantageous to be charming, and more so than any other travel rush, the kindness and humanity of people around the world keep my feet ever in search of more connection.
Haha, thanks for the tour Mr. Manager, please let go of my hand! Yes, I would like to buy this souvenir, Mr. Vendor, I would like to pay in cash and not with my phone number!
However, “charming” can quickly skew into skeevy with the addition of ogling eyes, over-the-top remarks regarding my appearance, and suggestive comments. Haha, thanks for the tour Mr. Manager, please let go of my hand! Yes, I would like to buy this souvenir, Mr. Vendor, I would like to pay in cash and not with my phone number! But, due to circumstances amplified in fish-out-of-water situations, I can’t necessarily respond the way I might in my familiar element (i.e. rudely). I might not be able to articulately dissent–or scarier, still, be understood in good faith. I might not be in a position where I feel safe. And there’s cultural relevance to consider, as well: his workplace or even culture may have different social norms, and I am in his “home.” That’s where the exaggerated left-handed gesticulating comes in. A big, sparkly ringed gesture that lets a potential “suitor” know that I’m unavailable. It’s the same reason many women wear headphones in public—to keep away those who might try to engage with her. Only sometimes you have to order your food, ask for directions, or otherwise enlist the kindness of strangers. The ring says, “I would like to exchange words with you, but not anything more than that” in every language.
What’s a Poor, Romantic Dude Looking for Love to Do?
But, pray tell, what about me, you might be asking, a dude who dreams of meeting a girl sitting alone in a café reading a book, or checking out the cool girl who’s staying in the same hostel as you? Keep in mind that there’s a very real distinction between offering goodwill and making a pass. Understand that while media and society tell you otherwise, an unaccompanied woman does not owe you an answer to your question, an acceptance of your drink, or even a smile. Despite your pure intentions, understand what an unaccompanied woman making her way through this world dreads, and respect her boundaries. Follow her lead. And if her lead starts with a giant X—whether that’s resting bitch face, headphones, or bejeweled proof of down payment on bride price, leave her to her solitude.
Is This Really Necessary?
Look, nothing is foolproof when it comes to men, and certainly entitled, egotistical, patriarchal jerks are going to be (potentially violent) jerks if they want to be jerks. But when it comes to saving my breath, my time, and my butt, I’m taking the easy way out, ignoble as it might be. I’m on vacation, dude.