I recently received a message on our facebook page from a fan who made a great point: We don’t talk about women enough.
“I want to offer a critique as to your choice of article topics. As two men traveling alone, how does gender impact your daily decisions? Can you imagine what precautions you would have to take were there a female component to your journey?”
Thinking about it, I realized she was right: we often fail to show how gender roles play out in places we’re traveling. Needless to say, there’s a lot to discuss. So Morgan and I decided to take up our fan’s cue and share some of the ways we think this trip would have been different had we done Postulate One as a pair of females. We came up with four broad categories:
Access to Culture
Right off the bat, being female would have barred us from some male-dominated institutions along our route. A couple examples: Women are not allowed to enter the traditional tea houses of Turkey – especially those outside large cities. Similarly, workingmen’s bars in Indian towns are usually devoid of estrogen. In both cases, they are regarded as sanctuaries for men, and trying to enter one as a woman would provoke a fierce response.
What’s important isn’t that female travelers would miss out on Turkish Chai or Indian Malt Liquor; it’s that these institutions were central to our understanding of how those societies operated. They were where tales of hardship were exchanged in stories or drowned in alcohol; they were where business deals were made, and family allegiances cemented. They were where men let their guards down to talk about politics and religion and sexual desires in a candidness that wasn’t appropriate on the street.
In one Turkish village, we asked a man what his wife did while he spent hours at the tea house each evening. The tea house was the only business open late at night.
“She waits for me at home,” he responded.
As female travelers, we’d probably have been resigned to our hotel room.
Pursuing stories as journalists would have been different as females. To begin with, I admit that we probably would have covered more female characters. A glance through our stories shows that the vast majority of characters are men, partly because access to them was easier and we related more. But in some countries it also would have been difficult to gain the trust of male sources who aren’t used to female strangers asking them personal questions. Again, I go to India – where interviewing men from a cotton farming village about their alcoholism wouldn’t have been appropriate. By the same token however, the wives in Brahmanapally were too shy to talk to us, and maybe if we were females they would have opened up.
Additionally, the majority of nonfiction authors we’ve read in our free time are men. Out of the last 24 narrative journalism books I’ve read, only 5 have been authored by women. Much of this has been unconscious, but the result is that many of our stories follow suit, covering topics more appealing to guys – like our story about boxing in Thailand, or extreme mountain climbing in Georgia. There are many topics we’ve missed out on that two female journalists would have picked up.