By Page Buono
I came here, to Argentina, to write a travel guidebook targeting a female audience. When introductions unfold and I mention my purpose here, the following often occurs.
Women, generally speaking, nod and smile.
What a great idea, they tell me.
Men, eyeing me with caution, want to know why? What is so different between traveling as a man and traveling as a woman? Sometimes they make a comment about me being feminist, and it stings because this comment doesn’t come with admiration. It’s encased in a bitter shell.
It’s a sentiment I can understand. The truth is, I can’t relate with much of what has been dubbed the “feminist” movement because often it is angry, jarring and judgmental of the male gender, and builds increasingly thicker and taller walls between “us” and “them”. These kind of walls, whether they are between men or women or wealthy or poor or black or white or young or old or dogmatist or atheist or right or left, don’t work for me. For me, they are blinders.
I believe in acknowledging and celebrating the differences of gender, and I believe in seeing each other as individuals, as more than flesh and genitalia.
So why, then, do I believe in a guidebook JUST for women?
Because, dearest male readers, there are things we must think about that you don’t have to. We don’t really expect you to. But, in case you were curious, here are a few:
- We bleed once a month. It’s a process unique to each of us and shared by our collective whole that demands we think in advance. It has the potential to embarrass us greatly if we are not prepared. The lack of this monthly visit can send us into a whirlwind of fear and prediction and planning.
So in the quidebook, we let women know whether tampons are available. Where? Are they expensive? Are they safe? What is the reaction of the male clerk when you go to buy them? What are reasons, other than pregnancy, that may delay a period? Fun fact: changes in climate, diet, schedule, company, stress, joy, exercise, etc. can all mess with our bodies. But certainly, this monthly visit is not a reason for us to stay home.
- Secondly, many women manage their fertility by using birth control. But, birth control isn’t always available in other countries. Or if it is, it is often different. And, changing birth control of going on and off and on and off can be dangerous for women. Some women manage their fertility with a lifestyle that causes their body to naturally increase progesterone.
So the book tries to address whether it is available for purchase where they’re headed. Do they have to visit a gynecologist to get a prescription? Are gynecologists mostly male? Expensive? Accessible? How many months in advance can you purchase?
- Along those lines, we can get pregnant. Every time a woman chooses to have sex or make love or fuck, she runs a risk of creating another life. Obviously, men too. However, unlike men, women will likely spend the next 4-6 weeks wondering if perhaps birth control didn’t work? The condom tore? Should they get a checkup done at a gynecologist office near their place to find out why their periods aren’t on time? In passion none was used and it’s just a game of prayer until the next time she bleeds. And, unlike men, should a life begin inside us we have to decide what we will do with it.
So the guidebook lets a woman know what her options are. Is the “morning after pill” available? What is the stigma around it? How do you say “morning after pill” in Spanish? What does it cost and where can you find it? Are abortions legal? If so, are they dangerous or expensive? If not, are they happening anyway?
- Finally, and perhaps most unfortunately, we have to think about rape; about the potential for violence inflicted on our bodies. Not just about if or where or when it might happen, but about afterwards—about what resources will be available to us, about the attitude toward women in general. In many countries, we will be blamed. Hospital staff will look at us with disgust. Women, after having their bodies stolen from, changed forever and returned, have to face the potential that they will be blamed. That someone, could be many people, believe they deserved this.
None of the above are reasons we cannot or should not travel. Women should and do and can travel to all of the places men do. Just that our thought process, our “packing list”, is longer and more involved.
Also, once we’re on the road, we have to consider our choices a bit more thoroughly because of the above-mentioned.
Just a little example:
On a night out in Buenos Aires, I’d consider the following: how are we getting to the place? Do I know the people I am going with or anyone there? If the girl I am going with finds a guy she wants to go home with, how am I getting home? Is a taxi safe? Or do I trust the guy who says he just wants to make sure I get home safe? Do I prefer walking, assuming walking is an option, where I might stand a chance of running away, or do I feel safer in car? Do I carry mace? Or a knife? Could I really use a knife or does it put me in more danger? If I am coming home alone, how much should I allow myself to drink, if at all? Do I have credit on my cell phone in case I need to call someone for help or directions? Do I have money? Do I have money tucked into a bra or sock in case I am robbed? Do people know where I am; if I go missing, does someone know where to start looking?
So in the guidebook, we try to arm women with knowledge. Things they can do to minimize their risks. Mostly, we try to encourage them to continue dancing, shackles and all.
Those are just some of things that we think about. Some of the things that make travel different for women, than for men. They don’t make one gender better or worse or less or more equipped. The book is an acknowledgement that our challenges are our own, and an attempt to confront them intelligently, gracefully, and honestly.
Guides for Thailand, Mexico and Argentina (the latter two coming soon!) and blog can be found at: www.gogirlguides.com
Check out Page’s blog, PageBuono.com for more information about her amazing life in Argentina.