Guess what I found in the Lonely Planet travel guides
There is something creepy in the Lonely Planet’s travel guides – dark and seedy, also known as sexism. If you are looking blankly at the screen, I hope not, but if you are, please read quickly the Wikipedia page on the matter. Otherwise what I am about to blab on will make very little sense.
I have looked at these guides many a times before and it never occurred to me that something was not right. Its not surprising since sexism is so rampant, so widespread that it has pretty much become the norm.
This time, maybe because of acquired life experience, I was slapped in the face with the cold wet hand of pleasantly served sexism.
Lets have a look.
Here is a typical contents page in a Lonely Planet book:
Under Facts for the Visitor are numerous helpful sections. Basic touristy stuff – visas, documents, money. Conveniences and standards – internet, photography, time and measures. Health issues. Information for challenged in some way travelers – disabled, senior, those with kids. And others. Then, amongst the list, a special section exists for women travelers. Judging by the position they are given, they are either considered to be of special health concern or as people deserving special assistance as tourists, coming before those with physical disabilities . I am not sure which is worst.
But lets give them the benefit of the doubt and file that under: a stupid decision, of a hurried editor, that just happened to stick to each and every one of their guidebooks.
I have taken a quick shot of the helpful information kindly provided to women by Lonely Planet – Central Asia:
Dont get too excited, this is not even our special part. This is our separate heading under the Health section, itself already packed with information on STDs and a host of other diseases one can encounter, but NO, that is not enough. We are apparently a different kind of human being. There has to be special mention of women’s gynecological problems and their notoriously easily infectious vaginas in need of regular douches and special hygiene. We also need to be reminded to be abstinent if possible and to inform our poor male sexual partners if we have decided to be promiscuous and bring all sorts of trouble for everyone.
I need a pause here, because the absurdity of this is nauseating.
Do men get their special section to be informed about their smelly testicles and how to threat any fungal issues they may have with them? Do they get personal advice about the importance of letting sexual partners know when their discharging penis is infected? How about reminders to keep up with their personal hygiene, especially since the stereotype is about them lacking such, hence we circumcise them to make sure? No, ladies and gentleman. It seems the general section with health information is enough for them. For sickly, fragile, foul smelling women, on the other hand, it certainly isnt, it seems.
What kind of stuff can be found in the carefully crafted Women Travelers section? I will quote a few for you, all randomly picked from our pile of guides.
Many local men cannot understand why women would travel without men, and assume they have ulterior sexual motives. Although harassment is not so unrelenting as in some Middle Eastern countries, it tends to be more physical…
Of course it is easy to say that the best option is for women not to travel alone. However, keen sensibilities and a few staunch rules of thumb can make a solo journey rewarding.
– Register with your embassy [sic]
– Clothes DO matter: a modest dress code is essential (even if local Russian women don’t seem to have one)…
– Walk confidently with your head up but avoid eye contact with men (smile at everybody else)
– Never follow any man – even an official – into a private area…
– Ride in taxis that already have other women passengers.
– Sit at the front of the bus, always between two women, if you can.
– Wear a whistle around your neck in case you somehow get into trouble…
…[A]void carrying strong-smelling toiletries, such as deodorants, colognes or minty toothpaste, when it comes to human goodies, if it smells nice, bears may well be happy to sample a taste of it.
…Alaska also attracts some pretty marginal characters, and women should never hitch lifts…its unwise to wander into [a bar] unaccompanied unless you’re looking to be picked up.
…When traveling alone, try to arrive at your destination before dark. If driving, keep your vehicle well maintained and don’t get low on petrol. If you do break down on the highway, especially at night, a large pre-made sign reading “Call Police” to place in the window may be useful and – unless you’re in the back of beyond – will quickly result in a police car on the way.
[I]t would be decidedly unwise to venture alone into a night spot frequented by locals unless you’re prepared for a lot of attention – and more.
– Wear a wedding band. Generally, Egyptian men seem to have more respect for a married woman.
– Avoid direct eye contact with an Egyptian man, unless you know him well; dark sunglasses could help
– Be careful in crowds and other situations where you are crammed between people as it is not unusual for crude things to happen behind you.
– …Riding with a man on a horse or camel is simply asking for trouble.
Unfortunately, although dressing conservatively should reduce the incidence of any such harassment, it by no means guarantees you’ll be left alone.
Women should [sic] exercise the same degree of caution as they would in any other country. Observe all the common sense habits of safety, such as not walking through isolated urban areas alone when it’s dark, not hitchhiking alone etc.
Women on their own may occasionally be harassed and followed in large coastal cities… It’s important to be careful about being alone with an unfamiliar man since claims of ‘date rape’ are not likely to be taken very seriously.
Frustrating though it may be, women travellers continue to face more challenging situations when travelling than men do… Hopes of travelling inconspicuously, spending time alone and absorbing the surroundings are often thwarted by men who assume a lone woman desires company, or who seemingly find it impossible to avert their penetrating gaze.
…Women travellers will find central Europe relatively enlightened, and shouldn’t often have to invent husbands that will be joining them soon or muscle-bound boyfriends that will be back any minute.
One thing is for sure, we women have it tough. If you need proof that something has gone wrong with our societies, grab yourselves a Lonely Planet guide and read the Women Travelers section. Depressing stuff.
I am not disputing the facts. I doubt anyone is unaware of them anyway. What I find appalling is the way they are presented and whether or not most of the advice given is actually helpful or just perpetrating the stereotypes it is trying to protect us poor women from. As it stands, the general information is meant to be for men. They are considered the norm. The advice towards them to not wear shorts in Egypt is put under Society and Conduct. Why couldnt women be advised on suitable clothing in the same section? Because we are the deviation from the norm? To be spared the condescending tone and lectures will take a long time.
If you still cant quite get what is wrong with all of this, I can use another -ism (more familiar) to make the point clearer. Remember the Contents Page? Now imagine instead of women it said…
To finish up, I would like to write a short Men Travellers section, lovingly inspired by the work of the Lonely Planet.
Genital Penile Problems. Antibiotic use, synthetic underwear, sweating and diabetes can lead to fungal genital infections. Symptoms are typically that of bright-red macules or patches, often with erosions, on the foreskin and glans. A whitish discharge as well as itching and burning sensations may be present, usually exacerbated during intercourse. Maintaining good personal hygiene and wearing cotton underwear may help prevent fungal infections as well as inflammation of the glans penis.
Sexual transmitted diseases are a major cause of urological problems. Symptoms include smelly discharge, painful intercourse and burning sensation when urinating. Medical attention should be sought and female sexual partners must also be treated. Besides abstinence, the best thing is to practice safe sex using condoms.
If you see a woman without a wedding band, dont assume she is interested in your sexual advances. If you think a woman is flirting with you, make sure that is so, before doing the same. In most of the countries around the world, if you push your approach on a woman you will be considered a perverted pig. Keep in mind that in the country, families tend to be big, and the woman you are bothering may swiftly call on her brothers and you may end up severely hurt in the hospital. Hospital services are not of a high standard and if you can prevent a stay there, do so.
Women are allowed to live, enter bars, ride in taxis and walk unaccompanied, even at night, just as much as men. Dont be a freak. Sexual innuendos, whistling, stupid comments and worse, physical advances make you one. Leave any archaic beliefs about women back home.
Let women live in peace, dont be a chauvinist and enjoy your trip.