The constant discussions among women about how they can keep themselves safe have been amplified in response to the murder of Sarah Everard. For many these discussions, where the victim or potential victim assumes total responsibility for the risks they face, feels normal and right. Not for Baroness Jones, who instead suggested a curfew be put in place for men.
Women’s self-policing of their bodies, emotions, and behaviours, borne of a survival instinct, respond to a very real sense of fear that has built up. This is based on the persistent barrage of microaggressions they face every day: be it wolf-whistling, arse-grabbing, tit-pulling, indecent exposure (just some examples, for a more exhaustive list check out the Everyday Sexism project). In addition to these microaggressions, our safeguarding and policing is shaped by discourses on gender which permeate society, including the travel trade press.
Popular guidebooks such as the Lonely Planet exist to direct the behaviour and shape the experiences of those who use them, and often include advice specifically targeted at women. In our research we highlight how the Lonely Planet discursively works to subvert women’s anger at instances of misogyny by suggesting that women shouldn’t overreact but simply ignore it and therefore put men’s feelings before their own.
This subversion acts to encourage women to police their own emotional reactions, with the implicit suggestion that taking such threatening behaviour ‘too’ seriously is not in the spirit of adventurous travel. As a consequence, the freedom and liberation promised by travel, where one is encouraged to ‘find oneself’, is denied to women, who are instead instructed to deny themselves authentic emotional reactions.
Anger is an important emotion because it makes the person experiencing the emotion aware that they are being mistreated. Where one is not permitted to experience anger, one is at heightened risk of not noticing danger, and as a consequence, unacceptable behaviour is likely to unreported and unchallenged.
References: This blog post is based on the following research: Heather Louise Jeffrey & Siân Stephens (2021) The subversion of women’s anger in travel guidebooks, Annals of Leisure Research, DOI: 10.1080/11745398.2020.1865174.