Girl Power-Cut

Has anybody seen that piece doing the rounds on facebook: “Don’t Date a Girl Who Travels”? Someone sent it to my girlfriend recently saying how much it reminded them of her. They were kind to say so… I think. (For anyone who doesn’t know what I’m talking about, there’s a link to the original text, and the blog of the author Adi Zarsadias, here)

That said, of all the dubious post-feminist writing that I’ve seen, it’s exactly this kind of swaggering, narrow-minded, sexist hypocrisy-as-cultural-comment that I find the most dissapointing; I’ll tell you why:

The biggest myth surrounding modern feminism, the easiest defence against it proffered by every beer-swilling ‘man’s man’ in the local pub and the one that true devotees to its cause have the most work to overcome in the arena of our cultural understanding is the myth that so-called feminists are nothing more than bra-burning man-haters, and should be treated as such, especially if they refuse to shave their armpits. What a lot of rubbish. Feminism is not, or should not be, about bringing men down to the level of oppression from which every generation of women since pre-Hellenic times has been trying to escape. No. Feminism is about equality of women with men. Not sameness, not superiority, equality. Freedom of choice, freedom of action, freedom of thought. Freedoms that men have enjoyed for millennia. It has very little to do with a greater or lesser quantity of underarm hair.

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Yemeni women burn their veils in an anti-government protest

To highlight this, insofar as a message can be disentangled from the alternating layers of saccharine-sweetness and sheer brutality of the piece in question, and others of its type, is, I think, one of the intentions of its author. Since she is not specific, I make the assumption that Zarsadias intends to talk about heterosexual relationships, I think it’s reasonably clear that she does. As such, despite what I see as her strong feminist intentions, there are several turns of phrase that, particularly as a man dating a ‘girl who travels’, leave me cold:

Firstly there’s the villian of the piece, the prospective boyfriend who, representing all mankind has nothing to offer but material wealth, self-centred conversation and a yoke. No wonder she wants to get away from him. I don’t really feel I need to state the obvious and say that there are plenty of us out there with more ideas than money and more time for others than for ourselves, so much as to highlight what a terrible own goal for feminist objectives this portrayal of man is. What Zarsadias has done here is to restate the age-old stereotype of man-as-provider and rule-maker, woman as passive consumer. To do so as part of an analysis of the bias in gender-roles is powerful. To do so unconsciously, as a simple statement of ‘how things really are’, is merely to re-enforce the myth. Furthermore, to the man in the pub, this empty caracature of masculinity is solid gold. The author sounds just like a man-hater.

Further grist to the anti-feminist mill is the suggestion that “[She] won’t care whether you travel with her or not. She will forget to check in with you when she arrives at her destination.” Blimey. What a bitch. Maybe I’ve missed something. Maybe, for the travelling generation at least, actual real love is finally dead. Perhaps the best any of us can expect now is to be tolerated by our partners for the sake of what we offer them, to be dropped, of course, like a discarded cellphone when something better, more exciting comes along. Is this what we mean by freedom? Is this what women fought and died for in the 20’s? I hope not. And consider, finally, how we would view a man who behaved in this way. With scorn, no doubt, and pity for the girl who waits for him.

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“She will never need you.” We are told. This is the saddest thing of all. What a cold and miserable life. How lonely it must be never to need another person. To be so goddam independent that no intimacy, no support whatsoever is necessary! Not only is this a myth – the number of times that my own strong, beautiful, capable independent travelling girl has called me from thousands of miles away in tears because something has gone wrong is equalled only by the number of times I’ve done the same thing to her- it’s an extremely destructive myth.Ā  The young women who, judging by some of the comments it receives, identify strongly with this piece, aspire to be percieved as strong, free and independent as, no doubt they already are. But Zarsadias allows no room for weakness in her descriptions. Her heroine is perfect, flawless even in her flaws -nothing wrong with that of course- but (here’s the rub) she is completely self contained. An ice-queen if you will. Many role models for women in popular culture are portrayed in this way: Jennifer Anniston, Angelina Jolie, even J.K. Rowling are self-made super mums who need noone. What’s a real girl to do then, if, god forbid, she actually feels something? Actually comes up against a situation that she can’t handle by herself? Craves intimacy, understanding, love from another, dare I even say it, from a man? This piece, and all the thousands of words in a similar vein produced every day in magazines, blogs and gossip columns presents yet another hurdle, in fact, for women, and men for that matter,Ā  in expressing vulnerablility (a perfectly natural experience) in a world that is increasingly chaotic and increasingly confused about what it expects from them. Perhaps though, as a man, I speak out of turn.

As a man, however, I am finally and self-righteously enraged by the closing statement which exhorts me, in tones I well remember from my (not very) errant childhood, “… and if you should unintentionally fall in love with one,” (this rare species of ‘travelling girl’) “don’t you dare keep her. Let her go.” What -an’ it please you ma’am- if I want to come too?!

In short, I think this piece is well intentioned but has gone badly awry. Above all else it reflects confusion amongst (particularly young, heterosexual) women and within ‘feminine culture’ as a whole about their relationships with men, and with themselves. Cultural objects of this kind are full of images that paint women as impossibly perfect, unbearably isolated and men as money-grabbing infants. Whilst you could argue that some kind of payback is necessary for the years of oppression that women have suffered, whilst you could say that to gain true equality it’s necessary somewhat to overstate your case, I think this is short-sighted. Not only does this portrayal of women create unrealistic expectations amongst women themselves, it provides easy ammunition for would-be saboteurs of the feminist cause. In order to succeed, we should stand for equality alone, and leave the squabbling for the kids in the playground.

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10 thoughts on “Girl Power-Cut”

  1. I would say that the “Date a Girl who Travels” post has created a very interesting dialogue about feminist ideals. On the other hand, I think you’ve brought up some great points on how Adi Zarsadias’ writing can be misconstrued, but then again, it must be taken with a grain of salt considering that she did write this a facetious piece. What can we take from this? Zarsadias is obviously trying to “fight back” from some subjective experience she had with boys (not likely, Men) who could not handle her free spirited ways. Fair enough. I do agree that she plays into stereotypes about materialistic males but then her “Live/Studied” element of her About page shows that most of her experiences are in Asia where quite frankly this is common. As someone who lived in Hong Kong for three years I can tell you that the perspective of men (and women) in what is a perceived-success-romantic-relationship is one often based on what kind of car one has or bank he/she decides to commit to every day.
    However, I like the fact that you are also pointing out Zarsadias is overlooking how a woman can still be a confident, independent, educated female (although I think more importantly decent, good, and kind) and yet still able to cry on occasion or show emotion. Without demeaning her former stated independence. Quite true.

    1. Thanks for your kind words and a really balanced review. Although the original piece made me quite angry, I’m actually really glad it’s out there because, as you say, the response to it has been very interesting. I totally take your point too about the kind of place she must have been in to write something like that, it’s something that I didn’t consider when I wrote this post. That said, I’m interested in how, as a species, we’re so good at sustaining these narrow, self destructive views. Sometimes they break the surface and find expression in songs, films, tv adverts, the thigs we say and do, but more often they’re unconscious assumptions that we make about the world aren’t they? I think that, really, these little facetious ‘slips of the tongue’ as it were, actually create an environment where a much larger number of unconscious assumptions of the same type can thrive, and that’s where the real damage is done. I think we all have a responsibility -particularly if we choose to broadcast our views to a large number of people – to avoid corrupting our cultural space and that’s why I went so hard for something so essentially trivial. Hope that makes sense… thanks again for your support.

  2. Nice article. Like you said, one of the biggest problems of Travel Girl is that she is beyond reproach; she can do no wrong. She is an amoral pixie. Even if she hurts people, it’s okay, because that’s just who she is. In trying to be this person, there’s no room for development, no relationships to maintain. Only basking in her own awesomeness. I wrote a similar article before I read yours.

    http://jupeck.tumblr.com/post/75860596437/poseurs-these-days-smh

    1. Thanks jupeck! Had a look at your article and liked it a lot, even if yes, you did sound a little bit bitter at the end šŸ˜‰ . I really like the point you make about posing in general, and the tendency of writing like this to glorify the idea of a false or secondary personality. Very true.

  3. You have pointed out some comments that I was sharing while reading that article and I am glad someone reacted in such an eloquent way. Not to enumerate points which are, in my opinion, well put, I just wanted to write my impression on one particular thing you mentioned. I don’t think she was trying to represent men and women in a stereotypical way describing men as providers of their family and so. It appears she was trying to describe two kind of people – the free spirited ones and the “normal”, “boring” ones with regular jobs. She wrote it for girls travelers only because she is a girl and she was talking from her experience, but she also approves the other way around. It is true that it could have easily been misinterpreted. That was my impression, just wanted to share.

    1. The thing that really rubs me the wrong way is this characterization of people with ‘jobs’ as being somehow wanting. If everyone just wandered around the globe taking pictures nothing would get done. The author seems to be completely unaware of her status as a young attractive girl, for whom the world probably makes many exceptions. She’s in full [i]take[/i] mode. In my opinion It’s a very shallow piece that reflects the vapidness of its author (I say that here rather than on her blog because I’m not a troll). I generally avoid people like that, people that don’t know how to be open, generous and giving – and above all accepting of others faults and idiosyncrasies without become bored of them. It sounds to me like she ‘s looking to be entertained 24/7 by all the pretty lights and colors to avoid the yawning chasm inside.

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