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.
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.
“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. 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, 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.