“This is a man’s world…”

Being female has some serious drawbacks, particularly when travelling. In amongst all the inspiring stories of travel, very few discuss the realities of missed periods due to travel stress (leaving you panicking even more), the state of your legs after eight solid days without the use of a razor or even having your boobs head butted by overzealous children or dogs (all genuine stories).

Aside from the practicalities though, I have also experienced certain “expectations” when it comes to work. Jobs that would instantly be offered to Peter rather than me because they are considered “more manly” or remarks of surprise when I was able to lift something or do something unexpected of my small frame. My nana underwent the same prejudice when she was told a small breeze might blow her over before starting with the Women’s land Army during the war.

Now I am not for a second suggesting that I have the same capabilities as Peter. I
am no where near as strong as him or even many other females I have known. I’m no weight lifter and I’m fine with that but I am determined and capable of more than people seem to expect. And all those people seem to be men.

I love using chain saws, digging holes, splitting firewood and I used to be paid to shovel poo in all weathers. Therefore I’m not exactly the best example of femininity and yet people expect it of me just because of my secondary X chromosome. It starts to get frustrating and I end up feeling like I need to prove myself. During work stays I would sometimes shy away from the more traditional jobs for females such as cooking and cleaning simply to show that I was capable of more than that. Some of this was certainly me reading too much into things but I found it a repeated theme wherever we went in the world.

However another repeated theme I came across was an organisational bias. Every single work stay we have undergone (seven so far) has been organised by a woman. Even if the name of the contact is the male of a couple, we would inevitably be talking to a woman who would be planning the logistics of our stay. And on our side of things it was the same. Peter’s name was the main contact information yet it was me organising the work stays.

There will, of course, be exceptions to what we have found but the consistent pattern made me think. It definitely makes sense for us to stick to what we are best at but surely that should be judged on an individual basis rather than on your gender? I wonder how many opportunities have been lost because of gender bias or certain expectations pushed upon people. I wonder how many people have talents that lay undiscovered due to the fact that it’s unusual for their sex to try them. Travel is a great opportunity to try these things out and hopefully excel at them too. I encourage every girl out there to swing an axe or every guy to try floristry (as an example).

Periods and body shape and comparative strength may be examples of what we girls just can’t change but it doesn’t make us any different in any way. And having to deal with all these things whilst travelling surely only makes us stronger anyway. I’m fairly sure every single girl travelling right now has at least one embarrassing travel story relating to female issues. I know I have many.

As for sexism in the work place, we’ve seen girls in road construction jobs in New Zealand and men helping to delicately hatch chicks in Norway and even women finally becoming vicars back home in England. I hope these trends are continually on the up. And I hope there will be a time when somebody can look at a skinny girl, wherever they are in the world, and not be surprised at what she can be capable of, rather just admire the determination with which she does it.

Photograph taken by Peter Bonser

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