One of the questions that I am asked over and again, in any number of iterations, pertains to being a woman on the trail. I’ve been asked by reporters if I have ever felt unsafe on the trail because of my gender, cautioned by friends (savvy, feminist friends) to take extra care on the road, and have had drilled in to me by parents a mantra of “never walk alone” (the hiking-buddy recommendation would stand if my brother was embarking on a similar journey, though not with the same emphatic insistence).
And the truth is, being a woman traveler- solo or otherwise- absolutely has its disadvantages. I’m seen as more vulnerable and naive than a male counterpart would be. I have been cat-called, have had men make lewd comments about how fitness might manifest in my body because of the distance I walk and the weight that I carry. And apparently, I look pretty when I smile. I am always alert, always aware of my surroundings, and am cautious with folks I meet. Comments on an online article about my trek asked for ‘nude selfies’. But this is not new. This is not unique to life on the trail. This is called, Being A Woman.
A HuffPost Women video posted on Tuesday documenting some of the ‘subtle sexism’ that is normalized in our society illustrates this.
So when people ask whether I am ever scared on the trail, whether I ever feel unsafe because of my gender, I am so frustrated. The answer is an unequivocal yes. For so long I struggled with how to answer this, because how I feel on the trail is an almost perfect reflection of how I feel in everyday life. There have been days in my life when I consciously made a decision to not walk outside (to get lunch, on a break from work) so as to not be verbally harassed on the street. And even as I write this, I feel the need to stress that I know I am not alone in making these kinds of decisions. As women we structure our lives around misogyny and sexism. How will we respond to an expectation at work that we be the ones to fill coffee or take notes? How do we react to microagressions (“you’re really good at _______, for a woman!”)? How do we tread between pushing back against victim-blaming, and – because we live in a rape culture – being capable of keeping ourselves safe? These should never be concerns for anyone. It is exhausting to deal with. It is exhausting to feel this way. And sometimes I lie to myself a bit. I tell myself that I’m not afraid, because the moment that I make the decision to stay inside, the moment that I don’t stake claim on a seat at the table (that already has my name scribbled on it, but some white, straight, douche-bro is eyeing up anyway), I am accepting something lesser. The difference between real-life and trail-life is that I no longer have local connections and comforts: the tools which I might normally use in pushing back against the oppression (ie. emotional supports, or knowledge that I have immediate access to police or other authorities). There is added risk to walking the trail as a woman, just like there is added risk to living life as a woman. I walk in spite of it, and I walk because of it.