“Do you know what it feels like for a girl
Do you know what it feels like in this world
For a girl”
Madonna

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While I was already busy in my mind with this post, but still unsure of where the writing would take me, we had a question posted to our Travelettes group: Do women travel because they are feminists or does travelling make them feminists? This brought along a discussion about the merits of feminism or lack thereof that left me banging my head against the table. Some proclaimed that feminism was taking women’s life back to the dark ages and some thought opinions like this would do the trick. Eventually, I had to excuse myself from the conversation, sometimes all you can do is agree to disagree.

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But the original question lingered with me and what I was interested in was not so much the feminist part, but the female part in the question because I had actually never really thought about it before. While I am a female traveler and write for a blog which is geared towards women, I never really liked to be labeled as such. I don’t like labels. Female travelers, solo travelers, adventure travelers, alien travelers…who cares? Can’t I be a traveling me without ticking certain boxes?

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Whether we like it or not and whether that will ever change or not, for the time being the world is a very different place for women than it is for man. So maybe we still need certain boxes. Nothing magnifies that better than when we travel because we are pulled out of our modern day lives full of women in high-powered jobs, metrosexual men, and endless choices of what we want to be and we where want to go. The mere fact that we can travel as we do in this day and age shows that we have come a long way.

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Personally I never thought that there was any advantage to being a guy except for the ability to pee standing up. But I do know that I am privileged, having grown up the way I did and living in a country and within a society where at least on paper women are already equal to men. But when I visit countries where I see local women bound to their home for cultural, religious or economic reasons who don’t have a choice if this is the life they actually want, I realize that there are still huge inequality between the genders everywhere.

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Regardless of how privileged you grew up when you go out into the world there will still be places and situations when you cannot act as men would and where you cannot go where they’d go. You can cry that this is unfair, but then you would probably need to stay home or go to Disneyland. Being aware of inequality is obviously the first step towards change, but if it comes with an attitude of, let’s call it western world superiority, it usually doesn’t go down well. Walking around in India or Muslim countries in hot pants doesn’t make you a feminist, it makes you a disrespectful ignorant.

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The song is called “It’s A Man’s, Man’s, Man’s World”, but James Brown immediately admitted that it would be nothing, not one little thing without a woman. While in many places the men’s domain is the public one, the more visible world, the woman’s world exists just as much. Sometimes women are literally and figuratively living behind a curtain, behind a wall, shielding them from the rest of the (men’s) world. We may not have the opportunity or reason to break down every wall we encounter, but we can have a look behind it and see something men could never see – the other side of the medal, the woman’s world. And when it comes to experience the essence of traveling – meeting new people, exploring a new way of life, a new culture – this seems as valuable as any experience a man could have. Do you know what it feels like for a girl in this world? Of course you do!

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In addition to being able to have exclusive access to this woman’s world, another advantage of being a female traveler is simply that many people feel more comfortable, more secure around women. We tend to be seen as less threatening and while you could complain that people underestimate you purely because of your gender, it can also open many doors. A helping hand, a glass of tea or even an invitation into a family’s home is offered a lot easier to someone we don’t perceive as a potential threat – you, a woman! While you could also call this gender inequality, I choose to take full advantage of it. Sometimes being treated like a woman doesn’t need to imply anything negative or condescending, sometimes it just means that people will open their home and hearts a little easier when you are female.

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During exchanges with other women from all over the world, I have realized that there is more that connects us than what divides us, regardless of race, religion, and culture. This exchange and thus the following realization might not always be possible between the genders because let’s face it – men and women are often from different planets. But I value that connection, I need it to feel grounded in this world. It’s like being part of an international secret society that has no other requirements to its members but to be female. I’m welcomed and invited to see a special side of this world just because I’m a woman.

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So eventually, over time, I think we can have it all, in life and in travel. That is when we stop seeing our gender as a weakness but recognize it as our strength. After all, why should the fact that I cannot pee standing keep me from going into the wild when I have two awesome, size 37 feet to carry me and my girlfriend to walk by my side?

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All images by Annika, Elisa, and Kathi.