There’s a lot of jibber-jabber around the Unaccompanied Lady’s area of expertise in the New York Times’ Frugal Traveler column this week: “The Gender Gap in Travel.” Whatever.
We don’t know if it’s easier or harder for ladies to travel alone than men and we don’t feel like arguing about it because it can’t be answered. Yes, it’s true, as the article points out, that it’s hard for Unaccompanied Ladies to go to working class dance clubs in the outskirts of Madrid, but we have never gone alone to dance clubs, working class or otherwise, at home or anywhere else in the world. On the flip side, women get to attend weddings on the women’s side and sometimes the men’s side too. Personally, we’d prefer to hang out with the ladies.
The article fails to mention The Unaccompanied Lady’s most potent weapon when visiting “certain cultures” (that will remain nameless to protect the guilty): Shame. By shaming men who behave badly, ideally loudly and in public, The Unaccompanied Lady demonstrates that she expects to be treated the same way as their own mothers and sisters. The Unaccompanied Lady may look like a western slut but her honor is just as valuable as mommy’s. Learn the local word for shame and use it.
Our approach has always been that if a dude wouldn’t interact with a woman in his own culture in a particular way, he sure as hell isn’t going to interact with us in that way either. If approaching an unrelated woman for a ” friendly chat” on the street or in a cafe is unthinkable in his own culture, he isn’t going to approach us either. Our response: “What if someone did the same to your sister?” (“Oh, you’d kill her? I see.” Be prepared for that response. It could happen.)
Along the same lines, we will not interact with a dude in a way that a woman in his own culture wouldn’t either. If a local lady won’t gather for a photo with a group of young lads or chat breezily with a hotel desk clerk — no matter how friendly - we won’t either. It will be misinterpreted: end of story.
“But Unaccompanied Lady! I feel so rude acting like this and feel like I am not interacting with the culture in an authentic manner!” You want authentic? Observe the utter disdain with which a Pakistani or Gulf woman deals with drivers, touts, shopkeepers, restaurant and hotel staff and other male riff-raff. Distance and aloofness are your friends. Chattiness and friendliness result in grief.
The shame tactic will not work, however, if the Unaccompanied Lady is wearing something like shorts and a tank top. This undermines the perception that your honor is as valuable as his mother’s or sister’s. Dressing local, as we have already suggested, provides you with extra credibility when you shriek like a harpy in the street after some douchebag with a greasy mustache and cheap jeans follows you back to your hotel.
The waiter issue, as mentioned in the article, can be tricky. Waiters, particularly in the tourist hells of Istanbul and other cities, can be aggressive toward women, but you know what? Lots of visiting ladies nail their waiters. A dude that swings at every pitch is going to eventually make contact. You can’t blame him for trying.
Our best advice is: Behave like women in the culture you’re visiting. Don’t do things they don’t do, don’t go places they don’t go and don’t tolerate behavior they don’t tolerate.
“But Unaccompanied Lady! Attitudes toward women in these cultures are medieval. We should to encourage them to evolve through dialogue and cultural exchange and maybe some marches to raise awareness!” Yes, and the point of visiting these places is for you to learn that the former is true and the latter impossible. Be glad you and your honor get to leave.