2017: Towards equal tourism participation and inclusive working environments: access, security and wellbeing  >  Making tourism accessible to all


Looking through the gendering of tourism space

Written by: Yeung, Kai

University: Lincoln

The gendering of tourism space is perceived through the social constructed gender roles. In the process of constructing these perceptions, gender can be a fluid factor within the matrix of social and cultural contexts.

gender, masculinity, femininity, tourist gaze, tourism space


The discussion on gender issues has been focusing on the socio-cultural relations in the past (Peake, Bell and Valentine, 2016). Tourism researchers have attempted to identify the disparities on the access and empowerment between men and women travelers. The lack of theory-based research on how gender roles influence tourist experience and the tourist gaze led to the centre of this research project. In particular, we are interested to find out how male tourists perceive tourism space to be gender-specific. Do they project gender roles on a tourist attraction? Is there any tourism activity considered to be exclusive for men or women? These are some of the questions that this project aim to unravel.

Literature has explained the conventional gender roles by characterising femininity and masculinity. These socially constructed beliefs suggested that male characters possess 'hegemonic masculinity' which is defined by aggression, frontiersmanship (daring and outgoing) and dominance over women (Hobbs et al., 2011; Ryan, 2002). Female traits were considered to be on the opposite of the spectrum and are charactersised by passivity, domesticity and emotions (Ryan, 2002; Pritchard and Morgan, 2000). The perceptions of these gender roles and their opposing relationship are believed to be important factors in the construction of social and cultural meanings and such practice stretched to the tourism context (Sun and Luo, 2015). The tourism industry has been reinforcing the patriarchal system by favouring 'the male gaze' which is commonly through the portrayal of a heterosexual white male from the first world (Noy, 2007; Pritchard and Morgan, 2000). The valorised image of a male protagonist hero figure was also frequently marketed to be the most powerful travel narrative (Noy, 2007). The gendering of tourism space refers to the construction of perception on destinations and tourism activities being based on gender value and identity (Pritchard and Morgan, 2000). With the patriarchal assumption added in this process, adventurous and risk-taking activities such as gambling and competitive sport events are considered to be in the male domain (Sun and Luo, 2015). Women travelers, on the other hand, are excluded in such male-oriented territories such as war sites and night clubs (Edensor and Kothari, 1994). Some scholars, however, argued that tourism space does not merely have a gendered identity but a matrix of diverse spatial and temporal factors and among this network, gender is just an additional variable to the construction of meaning (Wearing and Wearing, 1996).

To further investigate on this topic, a focus group was conducted to examine how male tourists perceive gendering of tourism space. A group of four male university students were gathered to reflect and discuss gender issues in the tourism context. These participants generally described themselves as "explorers" who seek for "new and adventurous experience". Their role as a traveler was mostly the "leader" and "decision-maker" of the group which reinforced the social norm of hegemonic masculinity (Jiménez-Esquinas, 2016). In their opinions on gendering of space, some participants identified their perception to be characterised by gender. For example, female travelers were said to have a preference on shopping malls whereas men go for adventurous sport activities like "parasailing". Tourists attractions influenced by soap opera or movies were believed to be more likely for women because of their feminine trait of being "easily manipulated" by emotional experience. Men were considered to be more likely to visit "dangerous place" like Syria and engage in risk-taking activities. For the same belief, gambling and hedonic nightlife encountering are perceived as male dominant domains. Competitive sports events, such as ice hockey, were considered to be predominantly for men. It was also articulated that male travelers show more interest in heritage sites that are associated with wars. The demonstration of a patriarchal construct was, however, argued by some participants. The idea of male dominant sports arena and heritage sites was disagreed as it was believed that such identity varies among different cultural and social settings. Nature was also defined as a tourism space for couples and families instead of the conventional 'male explorer' figure.

Although the research findings have identified patterns of gender-specific perception on tourism space as suggested in literature, it was pointed out that the influencing role of gender can be fluid and dependent on different cultural and social settings. As the construction of meaning from the tourist gaze involves a matrix of various spatial and temporal factors, gender functions as one of the variables within the network of this identity building. Future research with larger scope and multiple dimensions is suggested to identify exploitations resulting from inequalities in the empowerment between genders. Responsible tourism and universal access should remain to be the goal in related topic of research and industry practice.

Hobbs, J., Na Pattalung, P. and C. Chandler, R. (2011) Advertising Phuket’s Nightlife on the Internet: A Case Study of Double Binds and Hegemonic Masculinity in Sex Tourism. Journal of Social Issues in Southeast Asia, 26(1), p.80.

Noy, C. (2007) Travelling for Masculinity: The Construction of Bodies/ Spaces in Israeli Backpackers' Narratives. In Pritchard, A. (2007) Tourism and gender embodiment, sensuality and experience. Wallingford: CABI.

Pritchard, A. and Morgan, N. (2000) Privileging the male gaze. Gendered tourism landscapes. Annals of Tourism Research, 27(4), pp.884-905.