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Western women travelling in conservative countries - the problem of the sexed body

Western women travelling in conservative countries - the problem of the sexed body
Author: Maija Keturi
3 Commentries
Western women travelling in conservative countries - the problem of the sexed body

Females face distinctive risks in the public that males don't. Criminals, intruders, stalkers, kidnappers and rapists target women for their physical vulnerability and disinterest to fight back. The patriarchal system of fear, social control and judgement about what is 'appropriate' behaviour for a woman keeps governing women's use of public space (Wilson and Little, 2008). Women are discouraged to do things such as hitchhike, sit alone in a train carriage and walk alone on dark streets in the fear of male violence, which limits their freedom, even if for good reasons.

The victimhood of a woman and the preciousness of her sexed body make close ones wanting to protect her, which is why women travelling can still be seen inappropriate to a certain extent even in the white western context (Wilson and Little, 2008). Despite all this, Western women are increasingly travelling abroad without male accompanies (Wilson and Little, 2008). Women now represent two thirds of British solo leisure travellers (Chiang and Jogaratnam, 2006).
During the last decades Western woman tourist has become an object of attention (Hottola, 2002). The study of Jordan and Aitchison (2008) found that many women on holidays get affected by 'sexual terrorism', 'a system by which males frighten, control and dominate females'. Even though Western women's Otherness, whiteness, wealth and high social status work as authority against local harassers in non-Western countries, lack of privacy and unwanted sexual attention are some of the main problems women are facing on their holidays (Hottola, 2002).

Some Western women engage in "romantic adventures" on their holidays, but earlier studies have found out that women rather search for cultural and educational experiences (Chiang and Jogaratnam, 2006). The study of Chiang and Jagaratnam (2006) revealed that American women travelled mainly for experiencing different cultures and ways of life, whereas romantic encounters and doing nothing were the least important holiday motivators.

As human bodies are sexed, observing a human body objectively is itself a sensual pleasure, particularly for males (Hottola, 2002). Women constantly find themselves being observed by the masculine gaze, confirmed by whistles, comments or actual physical assault of unknown men (Wilson and Little, 2008). Unaware how 'exposed' their behaviour makes some women feel, these men might actually even think women in general regard their behaviour fun.

Western women who travel to more conservative countries find themselves being more observed than back home. Sexual harassment in conservative countries can be regarded as patriarchal control and abuse of power (Hottola, 2002). What is concerning is that women tend to blame themselves when something unfavourable happens to them; it is herself that is in the wrong place at a wrong time, not the abuser (Wilson and Little, 2008).

Tourists and hosts often create artificial relationships, in which both parties end up creating a caricature, often similar to stereotypes, of each other (Hottola, 2002). In more conservative countries the stereotype of sex-hungry Western women is constantly affirmed by the media, especially by American entertainment. The physical limit of contact that applies to the local men when in contact with local women may not apply to Caucasian female tourists (Wilson and Little, 2008). Even though Western women seldom do something sexually illegal, they are seen to encourage illegal action towards the physical body of a woman by their choice of clothing and other commonly Western behaviour.

The views of the local women should be considered, as the sexual male behaviour towards the tourists affects them too. Traditionally men in some eastern cultures have been allowed to have extra-marital relationships for fulfilling their sexual desires (Hottola, 2002), a norm women have accepted time before Western female travellers started holidaying in the region. Problems have arisen for example in Kerala, where the increasing number of tourists has lifted the number of locals with HIV to third in the country (Hottola, 2002).
Tourism further has the potential to create unwanted social and economical impacts such as changes in value systems, individual behaviours, family relationships, collective lifestyles, traditional ceremonies and more (Maoz, 2006).The situation gets worse when the hosts consider the economic impact of tourists and thus leave anything against them unmentioned (Maoz, 2006), in this case for example their bold clothing.
In sum Western women face limited freedom back in the Western world. On holidays in more conservative countries the sexual harassment women experience from men can be a challenge for their enjoyment. The objectifying male gaze can further be encouraged by women responding to it positively. Sexually liberal female tourists can further cause problems for the family of the local woman who is taught to loyally stand by her husband. Nevertheless the natural sexual drive or violence of a man should not continue being a reason to limit female freedom in any place.

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Chiang, C.-Y. and Jogaratnam, G. (2006) Why do women travel solo for purposes of leisure? Journal of Vacation Marketing, 12 (1) pp. 59-70
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Hottola, P. (2002) Amoral and Available? Western Women Travellers in South Asia. Published by the University of Tampere, Tampere

Jordan, F. and Aitchison, C. (2008) Tourism and the Sexualisation of the Gaze: Solo Female Tourists' Experiences of Gendered Power, Surveillance and Embodiment. Leisure Studies, 27 (3) pp.329-349
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Sreekumar, S. (2007) The Land of 'Gender Paradox'? Getting Past the Commonsense of Contemporary Kerala. Inter-Asia Cultural Studies, 8 (1) pp.34-54

Wilson, E. and Little, D. E. (2008) The Solo Female Travel Experience: Exploring the 'Geography of Women's Fear'. Current Issues in Tourism, 11 (1) pp.167-186
Are women to blame??
Author: Alex Beard
The work that has been produced for this conference paper is very sound in its knowledge and raises many good points about western women in particular and how they feel about the way in which their body makes them appear to be a sexual target to men. This paper is similar to mine in the sense that it talks about how destinations can be seen as a place where sexual activity takes place and even the darker side of it where rapists and paedophiles can occur.

I agree with the fact that women feel that their bodies are forever being in a sense stared at. This however does not always happen on holiday when a woman is abroad. An example of when this has happened not abroad, particularly in the UK, is when women walk past builders, they tend to shout inappropriate comments and whistle also. When this happens women tend to think of the men as vulgar and childish, and deep down can affect the woman's securities about herself. This therefore links to the fact that when women do travel alone then their friends and families worry, because they then become more vulnerable to these dodgy men.

I understand the point that was made about tourists and hosts making an artificial relationship. Most people only go away for a couple of weeks and in that time they make friends with the hosts, and sometimes this may lead to a sexual relationship, but does the tourists really knwo the hosts after 2 weeks? I do not however agree with the fact that western women encourage illegal action, because of the clothes that they choose to wear, and by other western behaviour do you mean the amount that they drink, or the way they like to party? But if this what they mean, then surely if a woman offer's a sexual favour then a man has his own mind and should be able to say no, if he can't then he is half to blame as well. As the saying goes 'it takes two to tango.'

The trouble with this paper is the same for all Eastern countries, in that their government has no real input, in advising the country what to do in certain circumstances. The fact that most traditional eastern women, allow their husband to have an extra-marital relationship with another woman, then this is surely going to cause problems, especially when HIV and AIDS are concerned. The same goes for the women who are the tourists they should be checked before they go to a destination.

On the whole the fact that western women when they return home face limited freedom in western society is wrong. It is right that that the local women stand by their husbands because that is what is meant to be in marriage, but i would struggle to stand by a man who has another marital relationship, and to be frank i would be scared of what I may catch. And it is right that it doesn't matter how big a man's sex drive, what gives them the right to limit a females freedom in any destination or country.
Discretion and Information -Could it ease the pain of lone female travelers?
Author: Pilvi Roberts

The paper was well written in a sense that it gave a concise and clear overview about the various issues regarding females who travel alone. The points that were made were logically explained and easy to understand, even relate to. It is easy to see how the subject can be touchy. I found it especially interesting how the matter of local women's' position was brought into discourse. In the other hand you have the right of the Western woman to move freely and the fact that this freedom of movement and actions could severely harm other cultural environments.

"Sexually liberal female tourists can further cause problems for the family of the local woman who is taught to loyally stand by her husband." is a particularly interesting statement, and could be dangerously mis-interpreted. It might give the impression that the western 'outsider' should take some responsibility of the relationship of the man. This I think re-enforces the way of thinking in some, especially Eastern, cultures where a woman is 'guilty' for arousing men's desire towards her. In some cultures men take very little (if any) responsibility for the harassment as there is always a way to blame the woman for enticing him. In fact I have encountered such a situation with an Arab man on a rather painful night-bus trip from Johannesburg to Cape Town, where a man asked to sit next to me and would not let me sleep during the whole night. I took no contact with the man and was dressed in no way which could be considered -almost by any standards- provocative. Yet when I asked him to leave me alone, he stated it was my fault for being so appealing and that he was powerless. My discretion in the situation limited to not slapping his face. To mention from the supply side of the services, I tried to seek help from the staff of the bus and was left to fend for myself. The man was escorted to sit next to me by a coach staff member. In this case -taking into account I was no older than 21- I think it would have been considerate for the staff member to point an available seat for example next to a male customer, not the youngest single female in the bus.

When talking about local habits and discretion, I agree that for example local dress-codes for women should be respected, however the tourist woman should not be held responsible for marital problems as this in my opinion enforces the social norms which perhaps should not be enforced in the first place. I reckon the responsibility reaches to how the single female traveler is expected to behave in a respective manner towards the local culture. Information and seeking it prior to travel could prove to be beneficial to the traveler to avoid unnecessary confrontation and problems caused by harassment. The supply side of tourism could in fact do more to come 'half way' by promoting these kinds of issues and raising awareness amongst female travelers. It could also benefit the industry by lowering the barrier of some less secure individuals and ease their minds about certain issues that might concern them. Awareness of harassment towards female travelers should be considered by the suplly side just as much as the traveler herself, as pointed out by my previous example.
Western women travelling in conservative countries - the problem of the sexed body
Author: Outi Makinen
I chose this paper, because it is very interesting and it is close to my topic about female solo travellers and challenges they face. This paper covers some of the issues I have written in my paper but also other different but significant factors that are still close to my own topic. It concentrates on the behaviour of western women in conservative countries and problems of the sexed body.

At first author in this paper brings out the same issue that I talked in my paper about women's typical behaviour in public places. Certainly women are frightened in public areas especially when they travel alone. They are scared of those men who make inappropriate whistles, comments and even physical assaults. The fear that women has is not meaningless, because women are the main victims of sexual attacks around the world (Wilson and Little, 2008).

In conservative countries the culture is so different that addition to the fear towards men, women are afraid of the pressure that culture has in many things and its social control in places (Wilson and Little, 2008). The paper is clearly pointing out the reasons why women are the main victims of sexual harassment on their holiday. As discussed in this paper, men in conservative countries are evidently enjoying the western women's appearance and are curious about them. Author has indicated the same concerns that I think are important. It is true that, women tend to blame themselves when something unfavourable happens (Wilson and Little, 2008). According to Jordan and Aitchison (2008) women who travel alone are scared that they are sending messages to local men that they are alone and want company, even though that would not be the case. But locals may assume that women travelling without male company want to have local men's attention and even closer interactions.

This paper had interesting views about western women travellers in conservative countries. Western women are obviously different looking than the locals so that is one reason why they get more attention than back home. It is interesting that it is not only the local men who happen to be curious but also women who travel might might be curious and look for attention. Some women as author in the paper has mentioned are looking for "romantic adventures." This concept in the text is quite broad. The important factor to mention is that these women are usually those who are travelling alone and singles. They are travelling solo to find the freedom, romance and other closer interactions (Laesser et al, 2008).

Author has brought up interesting aspect to the problems such as the way western women behave and were clothes while on holiday in conservative countries. Women might dress the same way that they do back home which often forwards flirtatious signals to local men (Wilson and Little, 2008). The fact that women have become objectives of attention in last decades makes me think why women would go countries like that alone in the first place when they know they will get much unwanted attention.

Jordan, F and Aitchison, C( 2008) Tourism and the sexualisation of the gaze: solo female tourists' experiences of gendered power,
surveillance and embodiment, Leisure Studies, vol. 27(3), pp 329-349

Laesser, C. Beritelli, P. and Bieger, T (2009) Solo travel: Explorative insights from mature market, Journal of Vacation Marketing, vol. 15, pp 217-227

Wilson, E & Little, D.E (2008), The Solo Female Travel Experience: Exploring the Geography of Women's Fear, Current Issues in Tourism, vol. 11(2), pp 167-186