Dianne Sharma Winter is a New Zealander who spends much of her year in India, mostly traveling alone. Her website is Women Travel Mother India Today she shared this story with me.
It’s well known that I have busted a few brolly moves to unwanted lotharios I have met on the road. Something about a solo female traveler OF A CERTAIN AGE always seems to get the locals excited. It is something I have noticed of late that only gets worse the older I get.
Its not like I make eye contact or simper like a fool at unwanted attention. I wear shades and my Resting Bitch Face, I dress like the grannie that I am. The one thing that I have been known to do that is increasingly seen as provocative is that I WALK.
Yes I dare to occupy a public space. Totally asking for it, I know. I walk to get my bearings. I walk to look at stuff. I walk to shops, I walk to take photos. I mean to say that’s what tourists are supposed to do isn’t it?
So why is it that walking around Fort Kochi (Kerala South West India) was seen as an open invitation to a lot of men with too much time on their hands to walk up and approach me as if I were their long lost relation? Why did I feel that within minutes I would be refusing an offer to have a close relation with this completely confident arrogant stranger? More importantly why did they not expect that I would react like any one of my Indian girlfriends and NOT bash them with my brolly for their damn cheeky disrespect?
Why was I getting That Look from local women as I walked innocently around in daylight doing my tourist business of Just Looking. I know That Look. We give it to tourist women who think they might want to take a Maori boy home from New Zealand as a souvenir of their travels. Why give me that Look when I wasn’t even perving at their fellows At All?
I began to feel more and more uncomfortable as I walked around Fort Kochi. I began to wish I wasn’t a single woman traveler but an American tourist with a brace of cameras around my neck and a husband wearing a Happy Wife Happy Life T-Shirt tagging along. Something that would mark my intentions as OVERTLY touristic rather than being subverted at every turn by sly looks and ridiculous comments.
In the end I gave up and took an auto back to my homestay. The auto walla abducted me and insisted I go commission shopping until I corrected his misunderstanding with a few taps of my brolly and some choicer words in Hindi that questioned his sexual preferences.
Back in my room I assessed myself in the mirror. It was as I suspected. My hair was bouffed out to hell in that High Humidity Hairstyle we all HATE, my clothes were soaked with sweat and wrinkled, my eye makeup had run in the rain and heat and sweat and given me panda eyes. No bits hanging out, no cleavage, no shape showing even! Nothing Sex Siren about that look.
Remembered the taxi driver who bought me from the train station, how he pointed out the red light district, how he talked about the high HIV rate here and how he offered to pick me up for a drive the following day. Wondered why I was even doubting myself, Checked with a few firang (foreign) women living. Is it me? Am I giving off the wrong vibes? Am I sensing the wrong vibes, god knows I ran out of Yang juice years ago and my life has been so much better for that!
Well, it seems not. It seems that I have rather innocently been following in the footsteps of a particularly loathsome kind of solo female traveler, the sex tourist.Worse, I fit the MO!
That is, it is assumed that all outward signs mark me – old, white, alone and obviously monied. Women past their use by date, women who have spent their lives with their heads so far up their butts that if they ever even heard of the feminist movement it was only long enough to catch the words “sexual revolution” before they rushed off and bought a cheap ticket to some developing nation to be as sexually revolting as they pleased.
Women who think that skiting about how many men they have slept with in India is an actual topic for a dinner party conversation, women who think that sleeping around is performing a social service. Damnit I even met one woman who called herself a sex therapist but that was before my eyes were opened to this trade.
When men go to Bangkok we don’t hesitate to call a spade a spade but when women do the same thing in India or Africa or anywhere else it seems that its something else entirely. “At the end of the day,” said a friend who watches the scene in Africa, “Its just two people getting together.” She has some sympathy for women who travel for the attention that loose morals and money will attract in poor countries, doesn’t judge them
But at the end of my day there is me alone in my hotel room wondering if walking out for dinner is going to be seen as a sexual maneuver!
Many years ago now, I was attending a classical dance concert in Tamil Nadu with an older woman friend. The audience was mostly all seated when a young firang woman floated past us wearing a see through white skirt complemented by a fire engine red g string.
All eyes in the auditorium were fixed on her bare ass until she (thankfully ) took her seat and then swing to us as if seeking an explanation! As if we were her mother!. We muttered and clucked like a couple of old hens in a hen house and then settled down to enjoy the concert.
AT the end of the concert, my dear friend approached the G-String. “I am a woman traveling in India alone,’ she began. “And I have to say that women like you make my life every difficult indeed.”
She went on to explain to this woman about the need to be sensitive to local customs and sensitivities until the G String ran out of English comprehension. Then she helpfully referred us to her boyfriend who had told her that she could dress like that.
I didn’t have my brolly in those days. If I had I would have bashed her.