How To Get Your Feminist On As A Traveler in Melbourne

Instead of only visitng the must-see lists of each city, one of the most amazing things about traveling is experiencing what you’re passionate about in a new environment.

For example, my experience living in Buenos Aires was enriched by taking taking folk dance classes and volunteered at a human rights organization. Just imagine what might be memorable: a visit to a statue that you don’t have any inherent connection to, or going to a discussion night at a local NGO about the genocide in Guatemala and sitting silently in the back until you couldn’t hold in your tears any longer. No matter where you are, either if you’re studying abroad for a semester or just passing through for a few days, taking an afternoon to participate in something you care about can have a great impact on your trip.

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Geeking out in Melbourne at the QVWC.

For me during the months I spent living in Melbourne on a working holiday visa, I survived the mundane repetition of working at a salad bar by participating in feminist activism events. If learning more about the feminist struggles is one of your passions, here are seven ideas for you to broaden your understanding of it in Australia. While this list is by no means exhaustive, it can give you a starting point to delve deeper.

Queen Victoria Women’s Center

The QVWC is a building in the Melbourne CBD which houses offices for several nonprofits relating to women’s welfare. It also hosts speakers and events. To celebrate International Women’s Day the QVWC held lectures throughout the week of March 8th- they even involved complimentary wine. Check out their library or subscribe to their newsletter for updates.

Radical Women

Radical Women is a grassroots leftist feminist organization that started in the United States in the 1960s. Today in Melbourne the organization is present at political rallies and even hosts events at their Brunswick located library, called the Solidarity Salon, including feminist book clubs and speakers.

Melbourne Free University

While not inherently feminist, Melbourne Free University hosts lectures related to topics from technology to the FARC and gay rights movement in Colombia and often tackles the struggles of the global power imbalances including gender and women’s rights. The goal of the free uni is expand discussion and debate of important issues to all, and while lecturers often come from academia, participants come from all walks of life.

One Roof

A coworking space for women entrepreneurs located in Southbank, One Roof also hosts networking events and professional development workshops for women usually relating to business and leadership.

Miscellaneous Activist Events

Local grassroots political activist organizations organize rallies, lectures and discussions related to a variety of topics, and most of them often intersect with the feminist cause. For example, I subscribed to the Green Leftist Weekly’s activist calendar,  which advertises any number of events hosted by different organizations in different areas of the city, from the Socialist Alliance’s CBD office to Melbourne University.

Meet Ups

MeetUp.com, which connects people with others who share similar interests, lists several local feminist groups in Melbourne. Use these socials to network and learn more about activism in the city.

Volunteering

EthicalJobs.com  and Seek.com list open jobs and volunteering positions related to gender inequality (just make sure to use the right search terms). The possibility of volunteering is increased with the longer you might stay in Melbourne, especially when the work is regarding sensitive issues such as domestic violence.

Melbourne Feminist Action

Melbourne Feminist Action is Facebook group that helps organize feminist activists around pressing issues in the feminist movement. As of the time of writing this post, the page hasn’t been updated,  but you never know when they might become active again.

Featured photo taken at Hosier Lane in Melbourne. 

Not obsessed with the feminist cause? There’s still a lot to be discovered about Melbourne! Check out these five websites to tell you where. 

 

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Photo Friday: International Women’s Day In Melbourne

© Allison Yates. Womens Day.

We sat at Platform 5, ready to take the train from Flinders to Sunshine. Sunshine is a notoriously rough area, but when we arrived, it seemed harmless.

Why were Alexe and I going to Sunshine?  I wanted to attend a real, official International Women’s Day event. My last minute attempts to plan something for March 8 were failures. I was too late. Most of the events had already filled up. Music shows, breakfasts at the archival women’s center and poetry readings wouldn’t be on my agenda for the day.

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Picture at the Braybrook Library by Gemma Louise Saunders. Photo taken during a 2014 rally for 16 Days of Activism in Footscray.

Instead, I found an event on the International Women’s Day website for a community event at the Braybrook Library, a name that feels like a tongue twister to say. After going to St. Kilda beach, lunching at Jungle Juice Bar and feeling suffocated by the 38 degree heat in the city, we jumped on our train to Sunshine. From there, we took a 20 minute bus to the library, at first missing our stop.

I noticed we had been on the road for quite some time. Looking around, it felt like we were in a different country. The strip malls, sidewalks and 1970s looking housing felt years away from the European style CBD. I approached the driver, and in compliance with the sign – “don’t distract the driver while he’s driving”- I politely said “Eh, excuse me, could I ask you a questions?”

He took both hands off the wheel and lifted them up in unison and bulged his eyes, as if to express that I had just asked the dumbest question imaginable. “Where’s Braybrook shops? That’s the stop.” I asked. He shouted back, “You passed it a long time ago!”

After exiting the bus, walking around the corner, being tempted to hitchhike when I saw the air conditioning blowing from the cars of men in business suits, finding the stop, waiting for the bus…we got back on with the same driver. After even more confusion, some extremely kind Kiwis (playing loud music and laughing) disagreeing with driver and helping us find our way, we had made it.

And it was worth it. The library felt like a cooler in comparison to the heat outside. Inside, beyond the books, we made our way to the back end, where it took me a second to realize this was still Australia. It was almost identical to the library in my hometown. Looking out of the slightly tainted windows  I looked at the dry grass and kids playing soccer. The sidewalk almost looks different in intense heat. It could have been summer in Midwestern USA.

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The library was decorated in purple to celebrate the day.

The room was full of younger  mothers with screaming (still adorable) children, middle aged  women and teenagers. Some men were also in attendance. It stuck me that the crowd in attendance was remarkably diverse. I looked around the room to see Vietnamese, Somalis and Turkish. I even heard languages being spoken I couldn’t identify. There were multiple generations of women grouped together.

It’s reported that 34% of Maribyrong’s population comes from non English speaking countries. The events of the celebration reflected its multicultural community, although the “barbecue” (sausages, Bimbo bread and ketchup) was a classic Aussie touch.

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BBQ
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Sausage anyone? (Wonder if it’s pork meat…)

Despite the diversity of the people there, I couldn’t help but notice that the presence of an American and a French girl was somewhat of a confusion to everyone. Even so, we were treated in a warm and welcoming way. A university student of Somali descent had us try the tea she had made. It was placed among tea and beverage samplings from other parts of the world- Mexico, China, and Italy. The Somali tea was by far the most satisfying.

© Allison Yates. Womens Day 5

We grabbed our tea and listened to the variety of local talent. A young Arab boy performed spoken word poetry dedicated to his mother, where he recalled his childhood filled love and strength from his mother, despite the hunger and violence they suffered. A Turkish-Australian storyteller reflected on the definition of “girl” in the lives of the women in her family, a term that used to be filled with shame. She’s since reclaimed the word and finds it empowering: “Girl isn’t limited, its limitless,” she told the audience.

Melbourne-based singer songwriter Jess Locke  got up to the microphone, joking that she didn’t envy the cricket players out back sweltering in the afternoon sun. She performed an impressive set, accompanied by some witty and inspiring remarks. 10 years ago, she overcame her fear of performing in front of an audience. It was a fear that had withheld her from fulfilling her desire to sing, even though she “desperately wanted to do so.” She encouraged all of the girls in the room to push through their insecurities and go after what they want the most.

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A woman admires the photo exhibit of admiring women of Maribyrnong.

If International Women’s Day wasn’t my favorite day of the year, I’m not sure I would have gone through so many hoops to travel to what felt like the outback, not to mention on a day when I’d rather be laying on the beach, languid and pathetic. Visiting a local IWD event was exactly what I was looking for. It didn’t have the passionate cry of protest, but it fulfilled all expectations of celebrations of our very existence, appreciating our strengths and talents. It was a wonderful example of how a small, diverse community puts a local spin on a global issue. Speaking to the diverse experiences of immigrants, the program was relatable to the lives of the women in the audience, more so than an all-white Australian panel of women at a talk at the Queen Victoria Women’s Center (although this was equally fantastic, it would have probably been far less sympathetic to their realities).

© Allison Yates. Womens Day 6
Beautiful manifesto.

 

Can’t get enough of feminism and International Women’s Day? Me neither! Check out these articles:

Character Tuesday Meets International Women’s Day

This special “Character Tuesday” post is dedicated to all the women out there. For all that I may be impressed by you or irked by you, I am happy that you have a personality, that you exist, that you are alive! Happy International Women’s Day!

In 2013, I went to a lecture in Buenos Aires by Marcela Lagarde. By the time my friend and I reached the feminist cultural center Tierra Violeta, the venue was already packed by women with piercings, tattoos, wearing leggings under jean skirts and keffiyehs. Whenever I think of activism in Buenos Aires, I will always imagine women with these characteristics.

I don’t remember too much of lecture in itself. But what I will never forget is what Lagarde answered to a woman during the Q&A. A woman raised her hand and asked Lagarde what she thought was the most important thing for women to do. Her answer? She believes that what is lacking is sororidad, or solidarity among females. Female friendship. Female support. 

And I will never forget how much hearing this impacted me. Her words ring in my ears when I find myself slowly judging what a girl is wearing. Or if I curse a girl for being more “successful” than me. Or if become jealous when a girl is getting male attention. I remember what Lagarde said and know that, there is no reason to put a barrier between myself and another woman. Simone de Beauvoir made a similar argument in 1947: “But the oppressor would not be so strong if he did not have accomplices among the oppressed themselves.”

I do not wish to be an accomplice of the oppressor.

International Women’s Day should highlight the plight women face around the world. It should first and foremost recognize the strength of women, but also make visible the forces working against us and inhibiting us from making advances in our public and personal lives. While I usually feel most passionate about violence prevention, menstruation, body image and female beauty standards, today I celebrate my female friendships. Which, as you’ll read, I am clearly passionate about as well.

I have two sisters, both of whom I consider, besides sisters, to be intimate friends that mean the world to me. Beyond my blood sisters, each one of my female friendships serves a purpose in my life. With each one of my closest female friends, the moment we met we had an instant connection. The giddy, excited feeling I had about being their friend is probably how most heterosexual girls feel when they meet a guy they’re interested in. (I’ve never really felt this, or at least about someone other than the check out guy or the guy whose house I had to go knocking on for charity. Those are isolated cases in which it’s very rare it would work out.) We met in unlikely situations, often rare that a deep friendship would ensue from a library run-in or group Facebook message.

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*Cheesy tear* “I love you guys”

I’ve never been the girl that says “I prefer to hang out with guys. They’re so much less drama” (I’m not shaming “that girl” in any way, by the way!). I of course had drama, as do we all. But I love being friends with girls. I love being constantly surrounded by girls, inspired by girls and laughing with girls. I find so much comfort in sharing my pain and vulnerabilities with other girls. I love girls so much that I often wonder how I can ever make a genuine connection with a heterosexual man (because all men are obviously the same, you know…).

This is my life. My best female friends are always a text, Whatsapp or Facebook message away from always being there for me. My virtual friendships sustain me through every emotion possible. Sometimes after having a good catch-up with them, I feel like I can conquer the world.

Then, there’s the reality of my experience traveling:

There is the issue of small quantity of girls, and the fact that I’ve not made many instant connections with girls I’ve met traveling. Even though it now feels like every girl you went to high school with just quit her job to travel the world, backpacking is still a very male-dominated phenomenon. Last Character Tuesday, I wrote about the hilarious personalities of Southeast Asia. There was only one female on the list. And she wasn’t a fellow traveler, she was a local. But still, this shows how little contact we have with both female travelers and female locals. Knowing this, perhaps that’s why my experience at a Moroccan hammam was one of the most powerful of my life. It was one of the only spaces I’ve ever felt so close to other women. Perhaps that’s why I feel so connected to Argentina; I spent much time surrounded by female activists, including one unforgettable 36 hour bus ride from Buenos Aires to Posadas. That’s a lot of girl time.

How is it that I can be so energized by other women and feel so complete from my female friendships, but miss out completely from forming female bonds while traveling? Is it a rare jealousy- as in “I’m the special girl?” Is it some subconscious comparisons we are making? Is it because they don’t give me the same attention as a male would? I aim to be more aware of this, and find out why. And, I might add, find out why without blaming the other (as in “she wasn’t very friendly,” or “she didn’t invite me somewhere”) International Women’s Day: Criticize the oppressors, celebrate the achievements.

We -all women, not just women travelers- have to stick together and support one another. Didn’t our obsession with Mean Girls teach us anything? It’s easy to step back and not stand up for someone when you have no connection to them.

Just like buying pink loofah for your mom on International Women’s Day seems trivial, it may seem ridiculous for a privileged traveler to discuss female solidarity when there are child marriages, femicides and forced sterilizations. There is constant violence and systematic injustices women face on a daily basis. But at a closer look, maybe we can be activists in our daily interactions without being overwhelmed by the macro issues (similar to the concept of “Redefining Helping Others“).

Featured photo: My sister and Vina of Gioan Cookery School. We’re lucky to have met that firecracker of a lady!

Missed last year’s International Women’s Day post? Check it out here.

If you want to read more about female friendship, I was completely inspired by Lenny’s special Valentine’s Day newsletter

I Saw My Period At A Sacred Place

Warning: This post has to do with my menstrual cycle and will discuss blood. If this makes you uncomfortable, please stop reading. If this makes you uncomfortable and you are uncomfortable with the fact that you are uncomfortable, you might be interested in learning about menstrual cycles! See the fun and easy-to-read guide Menstrupedia and read here about how people are changing the period stigma around the world.

It was our first day in Bangkok, Thailand. My sister and I were doing our first go-round of tourism. After getting Malaria medication, eating at Silom Soi 20 and Cabbages and Condoms in the same day and sweating our way through tuk tuks, taxis, public transportation and city crowds, we thought it was time for some culture.

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Reclining Buddha at Wat Pho.

And by culture, I mean disrespectfully passing quickly through the splendor, history and architecture of Wat Pho and going directly to their massage center.

Sometimes you’re sweaty, tired, and have period cramps. And you just want a massage. A Thai massage, at that. Where else better than the very place that’s credited with it’s invention?

I came wearing long “hippie” pants and a shirt covering my shoulders. When we got the massage, they gave us traditional Thai massage clothes, which are loose fitting pants that are near impossible for me to tie. Every time I got a massage in Asia I had to seek the help of one of the employees to secure them. You would have thought I’d learn.

Both Jennifer and I were guided into the air conditioned room. In this massage center, and all others that we visited in Southeast Asia, privacy is a different concept. Your relaxing massage is enhanced by sharing a space with at least 30 other people. The employees often have full-on conversations, and then whisper to you when they want you to do something. It’s like they’re screaming to each other about their weekend -“WE HAD SO MANY PEOPLE AT MY HOUSE I DIDN’T HAVE ENOUGH FOOD”-and then they gently tap you on the shoulder and whisper, “Turn over please.”

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Tiles at Wat Pho.

In my loose fitting clothing, I lay down in a shared bed next to a older white female tourist. She halfway opened her eyes as I climbed on next to her. I gave her the nod.

My period was heavy. Early in my cycle, the floodgates had been let open. I had a pad in, which you’ll soon find out was not the best option for a Thai massage. I thought the wings would protect me, but I calculated wrong. A tampon would have sufficed. My struggles with the menstrual cup would have resulted in a much worse situation, so at least there’s that.

My masseuse was a middle-aged man with short black hair. He was petite and walked quickly, giving me directions and leading me with his hand gestures. He didn’t speak much English but gave me frequently smiles and nods to indicate I was doing the right thing.

As he put my legs and arms in different positions, I was left vulnerable to the threat of leakage. I opened my eyes as my foot was above my head and I wondered if I was going to bleed through the pants they had given me. He turned me on my side and was practically punching my right hip (getting all those knots out, love that!) and I felt some dampness (to be less graphic on a post about periods). He and the female masseuse next to him started talking. I, of course, didn’t think anything of it. Conversation during massages are normal.

The massage continued for thirty more minutes. He cracked my back, contorted me into a quasi-back bend and slapped my upper back to signify the end of our time together. “Okay, all finished,” he whisper. I opened my eyes, rolled over, and thought, oh shit.

Earlier, I was worried about bleeding through their dark pants. I never considered the possibility of leaving a pool of deep, red blood on their crisp white sheets.

“I’m so, so sorry,” I told my masseuse. I wrinkled my face and tried to communicate how sorry I was with concerned eyes. He just keep smiling and shaking his head. He tried to tell me I had nothing to worry about. I was grateful for him not making a big deal out of it.

At least the next person to sit in the bed where I got my massage would do so on fresh sheets. Yeah, you’re welcome.

I went to the dressing room and changed back into my clothes. My masseuse was waiting for me so he could take my spoiled pants. He had to put them in a “special” hamper. Separate from the untainted ones.

I whispered “sorry” at least ten more times as I walked out. Other clients started to notice and would crack open their eyes to see who this obsessively apologetic girl was. I met back up with my sister at the entrance.

I walked out feeling disgusting. I wasn’t even embarrassed that it happened. I’m all about ending the menstruation stigma. But I was already dripping sweat and couldn’t wait to take a shower. We put our Thai Buddhism lesson on hold until further notice and left the premises.

“I got their sheets pretty dirty,” I told my sister. “I bled through their pants and onto the bed.”

“Oh god, ” was all she could say. She laughed a bit, too.

The only thing that gives me comfort in these types of situations is the thought that I can’t be the only one. Or, I can’t be the worst one. Out of the people who have filed through the doors of the Wat Pho massage center, something had to have been “worse” than my blood on the white sheets. Menstruating women aren’t banned from all temples! Only in some. There’s a success story.

You would guess right now that I would have learned my lesson. I apparently did not. In Chiang Mai, we took a quick detour from seeing the city to get massages. I was again menstruating and again I was wearing a pad, not a tampon. At the end of the massage, I was relieved to not see any blood on the bed. That might be attributed to the dark brown sheets. I changed and found a surprise…but no one but me noticed this time.

Want to read about menstruation in Thai culture? Read here about an American Muay Thai fighter’s experience in the ring and what it’s like to be a menstruating fighter.

#16DaysofActivism: The No Means No Campaign in Bilbao

To commemorate the end of the 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence Campaign, I want to share photos of a violence prevention campaign in Bilbao, Spain.

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Bilbao is the new Las Vegas

16 Days of Activism runs from 25 November, the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, to 10 December, Human Rights Day. The fifth goal of the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals is gender equality. These 16 days are meant to bring light to the violence that women and girls face around the world, solely because of their gender. Citizens, policymakers, and educators are taking a stand.

Around the globe, 1 in 3 women has experienced some form of gender violence. Like the rest of the world, Spanish women grapple with physical and sexual violence, and many activists have brought attention to devastating femicides. Read the Spanish Ministry of Health, Social Services and Equality’s 2015 Report on Violence against Women to learn more about gender-based violence in Spain.

Semana Grande de Bilbao

This past August, I visited Basque Country. Yes, this is same trip as the Pitbull incident. The day that Pitbull didn’t accompany us, friends and I went to Bilbao to see the last weekend of the annual celebration, Aste Naguisa.

Aste Naguisa is a 9-day festival celebrating Basque-ness. Political and neighborhood organizations set up tents.  In these tents, participants drink, play games, and see performances. Walking around the endless pedestrian-only streets we saw the organizations’ massive murals and artistic takes on pop culture, consumer society and world events.

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It’s the Basque spiderman
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There’s a lot of references going on here. The Basque Uncle Sam?
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Protest for Spain’s anti-protest law
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Play on consumer culture.

The narrow cobblestones streets were filled with overflowing tapas bars, street vendors and loud music. Those celebrating the festival wear purple scarves.

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The scarf the party goers wear

The protagonist of the festival is Marijaia, who, surprisingly, is burned to celebrate the end of the 9-day event. Marijaia means “lady of the party,” and she is meant to symbolize optimism and dance.

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Happy and dance-loving Marijaia here to say “hey!”

She comes in different shapes, forms, and versions.

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Marijaia even made an appearance at the Guggenheim cafe in Bilbao

The above photo was the first Marijaia I saw. At first I thought she was just a fun decoration. Then I realized her significance. Below is an example of a smaller version, seen in a shop window in the central distinct.

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Mini-Marijaia in the house, throw your hands in the air!

Marijaia was everywhere. But among the tents and crowds, I noticed a different version of her I hadn’t seen before. This Marijaia was purple, with a winking face with the words, “Egin Keinu bardintasunari” (Make an equality gesture) under it. At the bottom, it reads, “Ez beti da Ez,” or “no means no.”

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One of the posters of the campaign in the city center.

The campaign “Ez beti da Ez,” financed by the Bilbao Town Hall, had the support of 880 businesses located on the grounds of the event. The campaign distributed 700,000 napkins with the phrase, “¡Ez beti da ez; no es no. Insistir es acosar. Acosar es agredir¡” (No means no. To insist is to harass. To harass is to attack) to be placed in those restaurants.

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Some of the napkins I saw at a tapas bar I visited.

The directors of the campaign also distributed cards with emergency phone numbers and had a hotline available for people to report violence. Buses on certain lines throughout the city were also decorated to spread the word on preventing violence, and to provide information for those who needed to report.

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One of the buses in Bilbao’s center.

It struck me as impressive that the local government was able to make this campaign so visible. Everywhere I saw a billboard, a poster, a sign, a napkin. The message “no means no” was unavoidable. It was loud and clear, just as the campaigners intended it. Their goal was to make the event for all people and free of prejudice and violence of any form. Festivals are for joyous celebration, not for chauvinism and aggression.

As my friends and I joined hundreds of people circling around teams competing in traditional Basque games, I couldn’t help but notice a huge “no means no” sign behind the crowds.

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The winking Marijaia gives her message

I walked around the people as an announcer was speaking in Basque. When no one cheered when expected, she switched to Spanish and said, “So no one speaks Basque here?” As she continued, I saw a few girls holding a cutout. It was a giant, winking Marijaia with her face cut out. Festival goers could show their support for the campaign by inserting their faces in the sign.

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Traditional Basque games that were going on as I observed the cutout

For 16 Day of Activism, I celebrate this campaign. I celebrate the town hall’s creativity in associating a revered cultural symbol with consent and equality. Violence prevention efforts are more effective when they are continuous and consistent. I hope the campaign served to remind people to respect others. I hope that in case someone was in danger, the campaign’s hotline was there to help.

Do you also want to wink for equality?

On these 16 Days of Activism, I hope everyone takes a moment to understand the challenges women face around the world. Your education shouldn’t make you feel powerless, however. One of my favorite quotes is by Charles Dickens:

No one is useless in this world who lightens the burden of anyone else.

Each of us has a chance. A chance to lighten the burden of someone else. To step up for those who have been pushed down.

  • Read here for my tips on handling subtle micro-gender-based attacks, especially in the classroom.
  • Read here for tips on how to confront abusive language.
  • Read the U.S. Department of State’s blog on three ways you can participate in 16 Days of Activism. Your activism doesn’t have to end after the 16 days. Use this tips to be an advocate for human rights all year.
  • Read here for how you can help others by being at peace with yourself
  • Gear up to celebrate International Women’s Day on March 8
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Feminism was present and vocal at the festivities

Featured photo: A mural at one of the tents

On Backpacking While Being A Very Hairy Woman: Part 2

You heard the story. You know what happens when you pretend that everyone is okay with your female body hair.

That’s right, you photograph it!

You take precious tourist destinations, and put your body hair all over them!

Below, model, friend, and fellow blogger Kimberly poses for me across Europe.

Kimberly in Rome
Put your hands up if you’re down with G-O-D! Rome, Italy.
Kimberly Moroccan Desert
The desert was no small feat for hair like this. Merzouga, Morocco.
Curious Goats
This was the first time that some goats had seen armpit hair on females. Merzouga, Morocco.
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He just stopped by to say hello. And wonder… Merzouga, Morocco.
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“We’re here and she’s there. How can we get closer to that hair?” Merzouga, Morocco.
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Some goats wanted to be models also. Merzouga, Morocco.
Hair in Porto
Divas belong in Porto, Portugal.
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I see something I don’t agree with. That’s right, I’m in favor of more hair. Finisterre, Spain.
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Hostels and Hair. Something we can all get behind. Lisbon, Portugal.
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What’s more ancient than body hair? Rome, Italy.
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Tiles and furry friends. Tile Museum in Lisbon, Portugal.
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I see something I’m interested in. Finisterre, Spain.
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Doing what I want makes me happy! Finisterre, Spain.
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I was just walking by when I realized how beautiful my natural hair is… excuse me while I enjoy my reflection. Finisterre, Spain.

 

On Backpacking While Being a Very Hairy Woman

He looked down at the practically inch-long hair on my legs. I interjected the stares of the boy who was flirting with me in Ibiza and explained, “Yeah… I don’t really shave sometimes…”

To my surprise, he remarked, “Vello es bello.” Body hair is beautiful. Before I could respond, I almost started crying I was so happy. Someone who understands me! (Don’t get excited. It still didn’t work out.)

In my discussions on leg, map of Tasmania, and underarm hair, there has been him…and what felt like the rest of the world.

The encounter with my Ibiza admirer was night and day compared to the death stares I received while traveling Europe with Kimberly this summer.

In Cinque Terre, at the height (or length!) of my leg/arm/pub hair, I caught one man transfixed by the curly-q’s sprouting from my calves. While walking the Camino de Santiago, a friend of ours was clearly disgusted every time Kimberly lifted up her arm, exposing her underarm hair growth. That was pretty entertaining to be a party to.

(It is important to note that yes, because I was a tourist, I frequented tourist areas. This also may influence people’s opinions)


Why Are People Disgusted?

In February of 2014, I wrote an article on pubic hair, one of my most favorite articles I’ve ever written. In response to American Apparel’s use of pubic merkins, I posed the question “Will this year mark the ‘year of the bush?’”

That was over a year and a half ago. And clearly 2014 wasn’t. My experiences this summer in Europe with full-on hair taught me that 2015 hasn’t been either (hey, 2016… you out there?).

Needless to say, the opinions on the topic are many and varied. Geographic concerns no longer (if they ever did?) determine hair or no hair growth. In my experience, if you talk to anyone over 50 years-old (who hasn’t been to Europe), he/she will most likely believe that European women are ravenous, unkempt animals (as demonstrated by a facial gesture the speaker makes) who “just let it all go.”

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“How do make putting up a ponytail becomes an act of activism in one single step?” 1. Put up a ponytail.” Illustration by Rocio Salazar.

While people in the U.S. tend to view Europeans as hairy, turns out things stateside aren’t as clean shaven as assumed. According IU sex researcher Debbie Herbenick’s 2010 study on pubic hair removal patterns in the United States, only 12% of women aged 25-29-years-olds were hair free.

In a different hair removal study, researchers found that:

Europe-wide, 10% of women completely removed their pubic hair, 15% trimmed, and 75% left it completely natural. Women in Eastern Europe, France, and Spain are notorious for leaving their armpits and legs unshaved, and one can assume this also extends to the pubic region.

I’d like to know where those women are. Because I certainly didn’t see them.

Why would some women shave and some not? There are any number of reasons, some of them personal and others political (Hard to tell which is which. The personal IS political!).

Lizzie Crocker reports that:

But body hair remains a powerful weapon in the fight against patriarchal standards of female beauty, and removing it is still largely associated with internalizing misogynist ideals of femininity.

Hair removal thus becomes the visible and external demonstration of women deciding that they decide for themselves, not mainstream hetereonormative patriarchal society.

Illustrator Rocio Salazar’s collection ¿Y si no me depilo más?  (And if I don’t remove my hair anymore?) the artist challenges ideas of taking care of oneself, beauty, and cleanliness.

rocio salazar 2
“La mujer como la osa/Cuanto mas pelo, mas hermosa” (Like woman like Bear, More hair, more beautiful) Illustration by Rocio Salazar.

Her illustrations show a general support for not shaving, claiming its woman’s personal choice, and does not imply that she is ugly, dirty, or unwanted (Interestingly, Argentine researcher Karina Felitti makes the argument that to remove hair or not remove hair should be a personal choice. However, she notes that in some feminist circles, if you decide to remove hair, you become a slave to patriarchy and judged by other feminists. Felitti argues that this type of conflict creates a rift among woman and takes attention away from the real issues, such as equal pay, the right to decide, and violence).


What Does This Mean For the Woman Who Travels?

People who travel outside of the U.S. tend to remark how progressive Europe is, and how ignorant Americans are. But progressive in terms of what? Social policy (and a number of other topics), I would argue yes. But socially? Body acceptance? Our hegemonic standards of beauty cut across national borders. I can’t make any assumptions about the U.S. or Europe as a whole, but it seemed that no matter where Kimberly and I went, people weren’t entirely comfortable with our choice to not shave.

My reasons for or for not shaving/removing hair are more out of convenience than protest. That being said, the reason I am still okay with not shaving comes from my feminist education and understanding of why women are expected to shave. Therefore, when I don’t, I don’t find myself “unkempt” or undesirable. I am not afraid to go to the beach with a bush.

Removing hair hurts (although I am partial to waxing) and is time consuming. Generally, I would rather spend my time elsewhere than slaving away over my unruly hair and sensitive skin.

For a backpacker, this outlook makes things very convenient. Without stressing over hair removal, the female backpacker saves money, time, and is removed from shame and embarrassment of body hair.

Maybe the shower is too small or you don’t feel like shaving in cold water. Perhaps you’d rather eat a sandwich than buy a razor. Maybe, you are just tired and don’t feel like showering, period. No problem. Just don’t shave.

The trade-off?  One must be prepared for the stares and disgust that not removing hair might produce.

For me, it’s worth it.

What about you? What have your experiences shaving/not shaving while traveling been? How have people reacted?