Barbershop: The Dangers And Frustrations Of Traveling While Female
MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:
Now we're going to head into the Barbershop. That's where we gather some interesting folks to talk about what's in the news and what's on their minds. We wanted to talk more about the story we just heard as well as some other stories in the news about travel. So for this special Barbershop, we've gathered a group of smart well-traveled ladies to give us the scoop. Joining us for a shapeup this weekend are Washington Post travel writer Andrea Sachs. Welcome Andrea.
ANDREA SACHS: Hi.
MARTIN: Thanks for coming.
SACHS: Great to be here.
MARTIN: NPR's own Jasmine Garsd is with us. She's a producer for this program and co-host of NPR's Alt.Latino. Good to talk to you, Jas.
JASMINE GARSD, BYLINE: Thank you for having me.
MARTIN: And last but certainly not least, University of Connecticut philosophy assistant professor Hallie Liberto, who's also kind of a member of the NPR family, extended. She's a cousin of WEEKEND ALL THINGS CONSIDERED editor Jen Liberto. We called her because one of professor Liberto's areas of expertise is exploitation and sexual consent, which is one of the things we wanted to talk about. So thank you for coming.
HALLIE LIBERTO: And thank you for being interested.
MARTIN: So we just heard the story of this very traumatic experience reported by a young woman journalist who was living and working in Mexico City. Along with the fact that it's spring break, that got us thinking about international travel in general, where people will be heading off to beaches and cities around the world. And people will be, you know, heading into cultures and customs that may or may not have the same views about, you know, women or people of different races or people who are LGBT. And so we wanted to think about how you navigate those experiences and what's your responsibility as a traveler. So Andrea, I'm going to start with you because you write about this for a living. And, you know, it used to be people would say well, your first responsibility as a traveler is to blend in. Is that what you think?
SACHS: Well, not blend in because obviously you cannot be of happy that culture, of that people. And you also want to experience the otherness of others. But you don't want to stand out for the wrong reasons - for being mouthy or dressed inappropriate...
MARTIN: What - inappropriate how?
SACHS: I hate to say that 'cause I feel like you should be able to dress as you wish. But in some cultures, unfortunately, you should sort of downplay the dress.
MARTIN: What's your word of wisdom on this? How do you handle it when you're traveling?
SACHS: I just am cautious. For example, if I'm in Egypt or a culture that's known where women are dressed - maybe longer dresses or sleeves or a little longer, I won't wear a tank top and a short skirt.
MARTIN: Jas, what about you? You've reported extensively, particularly in Latin America and Central America. How do you handle that?
GARSD: Well, I think I also live it through the lens of being Latin-American and never having left Latin America 'til I was 20 years old.
MARTIN: Born in Argentina.
GARSD: Yeah, I'm from Argentina. And once I was a teen, there was never a single day in which a complete stranger did not comment on the fact that I was a woman. Sometimes it was nothing; sometimes it was annoying and sometimes it was really terrifying. And on the days in which it was exhausting or terrifying, I chose to dress down. And I don't know if that makes me a bad feminist. I think for the most part I just wanted to run errands and go to school, you know? And the level of harassment in certain parts of the world does diminish when you are - I hate to use the word less provocative - but less - maybe looking less sexy.
MARTIN: Hallie, you are our moral philosopher here, so I'd like to ask you what's your philosophy about this?
LIBERTO: OK, I think that safety is a really important thing to take into account, but not the only important thing. Sometimes you don't want to be controlled by oppressors. And so it might be a matter of integrity that might matter to you as much as safety. And when it comes to respect for other cultures, you have to maybe do some research into whether or not this signal of disrespect that comes from displaying a woman's body arises from a dehumanizing attitude about women that you might not want to endorse or whether maybe the standards are even the same for men and women there and everyone covers up, in which case it seems like that's probably a good norm to follow if you want to show respect.
MARTIN: You know, Jasmine used the word provocative. Sometimes people want to provoke the system or provoke a norm for a reason. You know, there was a time in this country when black people were expected to get out of the way of any white person. That was a cultural norm.
MARTIN: And at some point, people said I'm not going to do that anymore. And it did provoke the system, sometimes violently. And I'm wondering in your view, should women who feel that these norms are oppressive, provoke the system intentionally through their dress?
LIBERTO: Well, of course what would be best is if women from the culture themselves wanted to resist dehumanizing attitudes toward women by not allowing themselves to be controlled. But failing that, it could be that the only exposure to different attitudes will come from foreign visitors.
MARTIN: You feel like sartorial activism - if I can call it that - is justified because some people...
MARTIN: Some people do do that. I mean, say, people who will - or, say, in same-sex relationships will deliberately hands even though they know...
MARTIN: ...That it will invite negative response because they want to claim that space.
MARTIN: ...And some people would say that's incredibly disrespectful. Why are you doing that?
LIBERTO: Oh, I think that sometimes a couple bravely holding hands - maybe an interracial couple or a gay couple - it might be the only time someone ever sees that because they're in a society in which it could be so punished, and what a brave and courageous thing.
MARTIN: What do you want to say, Jas?
GARSD: I mean, I agree. And I also think a lot of times when you talk about travel, we talk about it through the lens of the experience of a white person, a heterosexual person and a U.S. passport holder, which offers a great deal of privilege. The reality is freedom of mobility is something that a lot of people of color, a lot of people who are of the LGBT community and non-U.S. passport holders have to be really aware of because it's just a different ballgame.
MARTIN: Nobody's coming for you.
GARSD: Or the police will not protect you.
MARTIN: Andrea, what's your advice to people who say I don't want to cover up because I think that's demeaning. What's your advice on this?
SACHS: I'm so torn. I'm so torn because I definitely have strong opinions, and I do want to change a lot of the mindset and the way that women are perceived and treated when we travel abroad. And, I mean, I frequently find when I travel abroad people - first question's where are you from? Second is are you married? And I'm like, does it matter?
MARTIN: I will - I do mention, if you don't mind that...
MARTIN: ...You have a giant wedding ring. It's...
SACHS: I know, and it's...
MARTIN: ...Really pretty, and I can see it from across the...
SACHS: It's a dollar, and I bought it in Egypt. I'm not married, but thank you for falling for it. I started wearing that...
MARTIN: But you do wear it for protection?
SACHS: I do.
MARTIN: You do wear...
SACHS: I do.
MARTIN: ...A wedding ring for protection.
SACHS: I do. I mean, I like the ring. But it sort of says out loud, like, just leave me alone. I don't want us to always have to go through this and have to defend ourselves and wear fake wedding rings. It just doesn't seem right.
MARTIN: Let's bring the conversation back to the United States. Andrea, as you just did...
MARTIN: ...On Wednesday, after Hillary Clinton had just won pretty big in the primary elections, picking up delegates in Florida, North Carolina, Ohio and eventually Missouri, NBC's "Morning Joe" co-host Joe Scarborough tweeted smile, you just had a big night, which set off a fury on social media. A lot of people tweeted pictures of themselves not smiling. Neera Tanden, for example, tweeted you know what a great look is - male reporters complaining Hillary is shouting. #awarenessmuch. OK, Hallie, I'm going to ask you to explain. I think a lot of people are, like, what's the big deal?
LIBERTO: It's a very old feminist worry and a new one, I guess that - when women are told that they should smile, which often happens when you're just walking down the street, right? You go from being this agent looking at the world from the inside out to suddenly being reminded that the rest of the world expects you to look at yourself from the outside in. And men just aren't called upon to do that. Of course, when it comes to a politician, you might say well, they're just a group of people that needs to be thinking about how they're coming across and how affable and welcoming and disarming they are. But in that case, we should be saying it to the male politicians, too.
MARTIN: What is that about though? I have never heard somebody say that to a man on the street.
SACHS: You get that at bars all the time. That's, like, the new pickup line. Are you in a bad mood.
GARSD: But it makes you feel bad because you're like, was I walking around scowling?
SACHS: Do I look angry?
GARSD: Do I look angry.
SACHS: But now I am. It doesn't make you smile when someone says you should smile.
MARTIN: So we've been talking about men harassing women or not giving women respect, so let me throw one more out there. Earlier this week, Madonna, the international superstar, was performing a concert in Brisbane, Australia, where she invited a 17-year-old concertgoer, a young woman, on stage and this happened.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
MADONNA: She's the kind of girl you just want to slap. I mean, [expletive] and pull - oh my [expletive]. I'm sorry - sexual harassment.
MARTIN: That was Madonna tugging on the girl's leather corset and exposed her breast. And the Australian media interview the young fan who said that, quote, unquote, "her boob is not a big deal," unquote, saying she was not humiliated. And I'm glad that she seems OK with it...
LIBERTO: Well, we don't know if that matters. That's actually - it seems to me like that makes it worse.
MARTIN: Let me hear that - yeah, let me hear that - let me hear that point of view. You're saying...
LIBERTO: Well, it just seems like when a victim doesn't mind that they've been victimized, I don't think that should matter to us. We should care about what was done to them and why it was wrong, especially if it's a minor and the person who wronged her is her idol.
MARTIN: So tell me what it is that was wrong from your perspective.
LIBERTO: I think that she was treated like an object. Madonna used her to get attention on her stage. And it seems like it was exploiting a minor for the sake of public attention. It was treating someone like an instrument, right?
MARTIN: Jas, what do you think?
GARSD: Look, Madonna has been having a pretty public meltdown in recent weeks. And how much of it is her being sexist and how much of it is her shenanigans and this is what Madonna does?
MARTIN: But does it make it different because it's a woman? See, that's what I'm asking you.
GARSD: No. And I also think that the thing about misogyny and sexism is that a lot of times it's also women who are enforcing it, you know? Power dynamics...
MARTIN: How so?
GARSD: I do think that a superstar older woman pulling down the corset of a young woman is at the very least icky...
SACHS: And Madonna always plays these roles - this power...
MARTIN: Andrea, final thought from you.
SACHS: Just in some of her videos, she tries to take on the persona of the man and testosterone-fueled. And I feel like in this, she just transformed. Even though she's a female and supposed to be representative of female empowerment, she's almost playing, like, an obnoxious man at a bar.
MARTIN: That's Washington Post travel writer Andrea Sachs, University of Connecticut philosophy assistant professor Hallie Liberto and NPR's own Jasmine Garsd. Thank you all so much for being here.
SACHS: Thank you so much.
GARSD: This was fun.
LIBERTO: Thanks for having us. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.