I’ve never been so acutely aware of being a woman. No, this didn’t happen in a club or at a bar, it happened in a hostel in Dover, England. I’d gone with a friend to the city for a few days to see the cliffs and the castle, and being broke college kids, we decided to stay in a hostel. To quote Jay-Z, I was, “Hoping for the best, but expecting the worse”, but mostly I just wanted a clean bed.
So at about 8:00 pm, after a delicious pub dinner, my friend and I ventured over to the hostel to check in for the night. We’d walked by it earlier and knew where it was, so finding it again was easy. This time though we went in. The hostel was set up so the only entrance was through the connecting bar, and the only place to pay was at the bar itself. So there my friend and I stood, everything we were traveling with in the backpacks we had on, in a foreign city in a bar filled only with men. I tried to speak assertively and confidently when I told the bartender/hostel operator that we had booked a room for the night, but all I could feel were the tipsy gazes of the men at the bar. Being a woman with a heavy American accent made me feel like an attraction that these men could gawk at shamelessly. I didn’t want to make polite chitchat or talk about The States with anyone in that room. I wanted to leave. Immediately.
Eventually we paid, left the bar full of googly eyes, and grabbed the sheets and blanket we were allotted for the night. The hostel operator gave us a tour of the place, where we learned that there aren’t any locks, just rickety keypads to enter the building and our room. At this point, all I wanted to do was barricade myself in our bunk bed filled dorm room and stay put for the night. First I had to shower though, where every noise and squeak that passed by the bathroom door made me freeze with fear. Pretty sure that was the quickest shower of my life, and once it was over I actually ran back to our room, locked the door, and let out a sigh of relief.
I think more than anything this first hostel experience made me realize that when I travel, I will be forced to be aware of my gender. Not necessarily in a bad way, just in a way that I never have before. I’ve been in all male spaces, but they were safe spaces with men I felt comfortable being around. These other experiences, at hostels or in bars or on trains, occur in spaces where I feel vulnerable with people that I don’t know. Being a female traveler will be uncomfortable at times, and I’m sure there will be more moments when I feel uneasy. I’ve never faced my gender the way I’m being forced to now, but I think my biggest hope is that from these situations, I can grow as a feminist.