They make me excited to travel to places and see things and people, go shopping, try new foods, visit museums, and maybe even go clubbing (even though I’ve never set foot in a nightclub in my life and wouldn’t know the first thing about how to behave once inside). But the thing that I love most about Lonely Planet travel guides is that they make me feel that places like Paris, which I’ve thought of as some sort of fairy-tale dreamland since I was a little girl, aren’t actually super far away or unattainable at all. Only one six-hour flight over the Atlantic and I’m there. In PARIS. I’ve done longer car rides than that, and to much less glamorous places, like Pennsylvania! So what’s stopping me?!
Well, money, of course. Sure, it’s only about a six-hour flight, but it’s not a FREE flight. Nor will the hotel be free, or my meals, and then there’s the little problem where I don’t speak French. And also the problem where I’m afraid that French people will quickly catch on that I don’t speak French, and will probably mock me loudly in public.
My point is though, even if I never actually book a flight to any of these places, Lonely Planet brings these places to me, through their fun photos and their intimate knowledge of local dive restaurants with the best tapas, and family-friendly attractions, bus schedules, and fold-out maps. For like $20, I can travel to any city in the world, right from my couch. It’s magic, what their writers are capable of. (No, this is not a sponsored post.)
Recently though, I stumbled across something off-putting while I was flipping through one of my beloved Lonely Planet guides. Their Discover London 2019 travel guide has a section in the Survival Guide portion titled “Women Travellers” in which it says, “Female visitors to London are unlikely to have many problems, provided they take the usual big-city precautions.”
This gave me pause. Without reading the next two sentences of the section, I knew immediately what Lonely Planet meant. Don’t go out at night alone, don’t talk to men that you don’t know, don’t leave your drinks unattended, probably carry mace or a small folding knife if it’s legal.
And that is about the long and the short of what the next sentence said: “Don’t get into an Underground carriage with no one else in it or just one or two men. And if you feel unsafe, you should take a taxi or a licensed minicab.”
You guys, this tiny little three sentence section at the back of an otherwise enchanting guide to London totally snapped me out of the magical moment and brought me back to reality with a rude bounce.
I guess what I’m getting at is that this secret society of womanhood that I’ve been initiated into depresses me. It’s like when Harry Potter accidentally speaks Parseltongue in the Chamber of Secrets. I feel like I somehow know a whole other language without realizing it. “Take the usual big-city precautions,” means “Don’t go out in public and you probably won’t get sexually assaulted,” “Aunt Flo is here for her monthly visit,” means “My period is here, and I either need you to give me a tampon, or I’m justifying my terrible behavior with the ultimate trump card so SHUT UP AND GIVE ME CHOCOLATE OR HEADS WILL ROLL,” and “She’s getting her MRS degree,” means “She went to college to find a husband and has no intent of completing a real program of study.”
There are a whole bunch of other coded sentences that I can’t think of right now, but I feel like that’s the point. It’s all subconsciously embedded into our brains until it gets triggered by these coded phrases that cause us to share knowing looks with one another and purse our lips and be reminded that we’re women. But it’s reached the point where I’m sharing these knowing looks with my BOOKS. Inanimate objects. Inanimate objects that were published in 2018. Why haven’t we progressed past this crap yet as a species? Will we never?
I dunno. For once, I would like to read something—anything– without being put on edge about my gender. And something tells me that I’m not alone in that feeling. I think it’s the huge secret society of women who occupy this lonely planet, our shared anger, fear, and sadness hidden in plain sight.