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Blog Insight & Commentary

When Womanhood Means Constantly Looking Over Your Shoulder

Even on vacation, we have to keep our guards up.

I just spent a week in Mexico by myself, having booked my first solo vacation at the urging of a friend. I’d been going through a particularly stressful patch — the new location of my yoga studio, Vikriya Lab, was set to open in a few weeks, and I was both insanely excited and insanely scared out of my mind. I was also in a funk personally. My friend knew that planning the vacation would distract me and give me something to look forward to.

It was beautiful, and relaxing, and basically perfect. Except, I realized, that when you’re traveling as a single woman, you’re always on edge. You’re always on the lookout for something suspicious or that raises the hairs on the back of your neck, or just doesn’t feel right. Because you are always vulnerable as a woman.

We’ve started to discuss this more in society, but it flares up and dies down, and it becomes, to some extent, victim-blaming. She should have known better. She should have been more careful. Or we’re accused of hyperbole (aka hysteria aka overreacting). But none of that really matters. If a man wants to exert power over a woman, he usually will, in the smallest and largest of ways.

The importance of trusting your gut

Nothing bad happened to me while I was in Mexico. But when I checked into my Airbnb, I didn’t feel safe. It was away from all the other buildings, the road to it unlit at night, and all the nearby construction workers saw my single femaleness walk by them and knew I was staying there alone.

So I moved into a hotel, after the urging of loved ones to trust my gut. I felt so stupid, wasting the money. But I couldn’t shake the feeling that something bad would or could happen.

Even little comments can escalate into violence

So many little things happen that we are trained to blow off (because it’s no big deal, right?). Like a DM from a stranger asking how long I’d be in Mexico. Did he know where I was staying? Would he try to find out? Or the shuttle driver and bellboy telling me how beautiful I am as they are with me, alone, vulnerable. And a married man telling me via private message that he likes how I look in a bikini. Totally disrespectful to me and his wife. Nothing huge. But nothing that we should have to put up with as women.

If you’re wondering why I don’t want to be told I look good by a stranger, it’s because I don’t know what action they’re going to follow it up with. Maybe nothing, maybe stalking, maybe violence, but I don’t know, and statistics show that any of these is possible.

Damned if we do respond, damned if we don’t

So what do we do? Do we speak up and say no, that’s not ok, you’re disrespecting me, you’re making me feel unsafe? Maybe they’ll get it, maybe they’ll say they were just trying to make us feel good, maybe they’ll call us a bitch, or maybe they’ll get angry and really hurt us. A lot of the time, the easiest and safest course of action is to bite our tongues, pretend to ignore it, and pray we’re left alone.

I consider myself lucky because I haven’t been violently raped. But I’m not lucky. I have my #MeToo stories, too. And every woman (and many men) I know has her (or his) own story of trauma. Their own truth. Their own situation where they knew they couldn’t say or do what they wanted because it would put them in danger. It’s not surprising how many women I know with traumatic stories, considering the U.S. is in the top 10 of the world’s most dangerous countries for women.

We need to keep talking about this. We don’t have to allow these things to be normal. This isn’t “just the way it is.” We can do better.

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By Laura Rose Schwartz

Laura Rose is a co-owner and founder of Vikriya Lab — a yoga, Pilates, and barre studio — and an instructor with over 5000 hours of teaching experience. Affectionately known as "Body by Laura," her classes are designed to be different. An attorney in her previous life, Laura is passionate about how yoga has transformed her life and sharing tools with others to transform their own. Follow her on instagram @lauraroseyoga and @vikriyalab.

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