Winnie Wills

Travelling Exclusions: My Experience of “Boys’ Clubs”

My boyfriend is travelling with me at the moment. I have been planning this trip for a year now, and him coming along is great. It gives me confidence enough to hitchhike, something I would not be comfortable doing alone. He has friends scattered across Europe we have stayed with which makes travelling cheaper, and means we have a local guide when we arrive in new places, which is brilliant.

And generally the reception we have received has been overwhelming. People have welcomed us into their homes, given us their beds and showed us places we would not have discovered by ourselves. But I have noticed all of people we have stayed are men, and after a fortnight of travelling and being surrounded by men, I have started to feel less welcome.

It came to a head this week, when I discovered my boyfriend isn’t a feminist. I’ve got friends who like him support all types of equality and still (frustratingly) don’t like the label, but this left me utterly forlorn. I felt alone and unsupported without my normal network of women around me. I was worried I was overacting, but then began to think of many occasions while travelling when I was excluded, and when my boyfriend was part of it.

Seemingly small things, had started to pile up. Things like men apologising to me for swearing because “we are not used to having a girl around.” A friend’s dad is booking us ferry tickets, and talking only to my boyfriend to arrange the details. Anecdotes aimed at the other men in the room where I am delivered a cursory glance and must laugh along to try and include myself.

Winnie on her travels

Winnie on her travels

Then meeting our most recent host I was noticeably uncomfortable. He talked about how he “doesn’t like strong women” and I laughed along though I don’t really know what that means. I looked at my boyfriend for reassurance. “You like strong women don’t you?” He says yes, but somehow that felt like a bad thing. This friend talked about women he has slept with with derision and when a group of us (again all men) got drunk together it felt like the exclusion came from him not wanting me there; that somehow my presence inhibited his and my boyfriend’s enjoyment of our visit. (It occurs to me now that as he “doesn’t like strong women” his behaviour may be caused by intimidation)

It’s difficult to talk about, men are socialised to behave differently when they are grouped together, just as women are. Being a man trying to fit in with a group of women can have its challenges too. But these seemingly little things were frustrating because though we are travelling together in many ways I consider this my trip. Though our tickets were booked only a week before we left I have been planning in my head for ages. My boyfriend’s company has enriched the trip immensely, but it frustrates me that I have felt excluded, and it frustrates me further that I feel I have been (partially) privy to things that without him I would not have been.

I messaged my sister who is five years my junior, but in many ways stronger than I. She doesn’t laugh at sexist comments, and she gives me the bolstering I need. I talk to my boyfriend and tell him about how excluded I have felt. He’s surprised and ashamed. He promises to be more aware and to try and stop it happening, I promise myself I will not laugh uneasily just to fit in, and that I will not let myself be excluded. 

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