Jill Crooks of Arrowtown and daughter Maggie Crooks of Kapiti attempt to hitchhike home after all train service were cancelled following a magnitude 6.2 earthquake on August 16, 2013 in Wellington, New Zealand.Photo: Hagen Hopkins (Getty Images)
Hitchhikers were once a familiar sight on roads around the world. That is until increased private car ownership, long haul buses and a spate of road-based serial killers made the practice seem no just impractical, but incredibly dangerous — especially for women.
Some women, however, are braving the practice once again in an attempt to see the world cheaply while cutting down on their carbon footprint. Vice France spoke to several of these women, who are all quite level headed about the risks and rewards of bumming a ride:
“I learned to trust my instincts, I feel it in my gut,” she said. “If I think something is off, I’m not getting in. Many of us women hitchhikers have worked out this way of doing things.”
This also rings true to globetrotter Lucie Azema, author of Les Femmes Aussi Sont Du Voyage (“Women Travel Too”, only available in French). “Hitchhiking is built around a lot of danger, but women manage to overcome it,” says Azema. The problem is, society only values risk taking in men, Azema continues. “The more considerable risks a traveller takes, the more their trip is seen as adventure in its truest form,” she said. “But for women, we think of travelling as dangerous, because a woman’s place is in the home.”
Of course, the threat of sexual assault is very present in any woman’s life, and that’s true for female travellers, too. But as multiple studies show, women are much more likely to be assaulted by people they know than by strangers on the street, despite what most of us grow up believing.
Azema thinks this framing of the issue is all wrong. “We have a very sexualised image of female travellers,” Azema said. “But instead of telling women to be careful, we should be better at educating men not to attack them. To be provocative, maybe we should ban men from travelling, since they are the ones who are dangerous.”
It’s not like women aren’t very, very aware of the risks. There are risks every time we step out of our own door — the only options are to stay home or face the danger.
Of course, any true crime junkie (also a category that is overrepresented by women) will tell you that hitchhiking was the tool of several serial killers such as Ed Kemper and Ivan Milat. But it wasn’t just women would were murdered while engaging in the practice; Jeffery Dahmer’s first victim was a male hitchhiker, for instance. Still, it’s only women who we assume are facing undue dangers when they stick that thumb out.
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The women interviewed by Vice use instincts and technology to keep themselves safe while traveling the way they want. They sound like a tough and fearless group worthy of admiration, rather than reproach by finger waggers.
The entire story is great and really challenges our pre-conceived notions about women hitchhiking around the world.