As a user of Goodreads, both to keep track of what I have already read and what I want to read, I stumble across many book reviews by other Goodreads users- they just show up when you add the book to your virtual shelves or when you update your reading status. Being who I am, my eyes automatically stray to those blocks of text and I end up reading at least the first sentence or two before I realize what I’m doing.
I’ve noticed something disturbing in those brief reviews. It’s not the fact that it sometimes feels like people have not actually read the book they’re reviewing or that they hate a book loved (or loved a book I hated). It has to do with travel memoirs. Specifically those written by women. There is one term that repeatedly appears in these reviews.
As in, “this woman is incredibly self-indulgent to be setting out on this adventure and leaving behind people who love her”, or, “I picked up this memoir expecting it to be just another self-indulgent tale about the sex she had and the drugs she did, and blah, blah, blah”.
I don’t recall seeing such terminology used when it is men writing about their adventures. No one said the man who left his cushy job and his loving wife to be a fire spotter in New Mexico was conceited or spoiled. When the middle-aged, somewhat out-of-shape man left his wife for several months to bike across the United States no review I saw said he was a self-indulgent prat. When Captain Joshua Slocum left his wife and children to commence a three-year voyage around the world in a sailboat (he said he had nothing better to do), everyone is in awe of his journey (which is, of course, a remarkable feat. No one had ever done such a thing before), but it hardly seems to register to people that he would just up and leave his family behind and go sailing whenever it suited him.
But when it is a woman doing the traveling, what you find is “a self-indulgent, spoiled, conceited, self-centered, privileged white girl decides to embark on a journey (to a foreign land, on a cross country hike, etc.) that she knows nothing about and writes about the moronic things she did, expecting us to feel sorry for her because she ran into trouble on the way”. It almost feels like the reviewers are glad when said intrepid ‘girl’ runs into difficulties on her journey, as though it serves her right for wandering out of her comfort zone. Of course. How dare a woman choose a different path from what society has dictated for her? How dare she suffer a grievous personal loss before embarking on a long journey to try to piece her life back together?
How dare she be adventurous?
This week I am preparing to head to Colorado for a few days. My travel plans include a day at Rocky Mountain National Park, a journey I will be making alone. Despite the mountain roads and the high elevation trails at the park, and the fact that the trip includes long hours of driving through the empty high plains of Nebraska and Colorado, I am neither bothered by the solitude nor afraid of it. Most who know me just shrug when I tell them this, the thought of “There she goes again” plain in their minds, but there are a few who wonder why I would go out of my way and add hours of travel time to an already long journey just to spend a few hours looking at more mountains. To me, the answer is plain: because I’ve never been there.
Does this make me spoiled and self-indulgent? To some, the answer is apparently yes. And I feel sorry for them. Have they never looked at a map and wondered, “What’s is like over there? I think I’ll go find out”. Have they never pushed themselves to discover their own limits and expand the boundaries of what they thought they could do?
Or is it only men who are allowed to walk down the paths of adventure?
If being female and going on strange journeys makes me self-indulgent, then so be it. Call me spoiled, self-centered, conceited, or whatever other insult you want. But though they might be small adventures in comparison, they are mine, and it cannot be said that I have never pushed my own boundaries.