I don’t know if it was one too many viewings of the Britney Spears classic Crossroads or the result of my family’s many sticky summer trips to the Jersey shore, but somewhere along the way, I fell in love with road trips. When I learned to drive, one of the things I was most excited for was the freedom I would have to go anywhere at anytime without being at the mercy of public transportation or a giant metal bird catapulting itself into the sky. I could literally go at my own speed, shove a bunch of Cheetos in my face, lick the dust from my fingers, and listen to the trashiest of romance audiobooks; no one else would ever need to know.
When I told my mothers of my dreams of adventuring cross country alone after I graduate college, I thought they would perhaps roll their eyes a little at the Cheeto thing, but overall have no qualms with my goals. Instead, they raised their eyebrows and asked me if I thought it was safe.
“I’m a really safe driver, of course it’s safe.”
That’s not what they meant. They meant, “Is it safe as a woman?” They meant, “Will you be okay because you’re a woman?” They meant, “Are you sure people won’t take advantage of you?” This stopped me in my tracks, and I doubted myself, and my dreams, for the first time. I was so frustrated; I had driven by myself from Philly to Boston and back and forth from the Catskills to Philly several times a year, and all of a sudden my moms were worried about me. Why?
It might have something to do with the narratives we are told about women on the road. While men have movies like Easy Rider and The Motorcycle Diaries, and books such as Kerouac's On The Road, which show men going about their journeys without any gender-based fear, women get Thelma & Louise who (*SPOILER ALERT*) kill themselves at the end. Where are the road trip novels and buddy comedies featuring women finding themselves? Why are we not allowed the freedom of following our own schedules with the wind in our hair? Even in the aforementioned 2002 hit Crossroads, the three women are joined by a man, Ben, who’s main reason to be on screen is to act as a love interest for Britney. After all, who’s going to fix the car if it breaks down and there's no man around, right? But Ben isn’t only there to fix cars; he’s there to play the role of the protector, even though he is literally referred to as a potential “homicidal maniac” in the film.
I asked several other women my age if they thought they would want someone of the male variety to join them on a road trip for protection. Mini Racker, a mechanical engineering student at Stanford University said that while she has taken many solo road trips and doesn’t feel the need for anyone to protect her, she has worried about her safety in the past. Citing a recent trip through Arizona, she said, “Several times, I wondered what I would do if a police officer, or someone pretending to be one, pulled me over. My dad always taught me to pull into a well-lit, well-trafficked area in that situation; in Arizona, I'd need to drive 50 miles to do that...If someone did pull me over, would I get raped and murdered with no one to see?” Mini’s fears are valid, as gender-based violence is a reality for so many. Despite these fears that stem from very real situations, though, women such as Emerson student Jen Cole 19, said that her road trips “showed [her] the goodness of others and allowed [her] to be more trusting in humanity” more than anything else.
What I admire about the women I spoke with about their road tripping experiences is that even though they expressed some gender-based safety concerns, all continue to road trip. They continue to take journeys of self-discovery, independence, and growth, effectively creating inspirational narratives for and about themselves. When we roadtrip in female bodies and as femme people, it is a way to take back some of the power that is so often never given to us in the first place. It is a way of reclaiming our time, as Rep. Maxine Waters would say. And as cliche as it may sound, it’s about the journey, not the destination. I hope to see you on the road.
Illustration by: Francisco Guglielmino