Danielle Solof

Writer / Traveler / Comedian

Tag: feminisim

SoloFemale Travel

TL;DR: Don’t worry about it. ¬†Be smart, plan your trip, and have fun ūüôā

 

Do you like the pun in my title? ¬†I’m playing with my last name, Solof ūüôā

Moving on, I’m going to get serious for a minute. ¬†Solo Female Travel. ¬†It’s a thing. ¬†Ladies, you can do it. ¬†You can so do it. ¬†You just get a job, save your money, buy a ticket, and go. ¬†It’s your fucking life, so take it by the ovaries and go.

Oh my god. I'm a girl.

Oh my god. I’m a girl.

Here’s the thing: I never thought about traveling solo as a woman. ¬†I never worried for my safety or loneliness. ¬†Not until¬†other people ¬†brought it up.

It didn’t occur to me until I read another travel blogger’s post on solo female travel. ¬†This guy actually has guest posts from women on traveling solo as a woman. ¬†Again, I never thought about it as a thing. ¬†I’m a person- what difference should it make if I’m male or female? ¬†If I want to do something, I should find a way to do it. ¬†But the more I live and the more people I meet, the more I realize it’s a thing and it’s worth addressing, because regardless of if it’s top-of-mind for me or not, it’s top-of-mind for other people, and it can hold them back.

I must be lucky that I grew up not ever thinking I was different- that I could or should be different- because I’m female. ¬†The “female” part of me is just biology as far as I’m concerned. ¬†The rest of me is my own creation, and what that is is my own decision. ¬†Therefore, focusing on “female” travel is a cultural issue, not a personal one.

Nevertheless, here’s what I’ve come to realize are hot-button issues when people think about women who travel.

Independence

I’m a VERY independent person. ¬†Sure, I like company, but I also need time and space to do my own thing. ¬†It’s no different with travel.

When you’re on your own, you don’t have to discuss anything with other people. ¬†Every decision on what you do is yours. ¬†You never have to deliberate or negotiate, you just do what you want to do. ¬†That’s freeing. ¬†That’s simple. ¬†That’s easy.

Boat ride. -Borneo

Boat ride. -Borneo

Even when I’m traveling with friends, we need time away from each other. ¬†Every few days we may go our separate ways and do different things. ¬†We’re two separate people who have different needs and interests. ¬†I don’t want to hold someone back from what they want to do and I don’t want to be held back either. ¬†So, we’re together when we want to be together and apart when we need to be apart. ¬†It has always worked out well.

Being Alone

So often people think I must get so lonely when I travel.  Like, my god, how could I possibly spend a few hours on my own?  Let alone days or weeks, or even MONTHS?!

For starters, I’m not actually alone that whole time. ¬†I do meet other travelers while I’m out doing stuff. ¬†We become friends and hang out while we’re in the same place. ¬†I genuinely enjoy this part of solo travel- all the people you meet on the journey.

Also, I like my own company. ¬†I don’t need other people to entertain me or distract me from myself. ¬†I enjoy the space to explore my thoughts and experience a new place through only my own filter. ¬†When you’re with other people they often share how they experience what they see and that can influence how you see things. ¬†What if you took that away and just had yourself? ¬†What would you see? ¬†What would you discover on your own? ¬†That’s a powerful and important thing to experience, your own views and insights directed only by yourself.

Enjoying listening to rain forest sounds.

Enjoying listening to rain forest sounds. -Borneo

This isn’t loneliness. ¬†It’s solitude. ¬†And it’s much needed, especially in a day and age when we’re bombarded with messages from every angle.

Men

So you’re a woman and you’re on your own. ¬†Don’t men, like, want to, you know? ¬†And like, isn’t it uncomfortable? ¬†Or, are you, like, loose?

This is one of my biggest pet peeves when people find out I travel.  They make all these assumptions about the kind of person I am.

Girl who travels = floozy.

It just doesn’t make sense. ¬†Like, I don’t even know where they get this idea, that’s how off-the-wall it seems.

Look, if a woman lives that life, that’s her thing and let her go do that. ¬†But these two things do not go hand-in-hand and I don’t appreciate it when people assume I must be this way because I travel. ¬†In fact, I’ve met plenty of female travelers who are not this way and plenty of women who never travel who are this way.

And for the record, some of the sleaziest guys I have ever met have been in my own backyard in the United States.  I lived in Seoul for a year and rode a sardine-packed subway everyday to work and was never touched inappropriately.  The very day I arrived in New York I could spread my arms out on the subway and not touch anyone, and some guy still grabbed my ass.  So what does that tell you?

Dating

It must be so hard to date.

Again with the subject of men. ¬†I know my purpose in life is to get married off so some guy can inherit my dowry (my grandma did hand sew some lace and towels for me, and they are rotting in my parents’ basement), so I guess we should address this.

First, I don’t travel to meet guys. ¬†I travel to see the world.

Second, who knows who you’ll meet when you travel. ¬†Chances are, you may meet someone, get to know them for a week or so, and then go your separate ways. ¬†Maybe you’ll keep in touch through social media, and maybe you’ll meet again, temporarily, in the future, and you’ll keep nice memories. ¬†That’s probably what it’ll be.

But you might meet someone great and the connection will persist. ¬†You’ll keep in touch, very close touch, and find a way to bring your lives together.

I’ve never had this experience, but I know quite a few people who have. ¬†Like with most dating, most relationships are temporary and thus end, but some do last a very long time.

This is who I dated in Seoul.

This is who I dated in Seoul.

The trouble I find is that most people believe that if you’re traveling there is no shot in hell you could meet someone great. ¬†Or if you did, there’s no way it could last because of the ephemeral nature of a nomadic life. ¬†But I disagree, mainly because of people I know who’ve made it work and what I believe is possible.

This is what I think: a relationship lasts because two people want it to. ¬†That’s it. ¬†I know people who live in different cities, time zones, and countries from their partners. ¬†But the relationship lasts because they want it to. ¬†All the other shit people bring up are excuses. ¬†I’m not encumbered by all of that, but most other people are. ¬†I also know that if I start bringing that up, it’s a sign I’m just not that into the person.

So while being set in one city and having the opportunity to see someone a lot over a long period of time makes things easier, being nomadic makes you cut a lot of the bullshit.  You only bother with people you really like and only great connections turn into relationships.

And only great relationships are worth it, because you need time and energy to focus on the world ūüėČ

The World is Not What You Imagine It To Be

Americans seem to think of the world as the United States and the Rest of the World, as if all other countries that are not the US must be the same. ¬†Well guess what? ¬†They’re not.

Traveling solo, female or not, varies from country-to-country. ¬†You need to do your research before you go abroad to any country. ¬†How women are treated in that country may be different from what you’re used to, and sometimes it may be better. ¬†I’ve found that as long as you do your research and follow the customs of the culture you’re visiting, you will be fine.

Some of the customs or “changes” you make to your normal routine may not be obvious. ¬†An obvious thing would be wearing a headscarf in conservative Muslim countries. ¬†But I also found that having my hair dyed blonde in Mexico drew unwanted attention. ¬†When my hair was darker I blended in more and it was less of an issue. ¬†In South Korea, the issue was v-neck tops. ¬†Women there do not show their breasts, not even a teeny, tiny bit. ¬†Not even their chest above their breasts because it’s considered too sexual. ¬†These are all things you can figure out by doing little research.

I had to cover my knees at Batu Caves. Not a big deal. -Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

I had to cover my knees at Batu Caves. Not a big deal. -Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

Men generally have less to think about on this front, but it’s never a reason for women to stay home.

 

The big point I’m making is this: it’s not a big deal. ¬†If you want to travel, do it. ¬†You’ll be fine on your own. ¬†Be smart, do your research, and jet set.

Just remember one thing: Love everything you get from it.

Alexandra

piggy2

Alexandra.  The weird girl.

I met Alexandra as a third grader.  She was fat for a Korean kid.  She was also obsessed with pink.  So she was a fat Korean girl who always dressed in pink.  I thought she looked and acted like Miss Piggy.  No one in Korea knew who that was.  But when I showed my co-teacher and her homeroom teacher a video of Miss Piggy they cracked up and agreed, Alexandra was just like Miss Piggy.

In addition to the pink, she also had a pudgy face and pig nose.  Her voice was nasally, like sound originated somewhere between her throat and chest, then traveled up into her nasal passages and out through her nostrils.  It was delightful.

All of the other kids in her grade knew she was weird.  When I first met her she was in class 3-3, class 3 of third grade, which had two bad boys- the worst in her grade.  One kid, Colton, was kind of bad, like you could sometimes bring him to the good side.  But the other kid, Gabriel, was so bad a good day was when no one cried.  

Colton had ADHD.  He had trouble sitting still and focusing on classwork.  Instead he often goofed off for attention, ripped paper and ate it, licked glue sticks, bothered other kids, and ran around the room.  According to his homeroom teacher his mother didn’t know how to mother him, so she’d just let him do whatever he wanted.  So Colton’s issue was a mix of needing a parent who knew how to handle him and getting his ADHD under control.

Gabriel, on the other hand, was a wreck.  He was evil.  He would bother the shit out of other kids.  Not in a lighthearted, silly way like Colton would.  He would torment and bully them until they cried.  I kid you not- almost every single 3-3 English class the first half of my first semester there someone cried.  He had a knack for knowing how to piss off people and get lots of negative attention.  He shredded his English book, the pieces would be on the floor after class, so he couldn’t do any work even if he wanted.

Since Alexandra was weird, these boys loved to pick on her.  They’d run up to her and pull her hair or pinch her, she’d scream, and then my co-teacher would get upset that she was being disruptive.  She didn’t care about the details of what had happened, she just wanted Alexandra quiet.

Alexandra didn’t give up without a fight, though.  Every time one of these boys would torment her she’d try to get my co-teacher’s attention.  First she’d raise her hand.  If that didn’t work, she’d call my co-teacher’s name.  When that didn’t work, she’d get out of her seat, walk right up to her, and explain what was going on.  I had to hand it to her, she was determined to get justice.

Where was I when all of this was happening?  I was in the room, observing, trying to help.  But the thing is, when these kids don’t speak English and you don’t speak their language, there’s a limit to what you can do with classroom management.  You can’t have a discussion with them.  At best you’ll rely on body language and simple common words and hope it works out.  After that, you need to involve the co-teacher, a native speaker, especially when you’re dealing with complex, long term problems.

My co-teacher, though, was apprehensive when it came to discipline.  She didn’t want to fuck them up.  She was afraid that disciplining them would draw more attention to their bad behavior and egg them on further.  She wanted to ignore it, hope they would stop and all the problems would go away.  From my perspective, she was burying her head in the sand.  

My biggest concern with how this class functioned revolved around Alexandra.  She was the sorest subject of these two boys’ negative influence on the classroom environment.  Everyone was victim to these boys, including us teachers, but Alexandra got hit the hardest because she was weird.  

Being weird makes you a target.  I love weird people.  I’m weird myself.  The last thing I’d want to do is encourage a weird kid to stop being weird.  Being weird in Korea just isn’t allowed in most contexts because they value sticking to the straight and narrow path.  This is especially true in school, so if I could offer a kid even a little reprieve from that- a place where they could just be-  I’d feel I was doing something good for them.  So I didn’t want to snap the weird out of Alexandra.  Instead, I wanted to give her a space to be weird in English class, if that’s what she wanted to do.

Working with my co-teacher to pull this off was hard.  She really didn’t want to pull out the big guns in terms of discipline.  It felt too wrong to her.  But she was open to reorganizing the seating.  It was an indirect approach that didn’t call out any one kid- everyone would get a new seat and therefore everyone would be treated the same.  I wanted to give Alexandra some space.  3-3 was a stressful class for her to be in with those boys, and I wanted coming to English class to be 40 minutes of peace from the drama she normally found herself in.  I felt that if I could give Alexandra that, then maybe everyone else in the class could benefit too.

I decided to put Colton in the front of the room in the corner.  That way he could easily pay attention but not be so close to other kids and random shit in the room to mess with.  It also meant that if he ever needed to get up and move around, he had some empty space to do it.  Plus he was right next to the door so he could slip out and make an ass of himself in the hallway, if he so pleased.

I put Alexandra on the opposite side of the room.  She was in the back corner.  She had no one in the seat right next to her, so she could stretch out.  The kids who sat in front of her were mellow.  Helpful if she needed it, but otherwise kept to themselves.  

Gabriel I put in a solo desk, in the back, by himself.  He needed to be away from other students for a while.  He lost the privilege of being near classmates because he just couldn’t play nice.  To bother people, he’d have to make a big, bold effort, which it turned out he wasn’t interested in doing.

It’s amazing what a simple seating arrangement can do.  At first, Alexandra quietly sat back there and observed the room, taking it all in.  She’d put her feet up on the empty seat next to her, sitting sideways, with her right arm over the back of her chair, looking up at the board.  Sometimes she’d play with her pink pig pencil case.  I didn’t care.  She was relaxed, having some fun, and at times focused on class and learning.  Then after a few weeks she started getting into class the full 40 minutes.  She’d pay attention, follow along, write in her book, and she even started raising her hand!  And getting answers right!  She was coming into her own and into class so quickly in her new seat.

As we got into December it was getting cold outside. ¬†We had our first snowfall and the ground was freezing over. ¬†One day as I was walking back to the classroom from lunch, I noticed all the third graders were outside on the playground, playing on the ice. ¬†No adults were around (which is completely normal in South Korea, that kids play on their own, even at school during school hours). ¬†‚ÄúThey don‚Äôt bubble wrap their kids,‚ÄĚ as one of my British friends put it.

So I’m walking by, kids are running and sliding on ice, giggling, playing, and Alexandra is on her own, sliding in her own weird way towards the edge of a huge patch of ice.  She slips and falls.  I then see Gabriel in the distance immediately yell something, then charge towards her.  A group of boys follows.  They run and slide to her.  They surround her and start kicking her.  Alexandra is on the ground, on the ice, surrounded by the boys of her grade, getting kicked from all sides.  Like some Lord of the Flies shit.

I yell at them.  They all flee and I can see Alexandra laying on the ice, crying.  Gabriel then runs back for a few more kicks.  I yell again and he runs away again.  I go to Alexandra, as do a couple of girls in her class.  We have a hard time getting her to sit up, then stand up.  She wants to be left alone.  I spend at least fifteen minutes trying to help her.  Still no other adults around.  Eventually she gets up and the two girls somehow tell me they will take her inside to their homeroom, I think.  

I should have gone with them, but instead went to my room.  About twenty minutes later the two girls came running to my room, asking if I knew where Alexandra was.  They lost her and didn’t know where she went.  I felt like shit for not sticking around.  I didn’t know what to do or how to explain anything to the other teachers in Korean.

Eventually my co-teacher came back to the room and I told her what had happened.  She called the homeroom teacher and headteacher to explain.  They then held a meeting with Alexandra’s mother and the mothers of all the boys who kicked her.  I wasn’t invited, but this is what was later relayed to me:

Alexandra’s mom spent the meeting apologizing for how weird her daughter is and kept saying she understands why the boys acted that way- because her daughter is strange.  The boys were never punished.  According to the school handbook, whenever there’s any kind of violence the abusers will have a long punishment, like lots of hard labor to do around the school for several weeks or months, depending on the situation.  But nothing happened to these third grade boys because they lied to their mothers about how bad it was, and Alexandra’s mother accepted that her daughter will be tormented sometimes.  

The head teacher told me she wanted to slap Alexandra‚Äôs mom across the face for putting her kid down like that and not sticking up for her. ¬†I couldn‚Äôt believe her mother‚Äôs wishes could override the terms of the school handbook. ¬†It was a disheartening outcome. ¬†That abusers can get away with abuse. ¬†That boys can get away with mistreating girls. ¬†That ‚Äúnormal‚ÄĚ kids mean more than ‚Äúweird‚ÄĚ kids. ¬†That the feelings in a discussion weigh more than established protocol. ¬†These were not ways I was raised to think. ¬†These were not norms I was accustomed to living with. ¬†It was a way of thinking and operating I found hard to respect. ¬†It worried me what else Alexandra, and kids like her, endured for being different, and it scared me to think of the long, hard process it would take to truly carve out a free space for them.

 

Winter break rolled around a few weeks later.  Alexandra and all the other kids had five weeks off from school.  They came back to school for two weeks in February and started their new school year in early March.  Alexandra was then in fourth grade and got placed in the best homeroom teacher’s class.  She was still an oddball, but in no way a nuisance or embarrassment to anyone.  If anything, she inadvertently provided comic relief in an otherwise serious, studious class, and we all welcomed her wholeheartedly.

Colton was in her class, too.  He was also a changed kid, for the better.  Apparently his teacher ripped his mom a new one, which improved her parenting.  He was still goofy, but the big difference was that teachers could get through to him.  He was sweet to work with.

Gabriel ended up in a different class.  He remained disengaged, but he kept to himself.  He was still a problem, just a different kind of problem.  I never figured out how to work with him.  He was so broken I don’t know if I ever would have.
It’s been four months since I’ve been in that classroom in Korea.  I’ve had time to reflect on my experiences and what I can say is this: the classroom environment absolutely makes or breaks a student’s ability to learn- to see themselves in the space, to feel a part of the lesson, and to trust it enough to add to it.  It’s the teacher’s responsibility to do everything in their power to create that welcoming environment.  I hope I was able to do that for my students.

Speech Police: Stop Telling Women How They Can Talk

About a month ago I noticed several female friends sharing this article on social media. ¬†It’s about how using the word “just” makes people tune you out in the work place. ¬†And the people who use it most? ¬†Women. ¬†So all you ladies out there, cut that word out of your vocabulary if you want to be heard!

I got so annoyed seeing this. ¬†Sure, it was shared in the spirit of trying to help each other out. ¬†It came with comments like, “I had no idea how much I was holding myself back! ¬†I will need to work on this!” It was as if they had just learned that drinking soda was keeping them from losing weight.

The difference between this and hard sciences like food science is that, the way you talk and the way you’re heard is socio-cultural, meaning the society and culture you’re in influence how you speak and how people hear you. ¬†There are no absolutes. ¬†It’s completely based on culture. ¬†And the thing that pissed me off about this is that no one ever shames men for the way they speak, but they openly and comfortably shame women for their speech.

If you don’t believe me try this experiment:

1. Think of 5 annoying speech traits characteristic of women.

2. Think of 5 annoying speech traits characteristic of men.

I bet it was much easier for you to come up with the first list about women, than it was the second list about men. ¬†And I bet you also don’t realize that all the things you listed about women are also true of men, you just don’t pay attention to it. ¬†And the reason you didn’t notice is that in American culture, we think it’s not just okay, but our place, to tell women how they can speak. ¬†We do not do this to men.

So now I’m going to say: Shut up.

If you’re the one policing people in how they talk, shut up. ¬†It is not your place to tell other people how they can talk, just like it’s not your place to tell other people how they can dress, who they can hang out with, and what kind of job they can have. ¬†Speech, like so many other things, is a marker of our identity, and it’s not your place to tell another person how they should craft their own identity.

So…

If I want to use the word “like” often in my speech, I should do that. ¬†And you should shut up.

If I want to use vocal fry, or have a creaky sound to my voice, I should be able to do that.  And you should get used to it, and shut up.

If I feel the need to say I’m sorry to convey understanding and respect for another person, I should be free to comfortable do that. ¬†You should understand that without negative judgment, and shut up.

If I feel like having uptalk, or a rising intonation at the end of my sentences, I should just do it. ¬†You’ll learn to live with it, so shut up.

If I want to use the word, “just” as I’m making a point, I should go for it. ¬†Nike makes a ton of money off of that word, so, just shut up.

If¬†you don’t want to use these parts of speech, that’s fine. ¬†You don’t have to. ¬†The way you talk is your choice, so you’re allowed to¬†not use them. ¬†But the way¬†I¬†talk is¬†my choice, and the way¬†other people talk is¬†their choice. ¬†I don’t get to tell them¬†how they’re¬†allowed to or¬†supposed to¬†talk. ¬†You don’t get to either.

But if you think you do, perhaps you should ask yourself why.  Why do you think you get to tell other people how to talk?  Why do you think you should be allowed to control what other people say?  And, why do you only direct your control at women?

Instead of trying to tell other people that the way they talk is bad, you should try understanding what nuanced meaning they’re conveying. ¬†Because when you tell women- or anyone- how the way they speak is bad, you actually expose that you just don’t get it. ¬†It shows you have a limited understanding of and respect for the variety of identities that exist in the world, and that YOU are really the problem. ¬†And the more people try to control others without examining themselves first, the more intolerant we are as a society of differences. ¬†The less tolerant we are, the more problems we have.

So, enough with trying to tell women what they can or cannot say, and with “diagnosing” how they must feel (like they have no confidence) because of what you think¬†you hear, and instead try harder to understand and appreciate the variety of styles you do hear. ¬†I guarantee the effort will broaden your horizons, deepen your understanding of other people, and get you respecting them for who they really are.

Top 10 Inside Amy Schumer Sketches

If you didn’t know, prior to coming to Korea I spent 5 years doing comedy in the US. ¬†It was mainly improv.

I love comedy because people will let you rub their noses in their shit. ¬†What I mean by that is, comedy can be a depiction of and comment on culture. ¬†I love analyzing culture. ¬†When I did it in an academic setting I found the general public often wasn’t interested in hearing about itself. ¬†But as a comedian you can say SO MANY THINGS and people want to listen.

That said, the US is still a sexist place. ¬†(There’s so much I could say on that, but to keep it brief: if you were unaware, then you’re part of the problem.) So when I did comedy there, I rarely felt like a feminist perspective was welcome. ¬†The only times it was welcome was when I a) performed with only women, b) performed with gay men, or c) performed solo. ¬†Those things didn’t happen too often.

I’m glad to see that Amy Schumer has her own show and that many of her sketches have a feminist bend. ¬†We all need to hear it and the perspective she shares needs to become part of regular discourse in America.

Amy has had a few sketches that have gotten a lot of attention. ¬†Last Fuckable Day and 12 Angry Men need no comment. ¬†But she’s made a lot of other pieces that deserve a shout out. ¬†Here are my favorites to date, and why I think they’re great.

10. Sext Photographer

Amy has made several sketches that examine what women do to make themselves attractive to men. ¬†They tend to end with the men they’re trying to impress either losing interest, or it becoming clear the guy was just barely interested to begin with. ¬†Here we see a girl trying to get the perfect selfie for a sext for a guy who is just the worst. ¬†So awful. ¬†So typical.

9.  POV Porn

Porn has gotten so out of control that I love the idea of porn being juxtaposed to the reality most women experience. ¬†If you’re a guy and wondering- yes, this seems true to life. ¬†You, and what you do, is not special.

I also love how Amy looks so into it.  Just like how guys can light up while watching porn.

8.  Focus Group

So messed up in so many ways. ¬†These guys are not answering the question. ¬†But they’re so dumb that maybe the interviewer was really asking the wrong questions all along.

Plus, so many girls have been objectified for so long that Amy’s reaction at the end is all too real.

7.  New Body

This is basically how I shop.

Whenever I start working out again I get these grandiose ideas of how I’ll look and what I’ll need. ¬†Spot on.

6. Acting Off Camera

Nice comment on the entertainment industry. ¬†It’s a great look at how they do business. ¬†Everyone’s trying to be so positive they are nothing but fake, and they get away with so much shit by throwing the promise of money at people.

5. A Very Realistic Military Game

So true and so wrong.  The sketch says it all.

And how after all of that, Amy just sits there at the end.

4. Mom Computer Therapy

We’ve all been there.

Though, I could do without the foaming at the mouth at the end.  I like the idea in theory, but seeing it in the sketch is too much for me.  Just cut it with her starting to look crazed.

3.  9/11

When I saw this I got so annoyed. ¬†The sketch is great. ¬†It so accurately depicts how a lot of self-centered girls act nowadays. ¬†But I got so annoyed because this reminded me of conversations I would have back in the US. ¬†I haven’t had to deal with this attitude since coming to Korea and I don’t miss it at all.

2. ¬†Lunch at O’Nutters

Do I even need to explain this? ¬†If you’ve ever been to a Hooters you’ll understand.

1. Herpes Scare

Deals with religion and sexuality.  God clearly needs a vacation.

“I need to stop making so many white girls.”

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