Where are the girls?
In trying to unravel McCandless, Jon Kraukauer in Into the Wild, draws on the stories of Gene Rosellini, Carl McCunn, John Mallon Waterman and Everett Ruess. I couldn’t help noticing – there was not one girl in the long illustrious list of souls who attempted to battle it out on their own in the Wild Frontier.
It is common to see couples hitch hike across the unknown and camp in squatter colonies on town fringes. But for solitary girls to do this is unheard of. Some of them do take to extreme activities as sports and profession. There is champion rock climber, Lynn Hill and five-times Everest summiting guide Melissa Arnot, to name a few.
But they operate in a well synchronised network, their achievements and fame perhaps an armour against being randomly man-handled. To take to wilderness as a life statement for a woman is virtually unknown.
What of me, I thought multiple times as I turned the pages?
Would I be inclined to take on a similar challenge? I asked myself.
Would I survive it? my brain shot back.
More likely I’d be raped and mauled before long in the journey, coerced and convinced into bodily acts with little known albeit friendly strangers. Can a girl ever bypass her image as a source of gratification?
Her smile, her inhibition-less bonhomie, her innocent seeker’s spirit, her brio in taking on the world’s offerings are so readily misconstrued.
I was recently courted by this senior gentleman. Having reached him through a hospitality exchange portal, I accepted to be his guest for three days in an unknown city, looking forward to a cultural tradeoff warmer than a sterile hotel room.
He was a wonderful host. For three days I savoured Cabernet Sauvignon and Captain Black, pensive talks on international politics, al dente pasta with locally sourced goat cheese, Woody Allen and private climbing flims. He educated me in Sur les Traces de Tintin, Schubert and French pipe makers.
But by the second afternoon he also began to hit on me.
Thus began our game – me, of trying to put him in his place and he, of trying to unravel what that place was.
I took recourse to mentioning the husband and son I had left back home, repeatedly weaving them into conversations to vouch for my lack of further romantic interests. I sweetly reminded him how he was older than my dad. In the gentlest of ways – true, he hadn’t forced his considerable frame on me or tried taking advantage by wily means – I made clear: No, thank you!
Between guffaws and video footage he remarked, in his characteristic heavily French-accented English, “I am trying to seduce you! I am trying to seduce you!”
Perhaps I was expected to laugh at my impeccable host’s poor humour.
If I wasn’t forever tired of these clichés, boring, uncomfortable and dangerous, I’d try!
Putting lustlorn male animals in their place isn’t my favourite travel activity. These encounters make me appreciate those travel partners all the more who have shared rooms and beds with me without so much as a sidelong glance at my femininity.
It didn’t escape me how I had drawn on relationships to dissuade him, how the sutures of a domestic fabric are meant to connote non-accessibility to strangers. Marriage, with its modern monogamous implications, and motherhood, which graduates me immediately to the realm of the ‘sacred’ feminine, are safe covers of untouchability, one can hope. My will, to be treated as sex-less and qualified as a human entity alone, works far less successfully than the code of honour which forbids a righteous man from trespassing into another man’s territory.
For the morally debauched and criminal minded, these gossamer trappings hold little merit, and prove no obstacle of course. But to the rest of patriarchy ‘wife’ signifies proprietorial rights of one man.
Following the routine stream of socially-defined transitions through life, becoming a wife and mother, are relieving for the world to witness. Being a girl, alone, footloose, minus insignias of betrothal, unbridled by homely duties, taking up shelter with strangers – such choices in life are highly suspicious, they reek of depravity. Adaptive flexibility is akin to ‘loose-ness’!
The trickle of others, who, like me, were born with a gypsy’s heart and irreverent mein, those essentially rootless and restless ghouls in chase of their moksha, who know not what it is to conform and unmould themselves with each breath, are frequently subjected to worldly – and sexist – implications; I can’t be the sole pariah I am sure.
Years ago I had read this Bangla novel, about four trekkers who, one after another, take shelter in a high altitude trekker’s lodge during a snow storm. Soon, the three men begin quarreling about who should bed the lone lady trekker. Disgusted, she steps out of the cabin and stands in the snow with her arms thrown to the sky bathed in afterglow.
It is now that I can absorb the gulf of her ennui.
For girls are lost in the gazes surrounding them. In the scales fencing them. The stereotypes labeling them. Girls are lost in their socially approved roles and metamosphoses. In trying to obey, please and be deemed ‘good’, in restraining their I-nesses. In the loving embraces and camouflaged bindings of homes and families. Duties. Responsibilities. The self-obsessive becomingness of their conducts. Eventually, girls become non-citizens in their own existences, dropping out of focus, losing names, losing voices.
Girls are lost each day. In foeticide clinics. In cross border trafficking. In accidental stove bursts. Disappearing in the mainstream comes so easily to a girl.
Dumb me, why would she need an outback to go get lost?!