Finding Courage: My #YesAllWomen


Finding Courage: My #YesAllWomen

by Amy Gigi Alexander

In the past few weeks many things happened which influenced my state of mind. Maya Angelou died, and popular media exploded with stories and quotes from her life. The New York Times ran an article about the dangers women face when they travel: an article that spoke a truth that is rarely spoken. A misogynistic, mentally unwell man went on a shooting spree in California. People responded to the shooting with #YesAllWomen: a platform of discussion and intention around the treatment of women worldwide, calling for change.

I felt depressed at Maya Angelou’s death. I never met her, I only read her books. But I was disappointed that I would not meet her, that her living voice was gone. Most of all, I was overwhelmed by the challenge of how to pay homage to such a woman. A woman who was so real, so true, so honest she deserved the same back from me, from the world…not just a list of top ten quotes. I thought I should share something here which required the same honesty I had learned from her. A thank you in the form of a story deep and wide.

The New York Times article on the world of difference women face traveling compared to men made me think about how I always read essays and blogs which are encouraging women to travel, but that don’t really spell out: here is what you will face when you are somewhere else. How we don’t really talk about those dark things, because we don’t want to live fearfully, we want to go.

My response to the misogynistic rants of the shooter were twofold: first, I was surprised at my acceptance of it, that I was not outraged, only saddened, for these kinds of events and points of view have become almost expected. It frightened me that I did not find it unusual, but instead fell into a state of uneasy grief. But then quite quickly there was a turnaround within me and within the outside world: #YesAllWomen, a movement of women’s voices sharing stories and calling for an end to the misogyny which runs rampant in our culture filled my social media feeds with opinions, essays, calls to action.

Somehow these four events blended, and I found myself writing a personal response to them, a collective one, a little essay that honors Angelou with truth and talks about travel as a way to bridge the gap between how I’m treated because I am a woman and how I respond to that challenge.

Here it is.

Women often ask me if I’m afraid of getting raped when I travel solo. The answer is yes. I am. I am terrified of being raped.

But it’s a more complicated answer than simply yes. I was raped in my late twenties by a man I barely knew. He broke into my apartment, raped and tortured me for days: I barely survived it. The rape was brutal, leaving me severely beaten and in shock. Afterwards, people, even those very close to me, asked me what I had been wearing, or what I done to encourage him. I had done nothing at all, but this seemed to make little difference in the minds of people.

Afterwards I shut down almost entirely: I stopped eating, I spent my days in bed sleeping, I watched as my body seemed to fall apart, disintegrate. Suffering from post-traumatic stress syndrome, I hallucinated my rapist constantly, lived in a state of half aliveness, just breathing.

The house where I was staying had a long bookcase in the hallway, and one day, wandering down the hall, I chose a book with a bright yellow cover. It was Maya Angelou’s I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings. I don’t remember why I chose it, but I think it may have been a simple reason: on the cover was a bird in cage, and I felt like that bird.

I took it back to bed and read it over and over: here was someone who understood. Understood raw, numb, closed. Understood that I was afraid to leave the house. Understood silence, chatter, madness.

Angelou had written more than a book: she had come to life, and now she sat on the edge of my bed, stroking my hair, and I did not mind she was there.

Slowly, over months, I began to feel better: I began showering, I cut my hair, I changed the bed sheets, I ate, I dreamed, and finally one day I left that house, and went out into the world again. I was still closed, still terrified, still hurting, but I knew I had to become someone more than I had been being.

“I can be changed by what happens to me, but I refuse to be reduced by it.” —Maya Angelou

It’s been more than sixteen years now, since that rape. I never talk about it, although I write about it. Sometimes people treat me differently when they find out I’ve been raped: they don’t know what to say, or they use it against me. A few men have treated me like I was dirty or tainted, or too troublesome to have a relationship with. Some people have told me I was being a victim when I have talked about it, other people have broken down in front of me and told me their stories of being raped. Some people feel sorry for me, other people get very uncomfortable. Talking about it often feels like an exercise in powerlessness: everyone has an opinion about it and strangely there does not often seem to be room for my own. But here I can share my opinion, and it is this: it was the worst thing that ever happened to me, and I wish sincerely that it had not happened at all. But since it did, I had to use it the best way that I could, I had to find something good to come out of it, otherwise I think I would have never left that bed, and just slowly starved to death.

“Stepping onto a brand new path is difficult, but not more difficult than remaining in a situation, which is not nurturing to the whole woman.” —Maya Angelou

It made me tougher. It forced me to think harder about who I was as a woman and what I wanted as a woman. My womanhood, my personhood, my life. It made me fight for myself in a way that reached deep. I had to do it, for there was no one else to do it for me.

It meant a daily practice of overcoming for years: nightmares, recoiling from touch, folded. Slowly it moved from overcoming into flying: soaring high above my old self, above the rape, above what society said I was. It made me draw on a courage that I had not known I had.

“Having courage doesn’t mean we are unafraid. Having courage means we face our fears.” —Maya Angelou

Traveling solo as a woman is an act of independence: it says, I can be here, despite whatever you may think. I am free to go where I want to go and experience more than what you may believe I should. One reason I prefer to travel alone is that it is a courage-building exercise: it is not for the faint-hearted, it is for the Joan of Arcs, the Warrior-goddesses, the Valkyries. It took me a long time to get to the place that I actually enjoyed it. When I first started intensively traveling solo, I was so afraid I could hardly sleep, scarcely able to enjoy the travel itself. But I’ve experienced firsthand how traveling can make me whole, and it is through travel that I found myself again.

Even though I travel alone much more comfortably now than I did ten years ago, I still have fear. I still have doubt. I still ache for the ease of a tour, a perfectly planned vacation with a guide, no decisions, and minimal risk. That ache is just a small ache, however. An impression, fading. For I am well aware that to have the kind of richly varied and adventurous experiences I seek, I need to travel alone. For its only in traveling alone that a strange partnership is forged within me: a balance of vulnerability and power.

It’s not all roses traveling alone. I’ve had my share—perhaps more—of danger, of close calls, of almosts.

The time I was locked in a Honduran border patrol office and the official took off his clothes, telling me that he was going to rape me. The time I was on a crowded Calcuttan street and a group of men groped me. The time a Columbian taxi driver refused to let me out of his cab and drove me around for hours, talking dirty to me. The time I discovered my hotel room in Bangladesh was full of peepholes and I had been being watched for months. The time an Englishman, the husband of a dear friend, offered to take me on a day tour of London and instead took me to a hotel, and I when I refused to go in with him, he held my wrists so tight he bruised them. The time in Spain, along the remote trail of the Camino, that a man forced himself on me, trying to kiss me, holding my arms down as two other men laughed. The time in Bihar that I couldn’t stand being cooped up anymore in the compound with the women, so I went on a walk and found myself surrounded by a crowd of angry men who wanted to teach me a lesson since I had wandered out without a headscarf. So many more stories I have: countless leers, jeers, stares, fondles, lingering touches I had not asked for.

When these things have happened to me, I have done whatever I needed to do to escape. Smiled. Prayed. Yelled. Pushed. Fought. When it was possible, I have tried to search for the humanity in each man, and in doing so, helped him to see mine. When I saw that the Honduran border patrol officer was actually going to rape me, I knelt on the ground in front of him and prayed the rosary in Spanish. When the Columbian taxi driver would not let me out of his cab, I asked to see pictures of his children, encouraged him to tell me his life story. Other times, I have left the scene running so fast I barely touched earth, shaking and angry, wondering if I should go home and stop going places.

Sometimes I have locked myself in my hotel room for days, too afraid to go out. But when the hurt passes, I open the door and go out again, into the city, the village. I am a fighter, I am doing battle. I refuse to miss out on what is extraordinary, what is beautiful, what is important, simply because in that place, there will be a handful of men there that have a different idea of who I am and what my identity is as a woman.

There have been so many articles written about what to do when you prepare for solo travel as a woman. How to dress, how to walk, how to wear your hair, how to ask for directions, how to take a train. Where to sit, where to eat, where to go and not go. I’m not going to write any of that here. It’s obvious to me that when I travel somewhere else, I’m going somewhere else. Therefore there are always a plethora of customs and beliefs which must be paid attention to, rules to break and rules to follow. I don’t like some of rules in other places, but I feel like I’m changing things for the better, for women everywhere, just by going.

“Hoping for the best, prepared for the worst, and unsurprised by anything in-between.” —Maya Angelou

Traveling solo can be a lot of different things. But it’s not limited to fears and challenges. It’s also this wonderful high, this sublime conversation with yourself: you are actually here, doing this, alone. This is, for me, the greatest achievement of my life: I can get on plane and go anywhere on Earth and have a marvelous time. Every time I do it, I’m terrified. Yet slowly the fear takes leave of me and I begin to take on the colors and patterns of a new place. I’m not limited by my fear of rape, of having been raped, of wondering if it will happen again and what I will do if it does. I’m trying to encourage other women to just go, to not plan, to take charge of their own experience of the world. I’m calling the world out, I’m calling that rapist out, I’m calling men out, I’m calling women out. I’m saying, I am here.

This is my tribute to Maya Angelou, a truth-teller, a sooth-sayer, a woman whose words got me out of bed and out the door into the world.

This is my answer to all the questions I get about traveling solo as a woman.

This is my #YesAllWomen.


Amy Gigi Alexander is a writer of memoir, fiction, and stories about place on her website, She lives in California and is finishing her first novel. Follow her on Twitter: @amyggalexander

[The above piece originally appeared at World Hum and at Alternet in substantially shorter form. The full piece is printed here with permission of the author.]

Because Misogyny

Because Misogyny


Kirsten Clodfelter


Because misogyny: Elliot Rodger.

Because misogyny: Every man who Elliot Rodger calls to mind. Every man who has let the whistled catcall of hot momma morph in his mouth to stuck-up bitch when that tried-and-true method of objectifying a complete stranger fails to get him laid. Every man who has complained of being friend-zoned as if the act of being decent – as if the act of simply treating a woman like a human being – is all it might take.

Because misogyny: Equality as radical. Empowerment as weapon. Feminist as feminazi. At some point, doesn’t a lifetime of incidents of domestic violence, of rape, of murder, of torture, of withholding count as its own Holocaust? The terror George W. was hunting to finally justify that war?

Because misogyny: Filmmakers Woody Allen and Roman Polanski are lionized as their own type of victims. Misunderstood. Brilliance over ethics. Over empathy. Art as disassociation. As inculpable.  Steubenville mourns ruined football careers. Playboy lauds Neko Case only as a woman in music.

Because misogyny: A talented, well-meaning poet attempts to process trauma through art and gifts a new voice to the wrong protagonist of this story.

Because misogyny: A friend posts an article on Isla Vista, and someone comments, “Come on, ladies, take one for the team,” as if women weren’t just murdered over a man’s sense of entitlement. Have ever been murdered over a man’s sense of entitlement. As if a person’s right to humor obviously trumps a person’s right to safety. To comfort. But actually, not really person. Woman.

Because misogyny: A comedian co-opts #YesAllWomen at our expense without bothering to be subversive or challenging or even funny, and when these jokes fall flat, are returned in echo, these men recoil at the thought of reflection and rush to fill the silence with their own extraordinary reasoning, take solace in the certainty that they are the exception, never the rule.

Because misogyny: An older male colleague whose name I don’t know finds me in an adjunct office one afternoon, my belly ripe and low-hanging and nearly ready for the picking as I organize papers before class. He takes a long look at my ring finger – bare – before he asks, Is the father in the picture? I am too stunned to smile, to extend my hand for a strong shaking, to chirp through my teeth that, where I come from, we usually just start with hello. Instead I nod and choke the yes from my throat to his brightening. That’s good. His approval offered as a talisman, the balloon of relief inflated almost to bursting, as if the whole of my daughter’s personhood, her very legitimacy, is tied to this. As if there is nothing worse he could imagine for my child than the thought of me raising her on my own.

Because misogyny: My kind-hearted, pro-equality father comes to visit and still occasionally says things like, Sometimes you just have to shut up and let a woman pick the curtains, like there is one secret, and this is it. Nevermind that in our cramped apartment, curtains are a luxury. Nevermind that a blanket – gifted to me a decade ago for my high school graduation – hangs covering our daughter’s bedroom window. Nevermind that it’s my partner, the dad, who most often sits with our toddler to fix her hair, who possesses the fashion expertise for best pairing her cute, coordinated outfits, who successfully executes DIY home-décor projects he scores from Pinterest while my own crafting attempts usually disintegrate rapidly into unrecognizable piles of hot glue and yarn.

Because misogyny: That my partner does these things for our daughter, that he makes pancakes good enough to put your favorite hole-in-the-wall diner breakfast to shame, that he doesn’t hesitate to run the vacuum, that he asks my opinion and considers my feelings in front of others – sometimes earns him less-than-favorable labels. Whipped. Weak. Pussy. Because that’s the greatest insult we can think of: To tell a man he’s acting like the lesser sex – like a fucking woman.

Because misogyny: We are asked often if we’re going to try for a boy. Not if we’d like to have more kids, but specifically this, because no matter how hilarious or adorable or delightful our daughter is, no matter how much love we lavish or how big our hearts swell or how soft our voices go when we talk about her, that pronoun must in some way indicate that she might still not be enough for us.

Because misogyny: Men who meet the minimum expectation of how to treat other human beings feel charged to speak up for themselves when these daily injustices finally grow into too heavy a burden for us to carry quietly, as if it’s they who are oppressed, rushing to remind us it’s #NotAllMen, because it’s easier when there’s distance, easier to step back or away than to lean in, easier to act as aggressor than ally.

Because misogyny: I’ve heard, But he was drunk, as if it is an absolution.

Because misogyny: I’ve heard, But she was drunk, as if it is an absolution.

Because misogyny: Before there was a sweet baby or a partner who lifts me up with his kindness, a man who was once my husband felt entitled to hide our car keys or laptop from me during arguments. To throw dishes or destroy my things as if this was a fair compromise for keeping his hands off of me. As if there was still so much for which I should have been grateful. And it was this entitlement that finally called our friends forward to share – with concern, hesitation – that from the mouth of the man who had vowed his love, and always, I was a worthless waste of space, dumb, a child. This entitlement is pervasive, endemic, impossible to escape. It is here, and here, and here, and here, and here, and here, and here. So many heres that there isn’t enough time or space to name even the smallest fraction. So many heres that my own barely make a dent. Are hardly worth blinking an eye over.

Because misogyny: A mutual friend once visited in the middle of the day and told me to pack a bag and come with her, worried that I was no longer safe living with the husband. Of escalation. Days later, she explained that his mother – a woman I both trusted and adored – had heard the charge of verbally and emotionally abusive in my kitchen and waited until I’d left the room to whisper her own solution: I needed to grow up, to stop acting like such a baby. C’mon, ladies. Take one for the team.

But I won’t.


Kirsten Clodfelter holds an MFA from George Mason University. She has contributed writing to The Iowa ReviewBrevityNarrative MagazineGreen Mountains ReviewstorySouth, and The Good Men Project, among others. Her chapbook of war-impact stories, Casualties, was published last year by RopeWalk Press and is now available for Kindle. Clodfelter writes and lives in Southern Indiana with her partner and their awesome, hilarious daughter.