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Men, Travel and Sexism

13 September 2010

Ben Brazil’s recent article “Eat, Pray, Trash: What the Critics Don’t See” makes a provocative statement, that travel (and with it, spiritual liberation and the genre of travel stories) has been reserved for men.

Whether or not you find authenticity culture narcissistic, it’s not hard to see how the idea of travel works to support it. American literature and film celebrate few concepts as thoroughly as the open road. In Walt Whitman’s “Song of the Open Road,” Jack Kerouac’s On the Road, and Jon Krakauer’s Into the Wild (to name just a few), travel becomes a means to free the sacred self from the mundane and to experience the joys of a world that suddenly seems to sparkle with divinity.

Of course, this has typically been understood as a male freedom. Gilbert flips the gender assumptions—she’s the one who leaves a spouse because she needs freedom—and some find the reaction against Eat Pray Love to be rooted in that sexist legacy.

I’m not sure Eat Pray Love is quite so dramatic as, say, Thelma and Louise, but Brazil’s article makes an interesting point. 

For me at least, it gets me wondering about the importance of travel for men.  Why is it that Campbell’s monomyth is described in terms of the hero’s journey?   Why has that language caught on in men’s groups?  And why, despite the unholy nature of plane travel these days, do so many men claim it as their lifestyle?

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