I wrote this last year, but in reading through old drafts it felt like a relevant thing to share. So here goes.
It’s June and I’m booking the last of six accommodations for my summer trip to France.
Because it’s summer, I’m already spending more than I’d prefer to (if you know me, you know that I love off-season travel for budget, weather, and avoiding the crowds). But multiple friends will be in France and I want to see them, so c’est la vie, it’s time for a pricier trip.
I’ve narrowed my options down to a handful. They’re near the neighborhoods I already know well, but on streets I don’t know, corners I’ve never visited. And as I have in the past, I turn to my Paris friends to check and make sure I’m not putting myself in an area where I won’t feel safe walking home alone at night.
In general, I find Paris safe. I’ve stayed there many times. But any city has its riskier spots. And so I ask before I book, sending friends a handful of intersections to consider.
My top choice is about $125 less than the highest priced option. It’s surprisingly spacious for a Paris apartment. Has good reviews. And the location is near things that I already know I like.
But when I give my friend the cross-streets, she has hesitations. It’s not a “definitely don’t stay here” kind of place. Just an “approach with caution” situation.
The most expensive option on my list, by contrast, is a cross-street my friend wholeheartedly endorses. The apartment is good, too. It’s well-furnished and cute. Great reviews. And now a better location.
And I can’t help but feel frustrated.
I can’t help but think: what if I was a man?
If I were a man, I’d book the approach-with-caution apartment and think nothing of it. I’d save $125 and 20 minutes of going back and forth with myself about which place to book. It’d be cheaper. It’d be easier. It’d be a single click instead of advanced math.
A lot has already been said about the “pink tax“, in which women’s products are marked up about 7% more than men’s. Even more has been said about gender pay gaps (which grow even more dismal once you start looking at intersections of gender and disability, race, etc.).
And this is just another dimension of how the world is more expensive for femme people. Because not only are we paying more for razors when they’re pink instead of blue, but even if we opt out and buy men’s deodorant and body wash, it’s harder to opt out of our own safety. Harder to justify to ourselves spending less and taking on more risk.
And so we buy portable door locks and key chain alarms. We spend more of our time looking for the safest booking option. We might avoid a late-night flight because we don’t want to take a late-night taxi or bus. And, in my case, we spend $125 for a hair’s breadth more certainty. A slightly brighter street corner with more people to come to our rescue if the worst should occur.
I don’t spend all my time thinking about safety. Especially in the places I travel, which tend to be statistically pretty safe. But I do spend some time. I do spend some money.
A tax on being femme.
I don’t have answers. I don’t have anything profound to say that hasn’t been said before. But today I’m angry. Angry that the people who statistically have less resources also need more. That a tall masculine guy who earns more than the rest of us can also get away with saving that $125, plus 7% less on various products. No special hotel locks in his backpack. No hairspray in a pocket, ready to whip out and go for the eyes if someone twice his size backs him into a corner.
And even as someone who has to ask questions for my own safety, my intersections of privilege are at work here too. I don’t have to worry about racist violence; people assume (incorrectly, but it still keeps me safer) that I am not queer and thus don’t knowingly direct violence or scrutiny at me for that. Black women, brown women, trans women, visibly queer folk – their safety calculus gets even more complicated than my own.
For those who live at different intersections of identity, the tax gets higher.
I also want to take a moment to note there’s another intersectional issue at play here: a racist assumption that comes up often identifying Black and brown neighborhoods incorrectly as “more dangerous.” While I hope that’s not what is at play with my situation above, it’s important to know that that is often baked into these conversations without us even realizing it.
When I booked our place in Harlem years ago, I was given cautions against staying there. Only by prioritizing the voices of women of color was I able to tease out a more genuine sense of the neighborhood, where I stayed for months and felt absolutely and completely safe. In a recent tour of Porto, our guide told us as a kid she was encouraged not to walk in certain areas because she’d get robbed; she now knows it was just racist assumptions at play.
So, all this to say that this is a complicated mess. And there’s more than one thing that’s true about said complicated mess.
It’s true that femme people are at higher risk and that asking questions about the safety of a neighborhood matters. It’s true that the answers to those questions can be underpinned by racism, transphobia, islamophobia, and other bigotry. It’s also true that both of these things are big problems, and both make us less safe.
I don’t have answers, but I do think information is power.
Especially for those who aren’t directly impacted. If you’re a man who has never thought about what women pay for safety, I hope you’ll sit with that, sit with what you might be able to do about it. If you’re a white women who hasn’t thought before about how safety recommendations often come with a racist bias or hasn’t thought about the additional tax of racism, homophobia, or ableism, I hope you’ll sit with that and ask more questions.
Whoever you are, I invite you to join me in my anger.
Join me in always asking the question of how we can change things, even if the answer isn’t clear yet.