Scaring Young Women Into Staying HomeS

Now that a suspect in the Natalee Holloway case is wanted for the murder of another woman, one blogger issues a warning to all young women traveling alone. But where's the line between being careful and being cloistered?

Theresa Walsh Giarrusso of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution's Momania blog says "Natalee Holloway is my warning call to all my babysitters when they go away for spring break or senior trips." Here's her advice to these women:

Don't go out alone with boys you've just met. Stay in very large groups – two is not enough. Don't go to their rooms. Don't ride away in cars along with them. Don't split up. Tell your friends where you are going and who you are going with! Don't drink anything you haven't seen made by the bartender! Always check in!

Some of this is reasonable advice for anybody, but some of it made me wonder how old Giarrusso's babysitters were. If they're old enough to drink in a bar, are they really so young that they need to "stay in very large groups" at all times? Farther down, Giarrusso's a little more specific. Seniors in high school, she says, "need at least one annoying parent with them" when they go to visit colleges. She continues, "I say annoying parent because it does no good to bring an adult who just does her own thing when they get there. I don't want the chaperone sitting at the hotel while the kids go out." So essentially she's advocating that seventeen- and eighteen-year-olds on college tours (not, say, tours of war zones) have adult supervision at all times.

Giarrusso is a mom, and some of her recommendations are just understandable parental caution. But there's a difference between reasonable, age-appropriate recommendations and keeping kids (and young adults) under lock and key. Especially troubling is the fact that some of Giarrusso's advice is inspired not by actual events, but by fiction. She writes,

I felt pretty strongly about young women traveling alone and then I saw the movie "Taken" with Liam Neeson on cable recently. In the movie his daughter, who I think was like 17, was hit on by some guys in France who eventually kidnap her, drug her and sell her into white slavery.

The young white woman in peril was a classic trope long before Natalee Holloway disappeared, and it persists in part because young women (especially white ones) are seen as fragile, and the exploitation of this fragility is an easy way to scare and titillate audiences. Of course, young women do face real risks, as Holloway's disappearance and the murder of Stephany Tatiana Flores Ramirez (possibly by Holloway suspect Joran Van Der Sloot) attest. But they're often in just as much danger at home — and among people they know — as they are abroad, and excessive limitations on their travels in a sense punish them for other people's crimes.

Many of Giarrusso's recommendations — don't ride in cars with men, don't go to their rooms — recall rape prevention "tips" often given to women. And while it's smart to avoid dangerous situations when possible — and to help kids and teens avoid them — young women also deserve the same freedom to experience new places that young men enjoy. If the world is really so dangerous that college-age women need to be in large groups wherever they go (Giarrusso also asks, "Are we allowed to worry about or forbid college-age travel?"), then that world clearly needs changing. Yes, girls and young women should exercise a certain degree of caution, and sometimes they do need to be more alert because of their gender. But there's a difference between legitimate caution and unreasonable restriction, and we shouldn't use stories of violence as an excuse to keep women at home.

To Young Women Traveling Alone: Remember Natalee Holloway [Atlanta Journal-Constitution Momania Blog]
Natalee Holloway Suspect Joran Van Der Sloot Sought In Peru Murder [ABC News]

Earlier: Natalee Holloway Suspect Wanted For Another Murder