The Vagenda

Around The World in 80 Lays


The winter is setting in, giving me cause for nostalgic ruminations on this year’s summer holidays, and, indeed, all the holidays that came before. During the course of my misty-eyed musings, I realised that holidays were different before I became a feminist. 

You always hear vegetarians complaining that it’s difficult for them to go on holidays. They’re all: ‘I went to France and told them I didn’t eat meat. Then the waiter brought me a salad with a severed human head in it.’ But those Veggie McSandwiches don’t know how lucky they have it. It might be tricky for vegetarians to go on holiday, sure – what with the continentals maintaining that anything that isn’t screaming as you masticate it is meat-free – but how about feminists? How can you know if your planned destination is the equality equivalent of Gloria Steiner’s pencil skirt or Hugh Hefner’s underpants?

While I do not have the resources, the structure, nor the supercilious tone of The Lonely Planet, I am going to put together a feminist travel guide all the same. Each country reviewed will receive a score out of five hairy vaginas, and the most feminist friendly tourist destination will be awarded the prestigious (if imaginary) golden labia trophy at the end. And you’ll never be stuck wondering where to go on holiday again.

The Entire Continent of Europe
When I was 17, me and my lady companions Órla and Lorraine went inter-railing. We found that in continental Europe women can acquire bountiful quantities of free alcohol if they dance on bars. This strategy was successful in almost every historic and cultural European capital that we visited. This demands theorisation: on the one hand, the economic and social reward of ‘girls go wild’ behaviour for the pleasure of dudes is inherently anti-feminist. As Ariel Levy points out in her deadly book Female Chauvinist Pigs, young women are suckered into raunch culture, and believe that they’re not socially valuable unless they engage in porny writhing for at least 83% of their waking lives. On the other hand, dancing on bars when you’re 17 is fun. There’s plenty of time to repent and be a feminist later.

The entire continent of Europe scores three out of five hairy vaginas because, overall, the fact that a triad of booze-hound lady teenagers can travel around it for five weeks without being sold to the circus does speak to a certain level of safety and security for the female traveller. 

I went on a snowboarding holiday to the states when I was 18. My season in a small New Hampshire ski resort makes me an expert on the entire nation and its culture.

When I went to the States I didn’t really understand border customs. When the customs man asked me why I was going to the states, I stated proudly that my boyfriend was American. When he asked me how long I’d be staying, I said that I wasn’t sure. When he asked me if I had a job in Ireland, I told him that I’d quit my job as a waitress so I could go hang out with my boyfriend in America. They let me in anyway, probably thinking that someone so thick wouldn’t be difficult to catch if she did skip her visa. If any feminists want to exploit this trick to go to the States and found a new anarcho-feminist world order at the centre of the capitalist empire, they are welcome to do so. 

If I remember rightly, they wouldn’t sell me any booze in the US. Those fucking sexists.
All in all, the USA gets three out of five hairy vaginas. 

During my stay in the US, I went on a roadtrip to Montreal. The only other girl on the trip was turned away at the border for being South African. This left me with 6 strapping Yankee, Auzzie and Kiwi boys, who wanted to spend the entire time in strip clubs. I had the choice to either stay in the hostel on my own, or go with them. I was 18 and had yet to grow a feminist consciousness, so I chose to become a lapcat of the patriarchy and gain power and prestige within the world of macho wank by sleazing on naked ladies. Bros before hos, yo! My teenage experience of Montreal strip clubs qualifies me to pronounce on gender relations in Canada as a whole, and, thus, Canada only scores one hairy vagina.

South Africa
When I was 19, me and my compadrettes Órla and Michelle went to South Africa so that we could learn everything there was to know about being drunk in a completely different hemisphere. Our Saffa friends Duncan and Mike drove us all over the country for three weeks, which was pretty freaking cool of them. One time we were bribing police men to let us off our speeding fine (cause Duncan and Mike said that’s what you do instead of sticking to the speed limit in South Africa) and one of the cops looked in the car and said ‘who’s the third one for?’ That wasn’t particularly feminist, now was it? But we couldn’t really complain, what with not wanting to be arrested and all. In Port Elizabeth, I came second in a table dancing competition. Only second. They were sexist against my Doc Martens.

South Africa scores three hairy vaginas. 

I finally go to university, under duress from my Mammy. To my surprise, I like it so much that I stay for 8 years. My attempts to compile a travel compendium to rival the lonely planet are put on hold for most of this time, as a dangerous education habit consumes my life and leaves no money for worthwhile things. I spend a few more summers gadding around Europe, working in bars or pretending to be a squatter, but I’ve covered Europe so extensively in this guide already that I don’t think I need to elaborate any further. Two important things happen during my marathon skoolathon. Firstly, I grow a feminist consciousness. Secondly, I learn that universities will give you money to go to cool places if you promise to do quasi-useful things while there. Thus, the Feminist Planet continues.

I am now a 27 year feminist. I’m also a cultural relativist. This basically means that I don’t assume the superiority of any one culture’s moral, ethical and political codes, but, rather, I believe that cultures are like people – there’s good and bad in all of them. As a feminist, this sometimes leaves you in a pickle of a jam. Scholar Susan Okin famously asks the provocative question ‘is multiculturalism bad for women?’ She answers that, insofar as multicultural ‘respect for difference’ tolerates unequal gender relations within certain immigrant or religious communities, it’s very bad for women indeed. But scholars like Azizah Y al-Hibri and Bhikhu Pareskh argue that Western feminists are too quick to judge what they don’t understand – that their learned prejudice against certain cultures and religions stops them from respecting women’s choices (like wearing the burqa, for example) that don’t match up with a Western be-miniskirted ideal of female freedom.
I arrived in Fes armed with a smattering of Arabic, good historical and cultural knowledge of the Magreb, and enough modest clothes to cover me up for two weeks. I was a lefty, culturally sensitive, experienced traveller. I would have fulfilling cultural experiences!

Nope. Everywhere I went, Men shouted ‘sexy sexy, spicy spicy’ and other such maddening nonsense. Some grabbed me. Some followed me. Hardly any left me the fuck alone.

A few days into the trip I came down with food poisoning. On the first day, I actually shat myself (ending a twenty-one year record of not having shat myself). By day three, however, I had learned the sphincter control of a ninja. Attuned to the slightest reverberations of my colon, I could’ve shit through the eye of a needle at fifty paces. Then I got my period. I used up the two pads I’d brought with me, and ventured, anus painfully clenched, out onto the streets to look for more. But there weren’t any. Anywhere. And there were no women shop attendants to ask, and the men all seemed to hate me. In the end I used the same sanitary pad for 24 hours, by the end of which time, what with diahorrea and menses fermenting in the heat of North African summer, it was a bio-hazard on par with Sellafield.

In the days that followed, I waddled, straddling my loo roll stuffed knickers, out of the riad to complete my research. Men continued to follow my increasingly skeletal and olfactorily offensive person, shouting and clicking and whispering and groping, like wolves just waiting for an exhausted deer to fall. On the penultimate morning of my trip, I sat, head in hands, in my room, gently chanting ‘I can’t go out there. I can’t go out there.’

Morocco gets no hairy vaginas. Not only did I have the worst time ever, but Morocco destroyed my cherished cultural relativism. Until:


After Morocco, I was frightened of travelling on my own. And I had heard that Japan had separate subway carriages for men and women, that there were places called maid cafés that fetishised female domestic servitude, and that all Japanese men have mistresses and are obsessed with schoolgirls.
But then I went there, and found a country full of the most helpful, kind and wonderful people imaginable. It’s like the whole country has taken a ‘How to be outlandishly nice to tourists’ course and gotten an A+.

And I spoke to Japanese women about the female only subway carriages. They explained that women could use any carriages they wanted, while men had to stay out of the female ones. I asked if this didn’t mean that women felt less welcome in the shared space. Most said no, that they often used the shared space, particularly at less crowded times of day. But, I argued, if groping is a problem on the Japanese subway, then surely the answer is to crack down on the gropers, not create separate spaces for women. They explained that this was exactly what had brought the female only subway carriages into being in the first place. The punishment for a man caught groping a woman on the subway would be so severe (he would most likely lose his job) that women felt guilty about reacting to harassment, and asked for their own space. Add to this the Japanese hatred of making a scene, based in an intense respect for others’ experiences in social space, and the pink subway carriages start to look, if not exactly rosy, then certainly understandable within feminist logic. Much like radical feminist women only spaces, I wish they didn’t have to be there, but I’m not going to tell women who want them that they can’t have them.

When I spoke to Japanese people, I felt ashamed of myself for believing the xenophobic bullshit I’d managed to pick up from somewhere. And I began to see all the feminist stuff that Japan does better than the UK – like having a gender neutral formal term of address, for example. No choosing between Mr, Mrs, Miss or Ms – everyone is just ‘San.’ Awesome.
And therefore Japan gets four hairy vaginas. Because not only is it a place of extraordinary cool, but it also restored my cultural relativism. Aaah. That’s better.

This year, using my crafty technique of tacking a holiday onto a conference, I arrived in Santiago de Chile for scholarly purposes eight days in advance of my current love interest.
And a very nice eight days I had too – navigating the city, holding conversations with people. Just like a real person.

Then the conference ended, my Stephen arrived, and *ping* I became invisible.

Being invisible was quite disconcerting at first. ‘Hola’ I would say to a random Chilean, ‘Dónde esta los plaza des armas por favor?’ But they could hear or see me. They’d turn to Steve and say ‘a dónde vas?’ And he’d say ‘Plaza des armas.’ And then they’d give him directions. I’d follow my beau, wispy and shadowlike, through the streets, pinching my pink arms. They felt substantial enough.

In hostels or taxis, at bus stations or restaurants, nobody could see me. They addressed all conversation to my corporeal companion. Sometimes, when our passports were checked, the checker would look at them and then give both documents back to Stephen. It must have been confusing, accepting a passport from thin air, so I suppose they reacted as anyone would.

Steve left a day before me, due to Air France being bastards. On my last few hours in Chile I found that I regained spatial and temporal reality. The hostel owner who had stared right through my torso the previous day sat down and ate breakfast with me. We chatted about lots of interesting things.

All in all, I’m giving Chile two and a half hairy vaginas, because the other two and half are invisible.

Feminist Planet Awards Ceremony and Disclaimer
Before I give the prestigious Golden Labia Award (GLA) for most feminist friendly destination, I would like to point out that my scores are whimsical, and bear no relation to the state of women’s rights in the countries visited. I’m aware, for example, that Japan has woefully low female parliamentary representation. Or that there may well be more to Canada than strip clubs. The GLA therefore, is not an award designed to allow its recipient to gloat, but rather an award to make feminists everywhere reflect on what they can do to make their country more worthy of hairy vaginas.

And without further ado, I present the glistening and beautiful golden labia trophy to the land of the rising sun.

Congratulations Japan!


15 thoughts on “Around The World in 80 Lays

  1. I love Morocco but the street harassment there is INTENSE, it’s true. An old dude spit in my face in Taza as I passed him on the sidewalk and I still have no idea what for (I was the most modestly dressed of the group of American women I was walking with)

    You probably figured this out eventually, but in case not and in case you’re ever back there- the tampons and the pads are mainly sold in pharmacies. Don’t know why, but there it is.

  2. I have been to Morocco twice, and I love it, but it’s harassment city if you’re not standing right next to a dude who supposedly ‘owns’ you (or your gay friend, pretending – this works because Moroccans don’t believe that homosexuality exists! Score!). Even if you are, you will get probably get groped and definitely shouted at constantly, and many public spaces – like cafes – are basically male-only and you may get evil stares if you try to use them. That being said, most Moroccans are lovely, but like with lots of things, a few idiots mess it up for everyone.

    Some undoubtedly lovely and fascinating places present major hassles for women, especially women on their own. This doesn’t always occur to men when they’re telling you that you should visit them. It’s like when people say ‘Oh, wouldn’t it be great to have lived in the 1920s/1850s/Renaissance Florence.’ Not if you were a woman, my friend.

  3. Emer,

    I laughed so hard at your travel guide I drooled a little when I reached the part about Sellafield.

    I spent a lot of my youth dancing on bars getting oodled at and fed free drink in European cities. Cant help look back with a tinge of nostalgia, cos as you say… nothing ever bad happened to me either. And I ended up with great language skills that have proved very useful in getting me where I am now.

    I lived and worked in Japan for two years and agree 100% with your analysis. A society so based on respect for others is great, but the it is also true that women do feel a lot of pressure to give up work and be a good wifey once married…


    Suzanne (from Limerick, living in Vienna)

  4. Because being a woman is an illness?

    I can’t believe some guy spat in your face and you STILL love Morocco. You are are a way more culturally sensitive and tolerant feminist traveller than me. Want a job writing for the Feminist Planet? (It only pays in life experiences and/or righteous indignation, however).

  5. Business opportunity for an industrious travel-loving gay man – provide women with use of their faux-boyfriend services on North African holidays!

    While some of the Moroccans I met were indeed lovely, I think ‘a few idiots’ is a major underestimation. Every street I walked down was lined with men shouting at me. In almost every restuarant or shop I went into I was treated with disrespect and even aggression. Nobody batted an eyelid. Nobody told these men to stop following me or to leave me alone. That’s not just a few idiots. That’s kind of everyone – both the perpetrators and those who tolerate them.

    When I got back home I was so grateful. I realised that in London, the world is on my side. If a man is following me, I can walk up to a group of people and say ‘I’m being followed. I feel unsafe. Can I walk with you for a while?’

    It has also left me in a weird and unresolved position philosophically when it comes to different cultures’ treatment of women. As an outsider, I don’t think I have the right to condemn, and I know there may be elements of this cultural behaviour that I don’t understand. But, really, honestly, I’m just like ‘They are WRONG and we are right.’ Uncomfortable.

  6. So glad you liked The Feminist Planet!

    Yep, Japan is amazing. While there are definitely some feminist issues it’s behind on, there’s a good few that it’s ahead on too.

    I heard there’s some great bars to dance on in Vienna…

  7. Laughed like a drain at this. I travelled round (or should I say down) Chile with an old flame a couple of summers ago, and being invisible made me raise an eyebrow or two even then, before becoming an avid reader of The Vagenda as well as a feminist through and through.

    Currently on a year abroad in Italy as part of my degree. You can only imagine the daily trauma we ladies suffer in the land where geriatric politicians get away with shagging whichever underage girl they please – despite the Italian word ‘molestare’ actually meaning ‘to harass/disturb’, believe me, its obvious sense is far more apt.

    I got free drinks from dancing on a bar on Saturday night, though, so swings and roundabouts.

    I will now shamelessly plug my blog…

    Keep up the good work!

  8. I don’t think things were quite that bad for me – even when I was going round the souks on my own because my gay friend was trying on fetching curly-toed slippers. Maybe I was lucky, or in a nicer town. People in restaurants and shops were generally very nice to me. But it’s true that there was general complicity when I did get hassled (and my gay friend was offered 20,000 camels for me, although that was clearly just taking the piss). And I totally agree that it destroyed my cosy right-on cultural relativism. I now prefer a Bill and Ted-style Categorical Imperative: ‘Be excellent to each other.’

  9. As far as I’m concerned, being a dick is being a dick, no matter if you are using culture to hide behind. It’s not basis for behaving like that. Coming from a culture that practises sexism, I am happy to live in London where harassment actually gets noticed and isn’t part of the everyday scenery, someone is much more likely to help you here. I would like to go to Morocco but I’m so put off because I know I will be harassed. I’ll say that there is something wrong with a culture that endorses this and I don’t care if someone calls me anti anything/racist over it, I don’t accept a cultural bias as a reason to mistreat someone. Quite frankly, I really do believe they are wrong in doing so. I’d like to go Japan but if they shoved women out from the Royal Family, it makes me think that they don’t care about or value women at all, they are only there to be housewives. Ladies only carriages may protect women and I would use one everytime just incase but it makes some women feel like they are being punished for being female. There is a right way to treat people and most cultures are lacking in the female treatment aspect I find. Yes, I consider that wrong

  10. I live in Japan now, and what those women told you was complete bullshit. There are next to no consequences for sex crimes in Japan. I’ve read of men who raped, killed and dismembered and got as little as 5 years in prison for it. When I was being stalked, they made no real effort to find the guy. I now carry pepper spray because I know that if anything happens (and it’s likely, since I’ve been followed, groped, wanked at and otherwise harassed and threatened) no one will help me. Everyone will close their eyes as they do every time they see a woman being victimised. It really is a miserable place to be a woman.

  11. There are, but they would not be frequented so often these days, although saying that I did end up shaking my booty at the local Irish bar-come-nightclub last weekend. That was an exception though – friend’s birthday.

    I am going to Uganda for work in a few weeks. I hear the best Irish pubs in the world can be found in Kampala, and it is the only place you will find both locals and Internationals. Our Irish missionaries were good for something.

  12. I went to Cambodia once. I came down with terrible stomach cramps that felt like I was being torn apart from the inside out. Something was seriously wrong. I managed to find a (just about) English speaking doctor. I told him my tale of woe and he relaxed and smiled sympathetically at me. Then he asked me when my last period was. To be fair, it was about 4 weeks previously. Well, there you go he said, you’re just pre-menstrual. No really, I said, this is not my period, I am ill. No really, he said in a patronising tone, it’s your period. We glared at each other. After trying to convince him some more, and he trying to convince me I didn’t actually know my own body, I grudgingly paid my money and left. Still ill.

    A few hours later, and for the next two days, I shat and vomited my body weight in spectacular fashion. It took me 3 weeks to fully recover.