Toward a Feminist Travel Perspective: Rethinking Tourism, Digital Media, and the Gaze
As a travel journalist and photographer, I care just as much about how people and places are represented as I am with being an ethical traveler while I’m on the road. In the spirit of this devotion to promoting travel that is attentive to the world’s differences and cultures, I decided to devote the past few years to researching, thinking about, and writing about how we can be better travelers by looking at a diversity of voices, perspectives, and travelers whose voices aren’t always recognized and thinking about other ways of composing travel stories. A year and a half into revising this project (which was originally my dissertation), I can tell you that I certainly don’t have all the answers but I am doing my best to change the stereotype that travel writing is only for the privileged.
Though it’s also the capstone of my graduate studies, I also hope that this project will fill a gap in tourism and media studies and be accessible to travelers, teachers, and other writers.
So what’s this project all about?
My research brings together my interests in professional writing, travel writing, and feminist theory to explore the ways in which professional travel writers adopt and/or reject the tourist gaze in their digital writing projects. My monograph-in-progress, Toward a Feminist Travel Perspective: Re-thinking Tourism, Digital Media, and the Gaze, traces these adoptions/rejections across three common blog genres, arguing that digital and multimodal writing offers space for reflection and even a possible feminist reclamation of travel, a historically patriarchal topos. I use these findings to theorize a framework for approaching issues of difference and inequality in professional writing contexts through what I call a “pedagogy of travel”, an approach that focuses on readers’ and writers’ subject position(s) and cultural frameworks. A version of my third chapter, “From Street Food to Digital Kitchens: Toward a Feminist Rhetoric of Culinary Tourism (Or, How Not to Devour Paris and Eat Your Way Through Asia),” recently appeared in Southern Illinois University Press’ Food, Feminisms, and Rhetorics; a second chapter, “She’s Everywhere, All the Time: How the #Dispatch Interviews Created a Sisterhood of Feminist Travelers,” is forthcoming in a collection on feminist rhetorical strategies from The University of Alabama Press. Insights from my research not only inform my own freelance travel journalism, for which I have won numerous awards, but also provides important theoretical grounding for the courses I design and teach.
Here’s a brief overview of each chapter:
Ch.1: Trends in Contemporary Tourism Studies: Discourse, Communication, and Digital Media
This chapter situates my project within existing scholarship on contemporary tourism studies and digital media in an attempt to bridge the disciplinary gap between rhetoric and composition studies and tourism/leisure studies.
Creative Interlude: From the Tattered Edges of My Journal: A Story of Loss and Reuniting
Ch.2: Feminism and Tourism: Setting up a Theory of the Feminist Travel gaze and Charting New Territories for World Knowledge-Making
Building on the theoretical work I have laid in my literature review in Chapter 1, this chapter continues the work of setting up a theory of feminist travel “gaze” and offers a useful framework for reading the rest of the project.
Creative Interlude: A Girl and a Soup: Just One Food Story
Ch.3: Other Ways of Eating: Promoting a Feminist Food gaze (Or, How Not to Devour Paris and Eat Your Way through Asia)
This chapter theorizes a feminist food gaze that disrupts the topoi of the Western subject eating the exotic “Other.” I argue that when utilized uncritically, four common techniques for telling food stories—cosmopolitanism, decontextualization, devourism, and escapism—reify and sustain Urry’s asymmetric “tourist gaze” between the Western subject and the exotic “Other.” I then offer an alternative approach to traveling and food that defetishizes cultural difference, troubles binaries, and complicates food histor(ies).
Creative Interlude: How Do You Tie Your Scarf?: Dating, Clothing Tips, and Sex Menus
Ch.4: On Borders and Bodies: A Feminist Response to the Disembodied Tourist “gaze” in Personal Travel Photography
In keeping with Chapter 3’s emphasis on anti-colonial eating, this chapter extends this conversation by examining the ways in which digital media offers the potential for replacing the disembodied cosmopolitan gaze with a “two-way” embodied cosmopolitanism that critically considers the ways bodies (of both host and tourist, a binary I will reconsider in this chapter) are represented in travel stories about the body.
Creative Interlude: “You Can’t Use That Picture!” And Other Editorial Challenges
Ch.5: Rusty Railings and Imperfect Landscapes: Challenging the Exoticizing Gaze in Travel
This chapter argues that taking a feminist approach to venturing and actively working to dismantle patriarchal understandings of place is critical if we wish to listen, as tourism scholars Pritchard and Morgan hope, to the feminine, the gay, the trans, and the ethnic gaze—gazes that hear and see landscapes “that escape the white, masculine eye” of mainstream tourism (901).
If you’re interested in reading more or would like to talk to me about my work, don’t hesitate to contact me! I’d love to hear from you.