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 two 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 the project, 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.
Here’s a recent blab I did about my project for Dayvee Sutton and Lori MacBrown’s Travelscope series:
So what’s this project all about?
My dissertation, “Toward a Feminist Travel Gaze: Re-thinking Tourism, Digital Media, and the ‘Gaze,’” bridges the interdisciplinary fields of rhetoric and composition and tourism and leisure studies to interrogate the underpinnings of the masculine tourist “gaze” and trace the ways this “gaze” has transferred into textual and visual travel stories created by Western travelers online. Instead of solely critiquing this transference, though, I take an autoethnographic approach in which I share my own struggles grappling with writing and photographing travel from a white, privileged position and posit instead a feminist travel “gaze” informed by postmodern feminist rhetorical studies. By analyzing three rhetorical topoi travelers often call on to compose their stories (food, the body, and landscapes), I advocate that the misinformed image of the “tourist,” an outdated rhetorical construct, must be reclaimed and reinvented in order to more effectively represent the diverse voices and subject positions of modern traveling subjects, and that composition teachers can use this framework to approach issues of difference and inequality in their classrooms and communities. A condensed version of my third chapter is forthcoming in the edited collection Food, Feminisms, and Rhetorics, which will be published by Southern Illinois University Press in late 2015.
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, Chapter 4 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
Chapter 5 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 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.