Gender and Study Away
You already navigate issues around gender in your everyday life here on campus to varying degrees. However, you’re likely to be faced with different attitudes and societal norms regarding gender identity, gender expression, gender equality, and gender roles in your study away location. Therefore, it’s important to know what those are so you can better understand how your personal views, opinions, and expressions may be interpreted by people in your host culture.
“Traditional” gender roles are often found in binaries that inform how men and women are expected to act, dress, and even speak to others in the local context. Taking the time to educate yourself in these aspects, even beyond government-enforced policies, will increase your knowledge, which is important for your own personal safety as well as cultural learning.
Observing and learning about different cultural norms can provide you some context to think critically about gender roles and gender inequality, and how your own beliefs compare or contrast with your study away experience.
It is also important to be aware of cultural norms around friendship, dating, and relationships. For example, in some places male-female friendships are not considered appropriate, and therefore you might be giving out implicit messages that you wouldn’t be sending by a similar friendship in your own cultural context. Also, public displays of affection are very common in some contexts, and very unacceptable in others. Evaluating societal differences when it comes to these relationships and modifying your behavior accordingly is part of learning and relating to another culture.
Societal norms of gender roles for women greatly vary from country to country. While it is impossible, and inaccurate, to generalize about the experience of women around the world, it’s important to acknowledge that women study away students may encounter more restrictions in dress, behavior, activities, expectations, mobility, and safety than in the U.S. and in comparison to men.
Differences in language and the cultural context might mean that behavior is interpreted in a different way than you think, or what is considered appropriate behavior for a woman goes against your personal views and beliefs. This is further compounded by the fact that people in other countries might have distorted or stereotyped notions about U.S. American women, based on images present in films and media around the world. Additionally, the intersection of gender and other identities contributes to how you might be viewed and treated in your study away location.
In some cultures, “cat-calling” and other forms of sexual harassment on the street or in public spaces is more common than in the United States (though it still happens often in the United States), and is often directed at women. Street harassment can be frustrating, mentally tiring, and upsetting, especially when you experience it often.
It is important to remember that if you are harassed, you did not cause that harassment to happen, and the harassment does not reflect on you. But, it is best to first prioritize your own safety, which often means ignoring the harasser or removing yourself from the situation if you can.
You can better prepare yourself for these challenges through reading about the location before you go, asking your host university or program staff for advice on dealing with these issues, and speaking to and following the example of women in your host country. More resources on safety tips for women while traveling is available through websites listed below as well.
Expectations for men vary greatly from country to country. In some cultures, men might be expected to adopt a more “traditional” attitude in their lives and towards their families. For example, men might be expected to do more hard physical labor, or be the only family member working outside the home to provide financial stability for the family. Or, it could be socially acceptable to “catcall” women or objectify their bodies in public, which may be offensive and alarming to you, but an everyday practice for local men.
In other cultures, it is not uncommon for heterosexual male friends to hold hands in public, or greet each other with kisses on the cheek. Because there is such a variance of expectations across countries, as well as within different sectors or geographical spaces in the same country, learning as much as you can about cultural norms will help you be more prepared for your study away semester.
Transgender and gender non-binary students may face different challenges than cisgender students on their study away program, especially in relation to local expectations and norms of gender expression. Some cultures might be more accepting of non-binary gender identities than in the United States, while other places might be very unfamiliar or even intolerant to them.
You will also want to take housing options into consideration. Other than host families, most study away programs offer only gendered housing based on sex and it’s important to think about how this could impact your experience when choosing a program.
We recognize that travel itself, particularly airports, can be difficult for individuals whose presentation are not perceived to match the gender listed on their passport. Additionally, while national laws can reflect a cultural attitude towards transgender and non-binary communities, there might be some places that are better than others to be able to surround yourself with people who will be supportive of your gender identity.
While researching local views and opinions about people with transgender and non-binary identities, you can also reach out to a study away advisor, who can put you in touch with local staff as great resources for what you can expect in the host country. In addition, there are resources listed below and on the LGBTQ+ resources page on the CSA website.
- What are the laws of your host country regarding sexual and gender identity?
- What is the attitude towards gender in your host society?
- What are considered typical gender roles in your host society? Do you know how rigid or flexible those roles are?
- What are the society’s perceptions and expectations for men, women and transgender individuals in my host country?
- What are the gender stereotypes of Americans in your host society? How do intersecting identities play into those stereotypes?
- How do your personal values compare with your host country’s attitudes about socially accepted gender roles?
- How do men treat women in your host society? How do women treat men? How are transgender and nonbinary people treated?
- In what ways does gender play a role in social, economic, or political power in my host country?
- Does your host culture have specific expectations about how different genders dress or present themselves?
- If applicable, does your host university have specific rules regarding gender (for example, separate-gender residence halls, rules about guests of different genders in housing, curfews for female students but not for male students, etc.)?
- Will you have access to gender-neutral bathrooms, and if not, which bathroom will you feel most comfortable using?
- What will you do if people get your pronoun wrong or misgender you?
- What should you do if the gender on your passport and birth certificate are different?
- Are there local organizations or groups that provide support and services ot the transgender community?
- Are you likely to experience discrimination in the local community, based on your gender expression and gender identity? Who can you talk to about it if you do?
- Macalester Center for Study Away Staff
- Macalester Department of Multicultural Life
- Macalester Gender and Sexuality Resource Center
- Macalester LGBTQ+ Equity Resource website
- Amnesty International works to protect people wherever justice, freedom, truth and dignity are denied. This page provides information about violence to women around the world and how you can protect yourself from being a victim.
- The Center for Global Education: Sexual Harassment and Prevention
- Diversity Abroad – Women Abroad
- Go Overseas: How to Deal with Street Harassment Abroad
- The Guide to Solo Woman Travel: This website has numerous articles, links and book recommendations for women traveling alone or in groups.
- Her Own Way: A woman’s safe travel guide produced by the government of Canada.
- Journey Women is a premier travel resource for women that offers advice on topics that range from navigating specific countries to packing tips.
- Revisiting the Solo Female Travel Experience: Article on women traveling solo.
- Solo Female Travel: Lessons Learned by 33 Expert Women Travelers: Article on women traveling solo.
- U.S. Department of State: Travel Information for Women
- Traveling as a Woman of Color – Tedx Macalester Video, by Multiple Authors
- I Am Woman: An Argentine Experience, by Bethany Catlin, ’19
- 3 Tips for Women Traveling in India, by Grace Carson
- Does Toxic Masculinity Exist in London?, by Sierra DeAngelo
- Race, Gender, Colonization and Vulnerability, by Meagan Khan
- Matador Network – a trans* guide for staying safe while traveling
- Outfront Minnesota’s Trans Law & Health – Info on birth certificates, changing names, driver’s licenses, health care coverage, immigration documents, passports, restrooms, and social security.
- Refuge Restrooms: Gender Neutral Restrooms
- Student Voice: Traveling While Transgender: A Journey of Self-Love
- Transgender People and Airport Security
- Transgender Law Center’s ID Please: Quick Guide to Change Federal Identity Documents
- Travel.State.Gov has a page regarding U.S. Passports and Gender Designation Change
- Traveling While Trans section from AIG’s LGBTQ Guide to Travel Safety
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