Beezer, A (1995) 'Women and "adventure travel" tourism', in New Formations, 21: 119 - 130.
Adventure tourism is a growing market, which distinguishes itself from mass tourism, often by suggesting that real travellers gain proper knowledge of other people and societies. The well-known opposition between the authentic and the inauthentic has a gender dimension as well, however. [There is a nice reference to Culler's arguments that the term 'authentic' is a crucial cultural marker, and thus authentic tourism is by no means unmediated -- 121].
Most travel narratives are both male and upper-middle-class, but there is a feminist version apparent in 19th century travel writing, clearly connected to a postcolonial refusal of the ordering gaze [I have substituted post-colonial for postmodernist here]. Female travellers like Kingsley had to adopt an 'ironising rhetoric' in order to find a voice. She also followed a different descriptive agenda, offering an interactive rather than objectivist account, and a centripetal rather than a linear narrative (moving out from the domestic into foreign territory and then back, rather than following the usual conquest story). Such writing did offer female heroics, but it could still complement the official accounts -- irony is still a conservative stance. Nevertheless, the organized dialogue with home circumstances could be critical, for example in confronting female slavery abroad, or admiring the concealing dress of foreign women as a tactic. Such writing did properly interrogate difference.
Modern adventures are almost entirely about escape, however. They offer a nomadic itinerary, and set out to acquire or collect cultural experiences. This does offer a challenge to the Western self and its supports, especially in the common argument that travellers should abandon consumerism and keep an open mind. However, it still faithfully reflects the postmodern self and identity. This has the effect of rendering other identities, like the ones encountered, as necessarily pre-modern, traditional, or stuck in time. The whole experience is rooted in and motivated by Western dilemmas like those about the loss of self and authenticity. A patchwork of other cultures seem to be on offer, and 'ethnic' peoples are seen as a cure for spiritual malaise. No political or economic dimensions of the experience are apparent.
Often, the female is associated with the idea of nature, producing a complete otherness. The tourist gaze in modern brochures is still like the 19th century male one, only without the heroics: now the quest is for compensation for cultural loss. The tour companies claim to be interested in this theme too, and their brochures pick up this theme of 'post-modern male anti-heroics' (128). Feminist criticism is marginalised. Females are still commonly the objects of the gaze as seen in the photographs on display. Difference is always sexualised, and cultural hierarchies are reproduced between 'adventurous masculine privilege and dangerous earthy world' (128). There is still a major contrast between home and away -- home is apparently somewhere fixed, offering no adventure or encounter with difference.
Cultural critics are similar to adventure tourists, although they aim to 'revel in epistemological uncertainty' (129). Cultural criticism is still about the 'export of loss', however.
Feminist criticism might well start with the assumption that there is a corrupting consumerism in the West, especially as adventure travel is also a form of high-priced consumerism. Consumerism is of course an aspiration in the Third World. It is also important to note that Third World also has regions of affluence.
Escape can mean a refusal to engage with contradictions at the location of the encounter: the economic and political connections between visitor and visited are just as important as apparent cultural differences. Feminist understandings of the dialectic of difference are needed here, based on the similarities between home and away (for example, women are victims in both locations). A proper recognition of otherness includes a recognition of similarities in the problems faced by women. This might help to develop a suitable 'identity in difference'.
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