Why you should care
Because: your mother, your sister, your girlfriend …
Hotels can be dank, dreary places. Who knows who’s been on that carpet, under those sheets, on those likely unwashed duvet covers before you? But like almost every other public activity on the planet, hotel-ing while female is far worse than while male.
From getting hit on in the bar to the threat of rape or sexual assault as they walk to bedrooms down unfamiliar corridors populated by total strangers, women can reasonably feel unsafe in hotels. The case of Erin Andrews, the sports reporter who this month won $55 million in damages after a stalker rented a hotel room next to hers and filmed her naked, is just the latest in a litany of hotel horrors that includes Craigslist killings and Dominique Strauss-Kahn. And it’s not just a celebrity problem or a First World one: In extremely patriarchal societies, women who travel alone are considered suspicious at best and sometimes inherently licentious. Numbers are weak, as they tend to be in cases of sexual violence, but this correspondent can testify to the terror of someone rattling your door in the middle of the night, trying to get in.
One possible solution? We’re not sold on it entirely, but what about some women-only hotel floors? The idea: Major hotel chains give an option to stay on a floor, accessible strictly via a specific key card, with only other female guests. (Unfortunately, this doesn’t solve the problem with assholes like Strauss-Kahn; we’ll get back to you with a fix for that soon.) Something like this has precedent. In India, Japan and Egypt, for instance, where groping became a huge problem on public transit, governments created women-only cars. Those earned their fair share of criticism, but speaking from experience, if you’re catching a train and want to retain your dignity, you’re not thinking about third-wave feminism as much as how to knee some dude in the balls if circumstances require.
Mary Corcoran, a professor of women’s studies at the Gerald Ford School of Public Policy at the University of Michigan, compares the idea with the spirit of women-only dorms, lauding that “unique role” they play for women hoping to be away from the male gaze and the male-dominated world at large. She’d never heard of the notion of women-only hotel wings — but she likes it, “especially for foreign travel.” We oughtn’t stereotype, but it has a ring of truth unfortunately. In some countries, women-only hotel wings could liberate those who otherwise would not be allowed to travel alone.
Female-only spaces really took off in the 1970s during the Steinem-Friedan era of consciousness-raising. In those times, it was more an issue of conversation free of men’s loud and oppressive voices; we can’t imagine women gathering for a discussion of bell hooks in the hallways of a Radisson, but hey, you never know. Public spaces and their associated serendipity sure do help men make random connections that turn into biz deals and what have you.
The bigger issue in the eyes of Stephanie Ortoleva, an international human rights lawyer and founder and president of Women Enabled International, is that, well, you still have to go out and face a man’s world. It’s the same critique people make of, say, Wellesley and Smith colleges. “It could create this feeling of safety that might not really be realistic,” Ortoleva says. Women should feel safe wherever they are, not just in a tiny bubble: “A woman-only bus didn’t exactly help that woman who was gang-raped on a bus that December, did it?”
Should hotels offer women-only wings? Let us know.