February 26, 2015
A Room of My Own

Asides from the few intrepid people, is the world a safe place enough for women to spend time completely alone in nature?

by Jennie M. Xue, Columnist
Issues
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Virginia Woolf once said that a woman needs money and a room of her own to write. But sometimes, a woman needs neither room nor money. Sometimes, she only needs to be alone. Throughout history, male hermits have been enjoying the freedom to disappear from the world, survive on their own in the woods and be forever transformed.

Henry David Thoreau said, “I went to the wood because I wished to live deliberately.”
 
Christopher McCandless lived and died alone in Alaska, which was depicted in film by Jon Krakauer titled Into the Wild. The polar explorer Richard Byrd also lived alone as a hermit and so did American poet Thomas Merton, a Catholic monk. 

Unlike thousands of hermit monks with their published memoirs, women have difficulties just to be alone. Anywhere. Even today. 

Orgyn Chookyi, a 17th century Tibetan Buddhist nun who was known as the “Himalayan Hermitess” wrote, “May I not be born again in a female body. I could do without the misery of this female life.” Apparently, being born in a female body was a barrier to attaining enlightenment. 



You might argue she was saying this four centuries ago, which is irrelevant now. Think again.

How many times have you walked alone in urban and rural areas around midnight? What did you feel at the time? Imagine about living in a tent in the woods. A night or two wouldn’t be a problem, but how about a week or a month? 

The fear of being robbed and sexually harrassed haunts women when we are all alone. Even in modern times. In most parts of the world, both in developed and developing countries.

The thought that going a quick hike alone in the mountain is fine with me. And I have done it many times.  It’s the closest thing to camping alone in the woods for me.

Some exceptions do occur as a few courageous ladies are brave enough to conquer the wilderness all alone. One of them is Cheryl Strayed, whose memoir about hiking more than a thousand miles of the Pacific Crest Trail from the Mojave Desert through California, and from Oregon to Washington State is now a motion picture with Reese Witherspoon as the lead actress. 

Strayed’s success was a testament of feminine power at the right time and in the right place. And I applaud the relative safety of the United States, which is incomparable to India, for instance, with New Delhi being called the world’s “capital of rape.” 

As a simple woman, I don’t need an Hermes bag nor do I long to live in a multimillion-dollar mansion at the Pebble Beach. I just need a room of my own and a simple one might do. But I long to trek the Appalachian trail all alone without worrying about what my female-ness might bring me. I long to connect with nature without any barrier. 

Being a woman is an obstacle to aloneness. It is a fact. Women’s personal safety and security has not greatly improved for millennia when involving living all alone in nature. 

The society has been training women to assist men: our fathers, brothers, husbands, and sons. We have been taking care of them in many ways, thus the notion of us leaving the whole world on a soul-seeking journey is inconceivable, while for men it’s a noble thing to do. Siddharta Gautama and Jesus Christ did it and found their ultimate spirituality. And so did thousands other men throughout history.

Perhaps someday my day will come when I can leave everything behind in quest of spirituality. Perhaps someday my feminine body becomes androgynous. But until then, I’m satisfied with a room of my own. A room with a view.
Jennie M. Xue is an author, columnist and entrepreneur based in Northern California. When she's not globe trekking, she writes about globalization, business, feminism, parenting and humanity. She also writes longform pieces for Longformly.com