A recent study in PNAS found that from around 2500-1650 BC, most European women traveled the world before they started families, exposing themselves to different cultures and ideas, while the men stayed at home. I shared it with some friends of mine who are also femae digital nomads (people who work remotely and have no permanent location), and it really spoke to us. "Women were meant to be nomadic," said Kelly Chase, one of the hosts of the Workationing podcast. We all had this intuition that being a nomad was a feminist act.
The digital nomad community is somewhat male-dominated. You hear a lot about male startup founders and coders traveling around the world. Part of this is probably a result of the unfortunate fact that women tend to have greater safety concerns. And for good reason: Many of us, including myself, have endless stories of sexual harassment while traveling alone. Part of it may also be that our society expects women to be caretakers, whether that's of kids, family, or just friends, and that often means staying in one place. Women also have fewer economic opportunities than men, and the ability to work remotely is a privilege.
That's unfortunate, though, because I think women in particular can benefit from being nomadic. Here's why I consider it a feminist act.
We're Rejecting Gender Norms
By our culture's standards, being a nomad is decidedly "unfeminine." We're not putting ourselves in a position to settle down in a house with a white picket fence and have 1.87 children. Our lives don't revolve around anyone but ourselves.
Nomadism is a direct affront to what our society says a woman should be: tame, domestic, reserved, and appearance-focused. Every day, through the way I live my life, I'm challenging these gender norms. My life is a rebuttal against the patriarchy.
We're On Our Own
I'm in a relationship, but my time traveling without my significant other is vital for my mental well-being. Before being a digital nomad, I (like many women) had learned to hinge my self-worth on a guy's opinion. Being a nomad forces you to stop looking for a relationship (though, evidently, sometimes you do end up finding one anyway). It forces you to hinge your self-worth on yourself.
This goes even deeper than not needing a significant other. Many of us judge our actions based on the values of our community. But when your community's not so clear-cut, you're forced to figure out your own values — ones you can take with you everywhere you go. And you may be surprised to realize the values that you thought were yours are actually ones imposed on you, often based on patriarchal ideas.
We're Not Pressured To Primp Every Day
I'm not going to pretend our looks don't matter at all. They affect how people treat us in our day-to-day interactions, and even if you work remotely, the headshot people see online will affect how they perceive you. But for nomads, image matters less. As Workationing's Kari DePhillips, one of my digital nomad role models, tells me, you're not "'getting ready' for a job they're already ready to do."
When people work remotely, "nobody is judged by what they wear, how attractive they are, what they smell like, or anything else not related to the job," she says. "This enables a meritocracy that can't fully exist in an office environment. ... Women, on average, spend more time getting ready for work than their male counterparts. Working from home (or wherever) gives ladies those hours back, and when you add it all up, it's a huge amount of time. More people — women in particular – should be fighting to get that chunk of their lives back."
Nobody Owns Us
Early hunter-gatherer societies, where people were nomadic, tended to be less patriarchal. Research has found that even modern ones are. Perhaps that's because they didn't have so strong a concept of ownership. People didn't own things, and men didn't own women. In fact, some scholars have argued that the agricultural revolution led to the onset of patriarchy. "The idea is that the Neolithic revolution puts societies on a path on which patriarchal norms and beliefs would be adopted," one Aarhus University and University of Southern Denmark paper reads.
I like to think that women who are nomads are returning to these roots. We're resurrecting a time when nobody owned us. Nobody's expecting us to come home to them at the end of the day or spend time with them and them only. We're free to go where we want when we want to, and we don't need anyone's permission.
I believe that's the freedom we all crave, in some form or another, before patriarchy programs us to seek others' approval. Deep down, there's a Bronze Age wanderer in all of us. Women really were meant to be nomadic.