What I hear when you tell me to “be careful.”

An unintended conversation began on my Facebook page earlier this week when in response to a post I put up, an older male follower of mine told me to be careful.

He stated it, first, in the context of my complaints that men were using my social media presence to sexually harass me, but soon, the conversation turned to my travels.

I wasn’t surprised, as this is something strangers say to me quite often. But as usual, it frustrated me. And this time, I decided not to let it go.

As I took exception to the comment online, others jumped in. At some point, basic decorum was thrown to the wind, and strangers began calling me some pretty nasty names. But in the beginning, it started with a lot of questions. What exactly, one man asked me, was so wrong with telling a woman to be careful? The other man had good intentions, he said. Perhaps he was just being kind. And after all, I’m traveling to dangerous parts of the world, alone — I *do* need to be careful.


Well, yes. Like any other traveler, I should be careful. Bad things can happen in these parts of the world, just as they can anywhere.

But the chorus of people, overwhelmingly men, who constantly instruct me (and other women) to “be careful,” is more concerning to me than any hazard I face abroad, for a couple reasons.

First, it assumes I need the advice; that the subject of my own safety isn’t already urgently on my mind. I assure you it is. Self-preservation is high on my list of goals.

But more disturbing is the insinuation that women, in particular, should be afraid. 

I am a 32-year-old adult who has traveled across the world, often alone, and who has found my way through more than a few sticky situations. I strongly doubt a male in my shoes would hear the phrase “be careful” uttered in their direction as often as I. 

I hear it in emails. In social media messages. In comments on my website. I hear it from family members (although I am blessed with a mother who tells me “I know you’re smart and capable” instead of “be careful”), or people I meet on my travels too, sometimes, but predominantly, those words come my way via strangers.

Often, they are housed in phrases that sound like this:

“The world is dangerous and a young woman needs to be careful”

It’s no wonder that I and other women find this double standard exhausting and harmful.

Of course, it’s nothing new. Women, for centuries, have been told to be careful. Careful not to want too much, to drive too fast, to wear too little, to tempt or anger or embarrass men.

Girls, from a young age, are still cultured to adhere to those words, as though they’re delicate porcelain dolls, apt to break by stepping, too boldly, into the world.

Most of us, myself included, have in various aspects of life taken this phrase to heart. We’ve been careful about where we go and when and with whom and wearing what. 

You’re telling us to be careful? You’re telling me there are things to fear?


Believe me, we know a lot better than you. 

Being a women means sometimes piling furniture in front of your door if you deem the lock inadequate. Being a woman means holding your breath and feeling your heart pound in your chest when a man walks past you on a dark street. Being a woman means carefully considering which ear-piercing alarms and roofie detectors to pack along with which canteen and waterproof shoes.

Assuming we’re careless and unaware of the dangers is completely ridiculous. That, as a woman, is impossible.

Unfortunately, careful or not, bad things can still happen, anywhere. Our safety isn’t entirely in our hands; insinuating it is has perpetuated the culture of shaming women who are raped and harassed and beaten. Even in the conversation that inspired this post, I was told to be careful in relation to *others* harassing *me.* 

“Be careful.”

Frankly, I’m tired of it. 

I’m prepared. I’m smart. I’m informed. I’m experienced. I’m ambitious. 

There are more important things than being careful. 

If women don’t do what is dangerous, our perspective on those subjects and places will never be heard. If women don’t persist despite fear, the spectrum of doubt will only grow. If women work too hard to “be careful,” perhaps we’ll lose room for so many other adjectives that would propel us through this complicated world and to self empowerment. 

Because what’s truly dangerous in my opinion, is the idea that women should above all else be careful; that fear and wariness, that risk inherent in the world, should in some way hold us back.

“Be careful?”

How about “be brave?” “Be strong?” “Be inspiring?”

Or better yet, just commend us on already being so — because we don’t need the instruction to make it true.

21 thoughts on “What I hear when you tell me to “be careful.”

  1. I’m glad you wrote the piece about being told by men to be careful. I had never stopped to think about what that phrase may sound like or means to a woman and how it could make them feel the way you feel when it is said to you. In truth, I have always said it with the best interests of the woman at heart, but I definitely see how it further stratifies women into a subservient role to men in our society and also would indicate that men believe that women aren’t always thinking about being careful in the first place. I definitely will be more cautious about using that phrase when addressing a woman in the future knowing that they too are probably sick of hearing men say that to them. Thanks for the life lesson!

    1. And thank you for the thoughtful response! I’ve gotten some crazy feedback but also some really interesting, valuable back-and-forth, and I love the conversation!

  2. PREACH! You nailed it, sister. Keep on going, being brave, having fun, telling the hard truths and living your beautiful life.

  3. Out of the billions of fellow earthlings on this planet, God only made one you Amelia. That’s pretty incredible. You have one life to live. So keep owning it, stay true to yourself, and ALWAYS be fiercely you!

  4. That was thought provoking. I have a wife and three adult daughters and have often said that when they were or are heading out. I am going to talk with them about this and how it makes them feel. It’s maybe in a way a little like implicit racial bias. I thought that my life with four women had helped me be pretty non sexist. I have more to learn.

    1. Thanks for being thought provoked, Karl! My point was not that men should never say those words to women, or we should never say those words to each other but I wanted to perpetuate the dialogue for thinking about why we say these things, if its called for, and if there’s another beneficial way to deliver the message 🙂

  5. Thank you for opening my eyes and mind. It made me think of the last twenty years as young people I know deployed in war zones. The men got Keep your head on a swivel, Stay hard or other macho crap. Women heard Be careful or Watch your back. Thank you so much for your guidance.

  6. I’d like to optimistically think that the subset of males that choose to comment at all on a stranger’s facebook page, let alone give you advice, are not representative of the broader population of men. As a man, husband, brother and father, I appreciate (even if I fully don’t understand) reading your perspective on this topic. Thanks for putting some additional cities and locations on my travel to-do list; I enjoy following the adventure.

    1. Thanks for saying that Matt, it’s much appreciated. Thanks for being open-minded! And while these men may not be representative of the broader population …there sure are a lot of them! On the internet and in real life. Ask any woman and I think she’ll say the same.

  7. Thanks for this piece. I found it instructive, thought-provoking, and powerful. Am very much appreciating (virtually) traveling with and learning from you on this journey. Peace!

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