‘What I Was Doing While You Were Breeding’ by Kristin Newman

December 4, 2014 at 6:24 am 3 comments

while-breedingWhile on a trip with her husband, Kate picked up (appropriately or ironically, whichever you prefer), What I Was Doing While You Were Breeding, a single girl’s travel memoir by sitcom writer Kristin Newman. She subsequently recommended the book to Corey, who legitimately is a single-girl traveller, and the rest is history!

Kate: Apart from the sex, I feel like this book actually has a few good lessons about travel. Do the thing you’re supposed to do in the place you’re supposed to do it is amazing travel advice, in my opinion, and her list of what to do in order to be a good travel companion is spot-on (if a little nit-picky). Though I didn’t love her characterization of her travel companions, especially the one who left her dog with a sitter, I found myself looking to Kristin as almost a travel role model.

Corey: That is great travel advice. If only our heroine didn’t seem to apply it exclusively to doing the person you’re supposed to do in the place you’re supposed to do him. To give Kristin the benefit of the doubt, I like to think she did lots of other things in various places she was supposed to do them than are discussed in this book. I like to think her travels were an amazing cornucopia of localized experiences, which would live up to the “do the thing you’re supposed to do in the place you’re supposed to do it” mantra she spouts throughout the book.

Kate: Do you think it’s just that sex sells? There was so much mention  of sex on the back and front covers that I was actually a little weirded out that I hadn’t noticed it when I first picked up the book. I really just thought it was going to be a “single girl travels” book, not a “exotic men and the sex I had with them” book. But you get hints throughout the book that she actually did learn something about herself in there somewhere.

Corey: One can only hope she did! However, since there isn’t much focus on non-amorous activities (except on her sexless New Zealand journey—where sex evidently didn’t happen because a) all the handsome guys were taken and b) Kiwi genetic history precluded any native sons from being hot enough to tempt Kristin), I found myself rather uninspired.

If we’ve come so far that an intelligent, successful, single woman can travel the globe alone (three cheers!), why haven’t we come far enough that she can’t write a book about those travels without focusing on her singleness and love life? Is that still the only thing that makes a woman interesting and discussable?

Kate: It honestly stunned me that she felt the need to apologize in the Brazil chapter for what she was writing. I have sort of a matter-of-fact approach to sex (people do it, sometimes people do things you wouldn’t like in bed, but so long as everyone is happy, whatever), but I couldn’t help but wonder if a man writing a book like this would feel the need to apologize.

Mdina, Malta, 2011

Mdina, Malta, 2011

Actually, a guy writing this book probably would need to apologize, because women would be up in arms about the fact that this is pretty much an ode to no-strings-attached sex. BUT. I think Kristin actually approaches this pretty well (though so few of her men actually speak English). She at least had genuine affection for each of these men, and mostly saw them as people and celebrated things other than their bodies. But what did you think?

Corey: Absolutely. I applauded her “open book” approach to her travel dalliances. (This is good since, if you’re going to write a book about your travel dalliances, it makes no sense to then be apologetic and prudish about them!) For most of the book, she was so willing to put it all out there and it was fabulous. And then…

I think, no, a man writing this book would not feel the need to apologize, but I think he also couldn’t write this book in 2014 without being labeled a cad. This book is such a product of this cultural moment where a woman revelling in sex is not just acceptable but is cheered on as part of the feminist experience. This book could be written a man only if it were 1960. And he certainly wouldn’t apologize. And he probably wouldn’t have emotional connections and remember his travel flings’ names as faithfully as Kristin, either.

That said, Kristin spends a fair amount of time objectifying her travel flings (particularly the Brazilians!). I remember one instance where she takes random photos of one guy getting dressed in the morning to capture his beautiful bod.

But I think this behavior can be categorized in the same new feminist way as the above—women are now feeling free to objectify men’s bodies in the same ways that women have been objectified for centuries. It’s turning the tables and it kind of kicks butt.

Kate: I was both shocked and somewhat gratified when Kristin revealed at the end that she was getting married. I was shocked because her life was so incredible, and I was sort of looking at this book as a paean to single life, a look at what you can do when you are not tied down by kids and husbands or, apparently, even animals.

But I was also gratified, because it seemed like whether or not she was single, her whole life was about finding love. Sure, she is honest about the fact that her flings are flings and there’s nothing wrong with a little promiscuity (so long as it’s safe). But the underlying theme is that she wished she could find a man to commit to — and these other men sort of helped her get there. And it felt like she could only write this book and close that chapter of her life if it was truly over — as it would be if she got married.

What did you think, though? It also seemed like a cop-out. Oh, being single is great! said the woman getting married.

Corey: Definitely a cop-out. I mean, her constant pining for True Love for the whole book made me glad that at last she found him and can stop being so sad that she had to leave the country repeatedly, but I also thought getting married at the end did undermine her general message.

Brussels, Belgium, 2013

Brussels, Belgium, 2013

The whole book set up the idea that being single is great and allows you to do so many things your married friends can’t do, only to turn that on its head and reveal at the end of the book that being single (and the accompanying adventure) is just a stepping stone on the way to inevitable matrimony.

Frankly, such a message after the book’s all-out girl power assault was totally disappointing. I have found travelling independently (and intentionally alone—without gal pals or flings) to be one most empowering and transformative experiences of my life. It made me sad that this experience wasn’t better represented.

Kristin admits at one point that her most amazing day of travel was the one she spent alone in the Andes, but this experience somehow does nothing to alter her travel pattern—go somewhere with a friend or to visit a friend and then shack up with a local. Traveling alone is so, so rewarding—you get a whole new level of understanding of yourself and the place you’re visiting. I know it, Kristin claims she knows it, and yet the book hardly even glancingly touches this truth.

And, at base level, since endless foreign flings are not my style of travel (um, local food anyone?), I wasn’t terribly impressed by her approach to experiencing foreign lands. Like I said above, I hope her travels included a lot more adventures and local experiences than the ones highlighted in the book and I’ll give her the benefit of the doubt on that, but still.

Kate: Okay, so in conclusion…this would better have been titled Who I Was Doing While You Were Breeding and we would have better known what to expect.

Further Reading:
(i.e. Potentially Even Better Books About Single Lady Travellers)

If you’re looking for an empowering, incredible tale of the single woman traveller, I cannot recommend Rosemary Mahoney’s Down the Nile: Alone in a Fisherman’s Skiff effusively enough! No dalliances, no wild parties, and very little comedy—just one woman setting out to do something seemingly impossible and succeeding.

And if you’re looking for an autobiography of one woman’s incredible life journey and travels from rural, pre-war Australia to the highest echelons of academia, check out Jill Ker Conway’s series of memoirs starting with The Road from Coorain. She’ll make you feel like you can do anything.

And for historical continuity, flip through the writings and travel narratives of Lady Mary Wortley Monatgu, Mary Kingsley, or Gertrude Bell (Janet Wallach wrote a particularly good biography of her called Desert Queen: The Extraordinary Life of Gertrude Bell: Adventurer, Adviser to Kings, Ally of Lawrence of Arabia).

Not to mention Lucy Duff-Gordon, who left her family behind to move to Egypt in 1863 for her health and lived in the then-remote and “uncivilised” town of Luxor for the rest of her life, learning Arabic and being generally awesome.

Also, visit Travelers’ Tales for a pretty excellent list of women’s travel narratives over the years.

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Entry filed under: Memoir/Autobiography. Tags: , , .

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3 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Kate  |  December 4, 2014 at 10:32 pm

    Corey, how did I forget that you went to Malta?!

    Reply
    • 2. Corey  |  December 5, 2014 at 11:17 am

      Haha, I don’t know! It was one of the best trips I’ve ever taken, definitely, and the first one where I really felt the power of traveling alone. :)

      Reply
  • […] were great – and used to good effect – but her perspective still reminded me unfavorably of Kristin Newman’s What I Was Doing While You Were Breeding: with the end of a story still firmly anchored in the traditional happy marriage ending, doesn’t […]

    Reply

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