In the first chapter of Harley and Me, author Bernadette Murphy observes, “Women in road films are rarely driven by a pursuit of adventure—more likely they’re in flight from abusive males… Where are the heroines’ journeys that are life enriching?”
According to cultural scholar Alexandra Ganser, female protagonists are seen as venturing into a “dangerous frontier” when they hit the open road. There’s an unspoken social expectation they must have good reason to confront such unsafe spaces. In contrast to the male narrative, in which adventure seldom needs justification, women’s tales of daring are often framed as quests to repair a broken life or a fractured self.
Damaged women are central to our blockbuster female travel and adventure stories. Cheryl Strayed hiked the Pacific Crest Trail to cope with the death of her mother, the dissolution of her marriage, and her ongoing struggle with heroin addiction. Elizabeth Gilbert credits the heartache and confusion that followed a messy divorce for prompting her year-long soul-searching trip around the world.
That trope now shows signs wear. Last year (and the early months of this year) brought us a fresh bounty of adventure memoirs written by women. And at least two of those new books challenge the genre’s conventions with bold, unapologetic writing about the quest for a better life.