172 Letter from Alicia Orea-Giner

From the margins to subversion

My earliest memories are linked to a desire to discover and learn; escaping from a room to observe my mother, then 29, run her small rural business. In return, she had to give up watching me grow up, but I have been lucky enough to see how she has done so. She lived on the fringes of a reality that took place in the big cities or in those places where the elite could afford to have heating and rest on Saturdays and Sundays. Many times, I have accompanied my mother to work in patriarchal and heteronormative spaces where she was the only woman and where, in addition to being mocked from the beginning, she had to learn to move, to claim those spaces, to feel safe being at that time an “intruder”. Now, I am writing this text from my computer in a room of my own. However, in order to get here, both of us have only been able to achieve this through subversion. A subversion that we didn’t even know what it meant in the 90s and even less so in the 2000s, because in my house, we couldn’t afford to buy books or sit down at night to read together.

In the meantime, I always dreamed of escaping from that rural environment that combined machismo with heteronormativity in all spaces. Why could I only read books “for girls”? Why was I not allowed to read books “for grown-ups” in the library? Why has it always been like that? But then the Internet came, obviously, also to the library. At home, we couldn’t afford it. I developed my patience waiting for videos, images, and texts to load… Then came the moment, a new form of subversion. I learned to use audio and image editing tools, I started creating a podcast (in 2008, podcasts were also on the margins), and I found my true vocation: to generate discomfort, to be, as a language teacher used to say to me: “the defender of lost causes”. And if they are not lost? I read Machiavelli, Nietzsche, I became interested in history and especially in poetry, in Lorca… But what space did women occupy? I wasn’t aware of it at the time.

At the age of 17, I had to move from the countryside to the city, continuing a life of precariousness but at least with books, high-speed Internet, and a new world to discover. I read The Glass Bell by Sylvia Plath, and I was never the same again. It was the beginning of getting to know me/us. I was studying history and tourism at the time, the latter being particularly uninteresting to me because the perspective was purely economic. What was I doing there? Did I want to be a businesswoman? I tried to find my position, my place. Thanks to my Erasmus year in Paris, I discovered anthropology and its link with tourism, and it became clear to me: all this time, I had been wrong. Why? Why had nobody told me about anthropology? And this is where subversion also becomes understanding otherness.

After finishing my PhD focused on sustainability and my access to the heteronormative space of university classrooms and research, I have been an object. I think I have only been a subject in the last few months. I have been just another object within a system where the fear of speaking out, of having an opinion, and of establishing limits blocks you. “It has always been like this” was repeated incessantly. Why does it have to be like this? And now, it’s clear to me: because calling out the heteronormative space is an act of disobedience. Because right now, I am 28 years old, I am not elite, I do not belong to any space within the university, I am a feminist, and I am not heteronormative. Without my advisor Catheryn Khoo and openly feminist researchers in the field of tourist studies (e.g. Chambers, Dashper, Higgins-Desbiolles, Munar…), none of this would have been possible to say or observe.

Here began my path towards activism inside Academia, from feminist and queer theories. For a few months now, I have been claiming (not reclaiming, because it has never been mine) my space, my position, from subversion. Sustainability and social justice cannot exist without ethics, fighting bias in academia, and promoting equity and equality. Every act ends up being subversive, and many times I am so tired that I think about giving up, but then I remember my mother, crying, because a person in the village made a random sexist comment to her. And now it can’t be, because now I have a voice, now I have a way to make it visible from a privilege position that I don’t deny. However, I don’t forget all this journey either.

My strategy now is to call out these heteronormative spaces linked to the field of tourism research, both internationally and nationally. Firstly, because there is a bias among English speakers who participate in and lead tourism research and, consequently, an under-representation of people from Latin America and Spain. However, our tourism industry is strong, and our knowledge of tourism has a long history. There is also a bias in conference participation and citation of papers. Sara Ahmed (2017) talks about the sexism inherent in the citation relationship, which occurs when white men cite other white men and further establishes white men as authorities in their respective fields. Diversity (ethnic, sexual identity, and gender) enriches the world and the academic world.

Secondly, Munar et al. (2015) found that men and women are not equally represented in leadership positions in the tourism sector, especially in “high visibility” jobs such as keynote speakers and being part of a panel of experts at academic conferences. According to Walters (2018), the lack of opportunities for women to fulfil keynote speaker positions and exhibit academic excellence and international reputation can be a barrier to women’s promotion and career development to high-level positions in academia. It is related to the lack of visibility of women in academia and disadvantages female PhD candidates and young female researchers (Walters, 2018). Inviting young women to participate in these activities is also important because there are few role models to inspire future generations. Because of that, my struggle is not only my struggle, but also a small contribution to changing this situation in the future.

Therefore, the most important thing I have learned is that it is essential to find your place, your goals, and to develop your academic career while following your ethics and without giving up on yourself. Be the resistance.


Alicia Orea-Giner

Universidad Rey Juan Carlos, Spain



Ahmed, S. (2017). Living a feminist life. London: Duke University Press.

Munar, A.M., Budeanu, A., Caton, K. & Chambers, D. (2015), The Gender Gap in the Tourism Academy: Statistics and Indicators of Gender Equality. While Waiting for the Dawn.

Walters, T. (2018). Gender equality in academic tourism, hospitality, leisure and events conferences. Journal of Policy Research in Tourism, Leisure and Events10(1), 17-32.


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Women’s voices in tourism research Copyright © 2021 by The University of Queensland is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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