Tourism and the sexualisation of the gaze: solo female tourists’ experiences of gendered power, surveillance and embodiment

Fiona Jordan, Cara Aitchison

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


This article investigates the exercise of power through the sexualisation of women as both subjects and objects of the gaze(s) of men in tourism. More specifically, the research addresses ways in which this surveillance impacts on the embodied experiences of women travelling alone. The article analyses the links between gendered power and surveillance by shifting the focus of tourism studies’ analysis from ‘the tourist gaze’ to ‘the mutual gaze’ and ‘the local gaze’ by exploring and explaining the sexualisation of women as the embodied subjects and objects of this sexualised gaze upon, rather than of tourists. In examining these issues we draw on Foucault’s, conceptualisations of power as fluid, negotiated and differentially influencing all encounters between people at a micro‐social level. Foucault conceives of power as exercised through the surveillance of individuals in different contexts, supported and (re)created by sexualised and embodied discourses. Using empirical data collected in 39 interviews with solo female tourists aged between 30 and 70, we examine how this type of social surveillance impacts upon their experiences of the ‘heterogeneous’ spaces of tourism. The results of this study lead us to problematise both Urry’s conceptualisation of the tourist gaze as exercising power primarily through tourist observation of ‘hosts’ and recent tourism theorising of the linkages between sex and tourism as a ‘natural’ part of the tourism process and experience. The findings are intended to contribute to our understanding of the gendered and sexualised power of surveillance and the gaze in tourism spaces, adding an empirical dimension to the developing theoretical discourses of surveillance and embodiment in tourism studies.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)329-349
Number of pages21
JournalLeisure Studies
Issue number4
Early online date3 Jul 2008
Publication statusPublished - 2008


  • tourism
  • embodiment
  • surveillance
  • sexualisation
  • gender
  • tourist gaze


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