I was not raised a princess. Never did my parents tell me I couldn’t (or shouldn’t) do something because I was a girl—neither did they pamper me for it. Household chores were divided by ability and interest rather than by gender. For example, once I was strong enough (which, I admit, I wasn’t until high school), I had to do my share of lawn mowing. I helped both of my parents cook. I folded laundry and worked a band saw. I didn’t play any sports, but for several years I kept the scorebook for my brother’s little league team, carefully recording everything from number of pitches to strikeouts (swinging or looking) to homeruns. Of course, I read a lot, and my mother made sure to include strong women in my literary diet. My dad was delighted to introduce my sister and me to all of the film adaptations of Jane Austen’s novels. Yes. All of them.
In college, I delved more deeply into the idea that “a woman needs a man as much as a fish needs a bicycle,” something my mother had mentioned in passing when I was growing up. (For those of you who are unfamiliar with this statement, this is not an attack on men. This is just to say that a woman does not need a man to live a fulfilling life. A bit hyperbolic, sure, but when half of humanity refuses to listen, what can you do?) Now, in grad school, I’m still studying feminism.
So I was horrified to realize a few weeks ago that I hate traveling without a man. My mother and I were in Grand Rapids for Calvin’s Festival of Faith and Writing, and although we had been able to reserve a hotel room for the first night, we were unable to for the second. We turned to Airbnb, or the rent-a-stranger’s-spare-room website, which some of my friends laud highly. Reservation made, I thought nothing of it until the trip was upon us, and then I remembered my two trips to Rome: during the first, I was with a friend who happened to be a guy, and it was lovely, except for the oppressive August heat. The second I took with my then-roommate, a young, Turkish woman with waist-length hair. Sometimes people thought we were sisters, and when we walked down the busy Roman streets in broad daylight the men catcalled us. We made sure to be in our hotel room before dark. With those memories in mind, my mother and I cautiously checked into our host’s two-bedroom condo. He wasn’t home, which was a relief, but he had called me “sweetie” in a text message earlier that week when I had been finalizing the details of our visit. I was still a bit rattled from that exchange, and the prospect of entering an unknown man’s condo rattled me even more.
It all turned out fine. We weren’t abducted or murdered in our beds. Our host, whom we met later that evening, turned out to be sweet and ostensibly normal. So far, I haven’t discovered any bedbugs or lice that might have hopped into my luggage. But our evening was not completely uneventful, for when we hauled our tired selves to the guest room, we discovered not a nice, firm mattress, but a waterbed, with all of the strange sloshing that accompanies such a contraption.
Once I returned to Champaign, safe and sound, I gave my host a high rating on the website—he had been perfectly nice and friendly without being creepy, and his condo had been very clean and welcoming. But I doubt I’ll do Airbnb by myself or, if I can help it, without a man.
I write that last sentence, hating every word of it and knowing that the work of feminism is far from finished. Till then, I’m afraid I might catch myself acting like a princess every now and then.
Sabrina Lee majored in English and French and graduated from Calvin College in 2013. After a couple of gap years, she’s back in school at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, pursuing a MA/PhD in English.You can usually find her reading and drinking tea—and, once in a while, ballroom dancing.