American feminists like you?
was traveling alone in Venice, Italy and utterly romanced
by the beauty of the city - its art, palaces, people, food
and waterways. The one thing I really wanted to do that I
had not done before I left was ride the gondola. The best
time to ride was at sunset and immediately thereafter when
the city lit up with the warm light of an old masterpiece
in ancient oil.
had seen couples in the gondolas at night, and families during
the day. I had seen men traveling the water alone guiding
the boats as gondoliers. I had not seen a woman riding alone
– either as master of the boat or as passenger.
approached a gondolier, negotiated a price and both somewhat
surprised, we pushed off into the golden light. It sank into
the palaces around the town square. The houses kissed the
edges of the canals and the light reflected back against their
warm red hues like courtship. Yes, it was worth it to have
overcome my fear of being “the only woman” to
have asked the gondolier to take me on the ride.
was high on the adventure, when I suddenly realized we were
not in well-lit canals anymore. The gondolier had steered
us to a side canal.
asked, “You are American, no?” I said “Yes.”
All romance in the night vanished.
said, “You like Italian men?” I said, “No
reason not to – not yet anyway.”
He stopped the boat. Suddenly I stood up and asked if he could
teach me how to steer the boat. He was surprised, but yes,
he would teach me. I stumbled next to him at the prow. He
reached around me and showed me how to steer. I grasped the
long oar. It was hard to push, and I didn't know where I was,
or how to get back to the main canal.
said low under his breath, “Do you like me?”
without turning around, “Well...I am an American feminist.”
was shaking but speak even if your voice shakes, Gloria Steinem
says, and so I did, “Yes, and I know karate. I am almost
a black belt.” I handed back the oar, and stumbled back
to sit, saying over my shoulder, “If you don't steer
this back to the main canal, I will tip it over, swim to shore,
call the police and have you arrested. That's what American
said, “Are you sure? I am a very nice man.”
said, “Of course, I'm sure. I'm an American feminist.
That's what we do.”
he turned the boat from the noorish dark canal lit by the
crescent moon, back to the golden light of the busy thoroughfare.
I left, he asked, “Are all American feminists like you?”
I said, “Oh