Saturday, July 20, 2013

Everyday Sexism - I need a new mechanic

I missed an oil change, the weather got hot, the light flashed red on my 1997 minivan, I bought and poured in some extra oil, and the next day I took it into the shop.

Don't worry, the van's fine.

While I was waiting, a pretty big guy came in and started talking loudly to the woman who was waiting as well. They seemed to know each other and the guy clearly liked talking. He talked about trips for pleasure and for work. He talked about doing photoshoots of models, and how he had to turn down a chance to shoot for Maxim or Sports Illustrated, because of work and family back home. He started talking about friends of his and maybe friends of the woman who was waiting as well.

While I was waiting, I was reading comments from Men's Rights Advocates on the Good Men Project, and, frankly, getting angry. Here I had worked on articulating reasons to be feminist by focusing on specific, pervasive, ways that patriarchal systems work to keep women from obtaining power and independence. These MRA folks, some of who are quite prominent on GMP it seems, only wanted to talk about how men were the real victims of those mean feminists who are running the world. I can't tell you I handled it well, though I tried. Eventually, I asked to have comments shut down, because they were being delivered to my email box, and I just wasn't up to the challenge. How can you look at this world and see men as victims of feminism? I intellectually understand it, but not in any visceral way. (See previous posts - I see men as often oppressed by patriarchy).

So the friends of the big guy were married, but nearly split up recently, until the big guy had saved the day. He had gone to the woman and told her (she's in her mid-50s) to really take a look in the mirror and to see that she had put on a lot of weight, and to think about how she dresses. No wonder, he got her to see, her husband (who had stayed fit) was cheating on her. His girlfriend probably puts on sexy clothes and is thinner. The wife apparently agreed, started getting herself to the gym, and had saved her marriage.

I guess, I guess this is a good story. But the powerful sexism exuding from this man repulsed me. Why was he shouting this across the waiting room? Why did he think that just blaming the woman was the only answer here? Why had this nameless wife believed him?

Then a mom with four daughters entered, and he kept talking and talking, the kids staying silent on the couch watching cartoons with the sound off so as not to interrupt him. He didn't notice, because he needed to tell his friend about all the models who hung out with him, and how his teenage son was jealous. Finally, I quietly interjected that maybe the kids who were being so good could turn the TV volume on for their cartoons, and the pair went outside the waiting room to finish their conversation.

As I paid, I realized that the loud man was the owner of my mechanic shop. No wonder he was acting like he owned the place.

I emailed him. He denied being sexist. His reaction, of course, was to go to the two other customers and demand to know, "Was I being sexist!" They, for their own reasons, told him he was just fine. He wrote back to me, "I have no doubt that the two ladies present in the waiting room with you would certainly be able to accurately and immediately determine if any behavior or discussion was remotely offensive and sexist."

I guess I have some doubts, and I guess this wasn't a teachable moment, or just like in the comment threads I went about it wrong, or didn't argue persuasively, or something. 

And now I need a new mechanic.