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.

8 comments:

Nauplion said...

Sexist. He called them "ladies," not "women." "Ladies" is essentially always a put-down except when it comes from young male waiters who have not been properly trained.

Dawn Walts said...

That's the problem with sexism and racism: the person being insulted rarely feels comfortable acknowledging how insulted she or he feels resulting in the offender feeling justified for his or her opinion. And when someone does speak up, there is usually a consequence to pay for it. This is one of the reasons why I will drive to the dealership in Joliet over Naperville. Naperville owners/managers are (can't say the word here) to me. The "guys" in Joliet have been teaching me about my car, use proper terms to explain issues, and even encourage me to learn how to change my oil (Kia has a special filter I need to order, but they offered to set me up if I ever want to do it myself). Good luck with your search.

David Perry said...

Smart read. I was too much in my grump to read it so carefully.

David Perry said...

Right. As if the women there would feel comfortable saying, "Yes, you're sexist," to him. Oh well.

madtruk said...

Interesting. I rarely use the term, though I associate it almost exclusively with "Ladies and Gentlemen," thus I have never really thought about it being sexist. I'm not certain I agree that it is, but I agree that the mechanic in question is. I'm a product of the military, so I ended up "Sir-ing" and "Ma'am-ing" people a lot, which irritates younger people of both genders. I did some reading though, and when used in the singular (Lady versus Ladies) it is nearly always derogatory (aside from titles such as First Lady, etc).

David Perry said...

"Lady writer." DO NOT USE! :)

Anonymous said...

Earlier today, as I was walking the short distance from my car to a store, a man up ahead saw me, stopped, and waited for me. As I approached him he tried to "hit on me." My feelings were hurt and my self-esteem crashed. Other women would enjoy that situation, I didn't. Am I too sensitive? I ignored him and walked by as quickly as possible. I consider what the man did an act of sexism. Albeit, it may be thought of as a small act of sexism but when it happens repeatedly, it really adds up and a woman can begin to feel powerless and as if something is wrong with her for attracting that type of treatment/attention.

I wonder... maybe a lot of people view sexism differently? That is, what they learn or consider to be sexism. While some people may pick up on the more subtle cues, others won't consider it sexism until it's pretty much shouting, "I'm being sexist!" It reminds me of the whole issue with racism and how people are going about thinking that it doesn't exist only because it's not as violently displayed as it was back in the 60s. People may think that sexism isn't occurring in a situation only because it isn't blatantly announcing it's presence. So, having to keep the television down because the man was speaking and him telling a women to lose weight so that her husband would continue to love her may not have been picked up by the two women as sexism only because it may have been more subtle than what people think sexism should be.

David Perry said...

Thanks for your comment.

I think the "being too sensitive" thought process is one of the ways we internalize the kinds of discrimination we encounter in our everyday lives, rather than fight against it. And surely if we confronted every time we encountered a micro-aggression we would spend all our time fighting. But if we never resist this kind of micro-aggression, if we never call it out and try to explain or explore the issues, there's no change.

That's not to say I think you should have called out the person hitting on you, especially as escalation can be dangerous. But that also doesn't mean you were imagining it.