I don’t always stand up for myself and if I do, I don’t often do it effectively, forcefully, or immediately. I spend a lot of time thinking of what I should have said, analyzing what I did say and figuring out how I got myself into that situation.
A couple weeks ago, we were at a car dealership, dealing with a gentleman who had plenty of years experience selling cars. He knew his stuff. But he did not know us. When he was walking us through the first car, he sat me in the driver’s seat, but brought Scott upfront to show him the engine. When talking about the layout of the interior, he spoke to Scott about hauling sports equipment, and me about strollers and groceries. On the test drive “experience” (which involved a prescribed route, and him driving the first stretch of it), he kept instructions to a minimum for Scott. He walked me through how to adjust the mirrors properly.
While it seems terrible when you write it out, everything was said in such a way that it managed to go right up to, but not cross that line into misogyny.
But there is no doubt that he didn’t take the time to get to know us at all. I am the one that knows about the benefits of an engine with double overhead cams. I am the one that is more likely to coach soccer. I am the one that feels more comfortable in the driver’s seat. Other than when I measured the trunk space to see if I could get a 2×4 in there (no, not with an 8′ length), we let him keep trafficking in gender stereotypes and it did made me feel kind of scuzzy. We didn’t buy the car and weeks later, I still wish I would have said something the first time.
Yesterday, M had an appointment for new boots for her brace at the local children’s hospital. The technician switching over the footplates was running through the usual information. These boots are leather. They will soften and stretch the longer they are worn. As a result, the strap will need to be pulled hard to get it tight enough, so you may want to get your husband’s help.
I cringed. But again, it’s like the tech went up to but didn’t quite cross the line. After all, when we were first shown how to put the boots on, it was a two person job. (And some days it still is with the way M likes to roll around). Before I had enough time to debate whether to say something, he said: “there, the footplates are on. Kids tend to kick a lot, so the screws could loosen over time. You’ll want to get your husband to grab his screwdriver every once and a while to tighten them.”
Now that certainly was over the line.
And for once, I said so.
“So why can’t I use my own screwdriver to tighten them myself?”
He looked flustered and replied “it’s just in my relationship, I am the one who is stronger”
“Well your relationship is not my relationship. I’m plenty strong, thank you very much.”
And for once, I was.
I know M is too young to remember that fleeting moment of time but in that moment I spoke out because I didn’t want her to grow up in a world that assumed men own the tools, and that men were automatically stronger. I didn’t want her to inherit my tendency to give people the benefit of the doubt, to keep my mouth shut to avoid discomfort, to only push for change on a theoretic level. If I wanted her to believe she could do and be anything, I had to show her how to do that.
Walking away, the only regret I had was that C wasn’t there to witness it, too.