This morning I had to take our car to the auto shop to fix a mysterious grinding/screeching sound that my husband and I have been noticing for the last few days. I always get a feeling of trepidation when I have to go into any auto body shop, mostly due to my (VERY) minimal knowledge about the way that cars work. Even if Justin already knows what needs to be done, and I rehearse and repeat after him several times before I walk into the shop, I always end up sounding very ditzy and clueless about what the car actually needs. I try my best to sound professional, but it always ends up coming out something like:
“So….I think the brake pad-thingies need replacing?….Or something? Or are they called ‘shoes’? I can’t remember…”
And the mechanic behind the counter gets a little smirk on his face and usually says something to the effect of:
“Don’t worry, sweetie. We’ll get you taken care of [pat on the shoulder]. And you should probably get x, y, and z parts replaced while you’re here, which will only cost you $200 extra. But your car really needs it…”
And at that moment, I suddenly hate being a girl, and I hate the fact that I never took an interest in getting under the hood of the car with a wrench in hand and letting my dad show me how everything works. Because no matter which establishment I choose for repairs, there’s always SOME extra service or part that is recommended (often times, parts that I’ve never even heard of before!), and the mechanic always insists that I’m putting myself in mortal peril if I continue to drive my car around as is. How am I supposed to know if he’s fibbing or not?
Well, I tried to shake off that horrible, damsel-in-distress feeling as I dropped off my car at Sears and walked over to Victoria’s Secret to begin my work shift. And something interesting happened over the next several hours. I slowly recognized that uncomfortable grimace that I get in the auto shop on the faces of several men browsing through the lingerie store. I realized that for many men, the vast unknown of the Victoria’s Secret store is just as intimidating as the Sears Auto Body is for me. And surprisingly, I saw that many women in the store were filling the role of the smirking mechanic.
For example, I happened to be nearby the cash register as man was getting rung up. He was buying a huge pile of gifts; about $250 worth of merchandise total. I was impressed by his liberal spending (and a little jealous of the recipient of those nice gifts!), but apparently his cashier wasn’t quite as blown away. As she rang up a pink velour hoodie with rhinestones encrusted on it, she asked, “Didn’t you see the pants?”
“I beg your pardon?” the man said, momentarily distracted from the screen listing the total cash he was about to spend.
“You CAN’T get the hoodie without the sweatpants! It goes together as a set! Here,” she said, in that familiar patronizing voice. She grabbed him by the arm and actually steered him back out onto the sales floor to get the sweatpants. I briefly pictured Amy Poehler in Mean Girls as the “cool” mom, with breast implants and a velour sweatsuit, and shuddered. Perhaps some girls insist on having the entire set, but personally, I wouldn’t be caught dead in a velour sweatsuit.
As the man returned to the register with the cashier, I actually heard him thanking her (Yes! Thanking her!) for talking him into buying an unnecessary $60 pair of sweatpants. “Wow! I’m sure glad you told me that. I had no idea that it was a set…” he said, smiling gratefully. The cashier flashed him a toothy grin, probably thinking, “What a schmuck!”
I barely had time to marvel over that transaction before a man approached me, looking panic-stricken, weighing fragrance gift sets in each hand. “Which one of these will my wife like the most?” he asked. Bewildered as to how I would know his wife better than he would, I said, “Excuse me?”
“Do women like things like this? Would you like something like this?” He asked, the note of panic in his voice increasing.
Now he wants to know which one I would like best?
I explained which one was my favorite, and how I have the bottles/lotion of the same scent at home, and how it’s a top seller in all of our stores, so his wife was likely to enjoy it. While I talked, he was gazing at me wide-eyed and nodding his head, hanging on my every word. I suddenly realized how much power I had–I (figuratively) held that man’s pocket book in my hands! I could say to him, “This one? Pshhh….this one’s no good. What you want is this $70 gift set over here! She’ll love that one!”
I could have…but I didn’t. I was honest with him. He’d picked out a lovely gift set, and there was no reason to up-sell him.
I just couldn’t shake it off after that. This feeling of having been sucked down the rabbit hole and seeing things happen in reverse. I saw a man walk by with an armful of bras and panties, reading all of the signage on the displays with an extra-close squint and holding up the merchandise to the light, as if that would help him determine the quality. The ladies near me at the register snickered at him. “Look at that guy!” one of the female customers whispered. “He hasn’t got a clue!” She and her friend dissolved into a fit of giggles as they watched him compare two different pairs of cotton undies with close scrutiny.
“I’m sure his wife will be pleased with whatever he picks out,” I said, pleasantly.
“Yeah, right!” the woman laughed derisively. “Everything he picked out for her is so BORING.”
I couldn’t believe it. It was female chauvinism in full force.
Have you ever been in a situation where female chauvinsim is at work? Is it really as rare as I think it is?