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» Scarleteen Boards: 2000 - 2014 (Archive) » SCARLETEEN CENTRAL » Gender Issues » Sexism and Car Repairs

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Author Topic: Sexism and Car Repairs
orca
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Last Saturday, I wound up with a flat tire. I put off getting it repaired for almost a week, being far too busy with classes. I finally went on Friday to get it repaired at one of the national chain stores. I live in the South, and around here people will often tell females that they must bring a "man" with them when they go to get their car fixed or to buy a car, otherwise they'll just get ripped off by the mechanics or car dealer. The only other way to avoid this is to know a heck of a lot about cars.

I don't know about cars, at all. But I like doing things for myself and I hate being dependant on another person for anything. So I went by myself after class. Long story short, the mechanics treated me like somewhat of a damsel-in-distress, or perhaps as an ignorant little girl, and then ripped me off for the tire. When I related the story to some members of my family, they unanimously agreed I should've brought a man with me.

I could rant about how annoyed I am by all of this, the way the mechanics treated me, the cultural attitudes and acceptance of such treatment, the chastisement from my rather liberal family, but I think you all get the picture. Anyone have similar experiences or stories they'd like to share? I know not everyone owns a car, but perhaps you've gone with a friend or relative to get their car fixed or heard stories about other people's experiences with it. Even if you don't have personal experiences with this sort of situation, I'd still love to hear your feelings on it.

[ 06-28-2009, 08:08 PM: Message edited by: orca ]

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Listen, strange women lyin' in ponds distributin' swords is no basis for a system of government. Supreme executive power derives from a mandate from the masses, not from some farcical aquatic ceremony.--Monty Python and the Holy Grail

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Stephanie_1
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The first time I ever had to get help with a flat tire, I was in the middle of nowhere - and two guys stopped and asked if I needed some help. I explained that I had AAA, but no phone signal in the area, so they got into my trunk and changed the tire for me. When I thanked them for all of their help, the older of the two said, "It helps to have a man around when something happens like this. Never expect a girl to get down and do something hard." I've never felt so small.

After that, I asked my dad to show me how to change a tire. He was surprised, the only of his daughters to ever wonder, but took the time to show me and then have me practice. Now, when my dad works on my car, I always ask if I can help so I can learn as much as possible. My best friend spends time explaining things to me as well, since he works in a garage. I never wanted someone to be able to tell me something was too "hard" for me to handle!

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"Sometimes the majority only means that all the fools are on the same side" ~Anon

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Ecofem
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Fortunately, I've never any problems with mechanics being sexist due to my being female, both in terms of taking a car in to the shop or getting roadside assistance. I've heard the thing about wearing a fake wedding ring, etc. but never have. I have found a good mechanic's shop here; I feel they exhibit a high level of professionalism and trustworthiness that includes being fair to all customers.

I really cannot speak more highly of AAA as I've used their assistance twice this past year. The reason I have a cell phone is for car emergencies, although Stephanie makes a good point about not always having reception! I have an emergency car kit including things like a flashlight and a snow shovel BUT my parents always stressed calling AAA or getting some other roadside assistance rather than trying to chance the tire myself... not because I couldn't but due to safety reasons, such as getting hit on the side of the road or being offered help from, well, sketchy men.

I have a friend who lives in in an isolated part of the Midwest and says that "everyone" stops to offer help when a car is on the side of the road. It's just common courtesy and knowledge that the nearest help may be hours and hours away.

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Ecofem
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Oh, and I'm very sorry to hear about your situation, orca! It sucks that people put the "blame" on your not taking a guy along rather than the mechanics being sexist. I bet there *are* some good local shops that are female-friendly if not even female-run! (I live in an area that could be considered somewhat Southern and I was set! [Smile] ) Perhaps calling the local high school or community college auto mechanics program could yield some results, such as by asking what local shops have hired female graduates.
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atm1
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I think it applies to a lot more than just cars, actually. I've gotten treated that way at banks a lot (they called me sweetie, I promptly closed and moved my account. They begged me "not to get emotional." I told them to either treat their clients with respect, or expect to lose business.) I also had an encounter with my dentist--that's right my dentist--when he asked to speak to my parents about something. I flat out said that I was an adult (if only 19 at the time), and that I'd like my file right now so I can take it to another dentist. I actually had to fight for about an hour to get my own medical records. No one in my family has been back to him since.

But, this is actually something my mom has said about cars. It never mattered to car dealerships that she was a lawyer (she once sent my dad in to get a quote on the exact same car, and it was less. They then handed over their cards, saying they'd leave a report with the ACLU to start a file on the dealership). I've also read that similar things tend to happen with people of color, and that women of color are particularly treated unfairly by a lot of business people in a lot of different situations.

I've found my own way to deal with people in situations like this. I make it very clear from the get go that I'm either going to be respected and treated fairly, or I'll walk out the door. I also make a point of researching things so I know what I'm talking about/how much it should cost. I just make it very clear that I'm not someone to mess with (I'm totally the daughter of my parents, can you tell?). In some ways, I treat it like acting, something I did for many years. I play the part of the super tough, won't put up with anything character. And I get my way. It's a skill that I know my parents fostered in me, and it's something I'm really grateful to them for. I'm just plain old mean to people who are condescending towards me. Also, particularly when I'm in a situation where men are trying to intimidate me, I tend to find a way to mention that I study physics. It tends to intimidate them right back, and then treat me better.

It's messed up that that works, that I have to do it, but I've always been grateful that I have the ability to make people back down (particularly given the fact that I'm young and quite petite). I'd like to always take the high road and treat people well no matter how they treat me, but I do strongly believe in making people understand that their behavior is unacceptable. I also think that being in a male dominated field has taught me particular skills for interacting with men when they feel like they're smarter than me. Female physicists end up with some pretty thick skin, for better or worse.

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Ecofem
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atm1, I think you make a very good point about self-confidence and presentation. Being polite-but-firm is so important in all types of interactions! I also agree with your extending the unequal treatment conundrum to include others, such as discrimination based on race or ethnicity or age or socioeconomic class.

I was raised to be very polite-yet-assertive and have found it has served me well; my siblings and I would regularly get critique from our parents on everything from table manners to phone etiquette to behavior at a doctor's office. While annoying at times, I do appreciate it now and seek to pass it on (when appropriate); I realize now that a lot of people don't get this type of important feedback growing up.

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Onionpie
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what atm1 said about it applied to race aswell is very true. A family friend is often ripped off at local mechanics and other services because she is foreign and cannot speak english very well -- she's not very confident about expressing herself in english, and a lot of people take advantage of that. I also hate the sexism that revolves around automobiles and similar things. And when people accept it as "the way things are" frustrates me, too =P Luckily the family friend has my mom, who's a lot like atm1 in her taking-no-shit attitude, and whose first language is english.
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orca
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Stephanie, that's great that you're learning about cars yourself! I thought about doing that, and I learned (somewhat) from my father how to change a tire (just not entirely sure about how much to tighten those nuts or bolts or whatever), BUT I also feel that I shouldn't have to learn about cars in order to be treated with equity and respect when I go to get my car repaired. (And ugh, what a rude thing for those guys to say. I'm sorry you had to hear that.)

Lena, you wrote: "I've heard the thing about wearing a fake wedding ring, etc." What's the story about the fake wedding ring? And thanks for the suggestions. [Smile] There was actually a woman who worked at the shop, but that didn't seem to help. I think part of it has to do with a kind of snobbery, that if you don't know about the trade then you sort of deserve to be ripped off.

atm1, you're right that it does happen to folks of color, too. I'd thought about that, and about what role socioeconomic class might play into whether or not you get swindled, but had wanted to keep this mostly to gender given the section. I'd be more than happy to open the topic up to those thoughts as well though. [Smile]

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Listen, strange women lyin' in ponds distributin' swords is no basis for a system of government. Supreme executive power derives from a mandate from the masses, not from some farcical aquatic ceremony.--Monty Python and the Holy Grail

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orca
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Hey Onionpie, I see what you mean about how being from another country can also mean getting mistreated. My parents immigrated from Europe and both have noticeable accents (my father's is more noticeable), though they speak English quite perfectly. They often get hassled at repair shops. My father doesn't as much since he bought some books on car repair to impress the mechanics with his knowledge, though it does still happen. I think anytime someone has an accent or appearance that is "other" then they are automatically marked as an "easy target," and not just at car repair shops or auto dealers, but many other places too. [Frown]

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Listen, strange women lyin' in ponds distributin' swords is no basis for a system of government. Supreme executive power derives from a mandate from the masses, not from some farcical aquatic ceremony.--Monty Python and the Holy Grail

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HeyLife
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I don't mind being referred to as a sweetie as long as the men get the idea that I'm super good at something they're not. Like, I ride horses--all the "tough cowboy men" with their horses treat me like a little girl sometimes, but when I train their horse really well, they have some respect for me. I also find that being loud helps. Just being polite and sweet, but also rather loud, can give them the idea that you mean business.

I know what you mean about the changing tire thing. My best girlfriend can't change a tire and would never dream of doing it. She says, "Oh, I'll call AAA and they can come do it" and I say, "Why not just change it yourself?" She says, "I don't know how to change a tire! Do YOU?" and I say, "Of course." Both my parents and my boyfriend have showed me how. It's easy and women shouldn't be inhibited by such a simple task.

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Jill2000Plus
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quote:
Originally posted by Stephanie_1:
"It helps to have a man around when something happens like this. Never expect a girl to get down and do something hard." I've never felt so small.

Because pregnancy is just so, so easy, and so is being a single mother.

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Always knock before entering my room when I am in there alone, as I may be doing all sorts of wonderfully thrilling things that I'd rather you didn't see.

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