Feminism at the Mechanic’s

As I’ve already told you, my car broke down a few weeks ago. I chronicled the stress of the experience in the previous post. But now that I have some emotional and temporal distance from the incident I’ve thought about it more and managed to identify one contributing factor to my general anger at the situation.

I realized that part of my stress came from the fact that, subconsciously or otherwise, I had been conditioned my entire life to believe that if I, a lone female, entered a mechanic’s place of business, they would think me gullible, naive, and an easy target. Somewhere deep in the dusty file labeled “Car Stuff” in my brain, I had noted that if I ever needed to visit a mechanic, I should take a friend – no, a male friend – with me so that he could lend me some credibility. Mental images of scruffy men in oil-spattered coveralls elbowing each other and saying, “Heh heh” played over and over in my head. So I obeyed my socially conditioned impulse and took my male friend with me.

I have no idea where this lesson came from. It only just surfaced now, so I don’t remember if my dad or my mom or some well-meaning authority figure once told me that I should never go alone to a mechanic’s “as a girl” for fear of getting swindled. I asked my boyfriend about it, and he expressed surprise that I would ever feel that way. He had no idea what I was talking about. My female friends, on the other hand, yelped, “Exactly!” before I had even finished describing the situation. None of us could figure out where we’d learned it, but there it was – something in the air of the society we live in had taught us that we as females would not be respected as clients paying for a service in a traditionally male-centered industry. And we believed them.

When the mechanic initially only directed questions at my male friend, I resented it. I butted in to the conversation as if to say, “I’m here too.” Of course, once the process got under way and I became the real client in that I had to approve all the specific repairs and ordering of parts, everyone was perfectly nice. They explained each problem they found without condescension, gave me reasonable estimates, and bantered with me each time they called. Needless to say, they were not, in fact, rubbing their hands with glee at the chance to rip off some clueless female. They were skilled professionals performing a task for which I paid (or rather, my dad paid) a reasonable price.

And yet, even after this, I wonder if I’ll have the confidence, when I’m in a new city on my own, to waltz into a strange garage without a male friend at my side. It’s funny (in a sad kind of way) how deeply sexism runs.

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