Thursday, February 09, 2012

Why can’t I buy a damn car?

(Originally published in Guyana’s Stabroek News on 21 January 2012)

Everything was going swimmingly. I had done my research, knew exactly what type of car I wanted and was taking that car for a test drive. I was quite pleased with the salesman; an older gentleman with greying hair and an honest face. He spoke directly to me the entire test drive and when we returned to his office to talk terms.

Even when he filled out the paperwork, he did not even glance at my husband, Paul, to get his ‘permission’ to continue. I was sure this was it. This would be the first time I would buy a car for myself that the salesman did not display blatant sexism towards me because I was a woman.

I always bring Paul with me because I trust his advice on financial matters. I had done my homework on the car, but I knew my husband would not allow anyone to rip me off and I have never met a better haggler than my hubby. However, he was not the one buying the car, I was.

As the transaction was winding down and we moved to the finance department to seal the deal, everything was still going great, until they handed my husband the printed offer letter with his name on it – not mine. There was absolutely no way this salesman and his finance guy could have mistaken the fact that I was one who was the consumer in this matter.

As you can imagine, the situation turned very tense as I pointed out the name on the deal to my husband and he said, “How did they do that?” We had not even given them his name. I took the paper from my husband, scoured the particulars of the deal and said in a very stern voice, “This looks just fine, except you need to remove my husband’s name and replace it with mine.”

Both the salesman and his finance guy started hemming and hawing, babbling and apologising, but at this point I was not going to be pacified. The finance guy blamed the salesman who blamed the computer. It was pure absurdity.

Every day women are bombarded with these residual sexist attitudes that still prevail in our patriarchal society. In the 90s, I once walked onto a car sales lot and the salesman asked if my husband would be joining us. Today it seems that I can at least choose which car I want, but I couldn’t possibly have the capacity to pay for it without my husband. What utter balderdash!

Women are more educated than ever before, increasingly more than men. They hold high-paying jobs, run companies and even lead nations. Why on earth is it so difficult to comprehend that a woman can also do something as simple as buy a damn car?

Anyone who knows me, even just a little bit, will be cognizant of the fact that I can do far more than simply buy a car. Hell, I do things that even men will not do. Yet I am still handled with paternalistic platitudes and subsequently placated for the affront. This happens to women a thousand little ways every single day to such a degree that most times women just sweep the insult aside and move on with their lives.

However, when faced with these blatant acts of sexism, I refuse to turn a blind eye and pretend it did not happen. I know most men cannot sympathise with the absolute frustration this type of misogynistic behaviour produces, but it is akin to being treated like a little child when you are a full grown adult with a sharp mind.

At the end of all the paperwork, the salesman had the nerve to ask me for a good review on the customer service survey that would be posted to me by the car dealer. I just smiled.

Since the car I purchased was to be readied for me, I picked it up two days later. When the salesman handed over the keys, I explained to him that I am an advocate for women’s rights and how much his dismissal of my ability to do something as minor as buy a car offended me. I let him know that all women are capable of doing the same and that it was not right to assume anything to the contrary.

He again apologised and said he understood. The ironic thing is that at one point in the buying process I was going to thank him for being the first car salesman to treat me with the respect due any consumer – whether male or female. Boy, did he blow that to pieces!

I do call out my male friends for their sexist statements or attitudes, not because they are bad guys, but because sexism is so entrenched in our society that they often do not even recognise it for what it is. Moreover, they do not know the ramifications of their unwitting sexist ways.

Most men have never stopped to think about how their sexist jokes or their patronising behaviours make women feel because societal traditions allow for this demeaning treatment of women. There are some who just do not care at all and are glad to put women down and even beat and kill them. The latter type of man is best avoided at all costs.

Yet there are some who do care and who do see the value and equity of women in society. Those are the ones who merit the time and effort it takes to be called out when they inadvertently display sexist behaviour – and if they truly do care, they will make the necessary changes to treat women with the respect they deserve.

It is my hope that this otherwise kindly and proficient salesman was worth the effort it took to explain to him why his actions were wrong. Although I liked the man as a person, his sexist actions toward me as a consumer will be reflected in the customer service survey when it is sent to me with the hope that future female car buyers to this car dealer will be spared a similar fate.

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