Sunday, October 4, 2020

Misogyny Rules in 2020. Still.

Zoë Sharp

The idea of equality between the sexes is great, in theory.


In practice, well, maybe it still has a way to go.


Back when I first started writing for a living, I did so in a field that was almost entirely the province of the guys. I was a specialist motoring writer and photographer. I lost count of the number of times I turned up to do a technical article and was treated to dubious looks by the bloke in the workshop.


I lost count of the number of times I was asked if I knew what I was doing, too. Or, strangely, if I got bored doing the job.


As if I couldn’t possibly enjoy my work because it didn’t compute that I might actually be interested in cars.


There were those who went a step further and considered that, if someone like me could do it, then clearly the job must be easy, mustn’t it? Then the comments would start about how they wouldn’t mind my job, and what an easy life I must have. These usually lasted until I had to hang out of a moving car to do the very-low-angle car-to-car moving shots, dragging my elbows on the road surface. Oddly enough, people usually decided at this point that maybe they didn’t want my job after all.


I even had one bloke who asked, in an off-hand kind of a way, if he could have some of the pictures from the shoot but only: “if they’re any good.”


This was not his first transgression of the day. Through gritted teeth, therefore, I enquired if he really thought I would have been sent all that way by my editor, if I couldn’t take a decent set of pictures? “No, no,” he said hastily, “it’s just that you’ve got a better camera than I have…”


“Oh, so now the only reason the flipping pictures might be any flipping good is because of the flipping gear I use. Nothing to do with the twenty-five flipping years I’ve been doing this…”*


(*Note. I did not actually use the word ‘flipping’ but something slightly earthier.)


Buying cars, sadly, has never been a walk in the park, either. My sister recounts how, when she went looking for her last car, with her partner, the salesman (and they were inevitably men) would always want to talk to him, or offer him the keys for a test drive.


I recall, years ago, going into a garage to ask for a test drive of one of the cars on the forecourt. The salesman fetched the keys and, as we were approaching the vehicle, remarked, “It’s a good woman’s car, this.”


Me: “What do you mean?”


“Well,” he said. “It’s a good colour…”


Because, of course, that’s all that might conceivably matter to me…


On the test drive, I put my foot down in second gear on a roundabout to see if I could hang the tail out. The salesman went very quiet and held onto the base of his seat all the way back to the garage.


I did not buy the car, ‘good colour’ notwithstanding.


But, I’m just contemplating a change of vehicle at the moment and, foolishly perhaps, I thought things might have changed since I last went car hunting. That attitudes might have become a tad more enlightened.


Sadly, they have not.


Today, I went to look at a car, having made an appointment with the garage, so they were expecting me. Masks, social distancing, hand sanitiser, et al. The car was in reasonable shape but it all boiled down to how it performed on the road. So, could I take it for a test drive?


Er, no, it turned out. The salesman didn’t trust me “in a car you don’t know” in the rain. Plus he didn’t want to get the car dirty, unless I agreed to buy it beforehand.


When I told him there was no way I was going to buy a car I hadn’t driven, he wanted to know if I’d any others lined up to see. Yes, of course I had. One other—a fall-back position if this didn’t work out. He gave me a look and said then I should go and see the other car and come back, at which point (presumably if I then agreed to purchase) he might let me take it out on the road.


I pointed out that I’d come with the money, had it been the right vehicle. He looked me up and down and said he’d been in the business a long time and was “a pretty good judge of character”. Not entirely sure what he meant by that, apart from the fact he thought I was wasting his time.


And, in a way, he was right. Because with an attitude like that, no way was I ever going to buy a car from him.


I think that might be what they call a self-fulfilling prophecy.


The search goes on.

This week’s Word of the Week is lalochezia, meaning the use of bad language to relieve stress or pain. It comes from the Greek laliameaning speech, and chezō, to relieve oneself.


  1. It makes me think of my late Mom and Dad. You know who did all the fixing of things in the house? My mother did. My Dad was clueless when it came to anything mechanical, electrical, electronic, etc etc. So my brothers and I grew up believing that a woman could do anything in any realm that is supposedly male, and in fact that it's not a big deal. So, if I call a plumber and a woman shows up, or I hear that the captain of the flight I'm on is a woman, not only would I be thrilled, I would probably have MORE confidence in her because I know the kind of opposition she has probably had to face from men, and the fact that women (like black people of any gender) sometimes have to OVER-excel to get any recognition.

    1. Hi Kwei. I agree! I've been flown by many women pilots, and I'm sure most women would feel safer having a female plumber/electrician on call.

      When it comes to car buying, it gets so wearying, being told on the phone that a vehicle is absolutely immaculate, only to travel to see it and find it's not as described, and then treated like I'm being the utterly unreasonable little woman for expecting it to be so. Argh.

      PS. Your mother sounds like the kind of woman I'd love to meet!

  2. It's amazing not only that the salesman behaved that way, but that the economy is so robust that they can afford to turn away serious buyers!

    On Kwei's pilot comment, over the years I've flown with a variety of bush pilots who land on dirt strips in remote places. With one exception they were all young men who chatted and generally showed off how good and casual they were. (Indeed, there was one I didn't fly with who even managed to run into Stan's plane on the ground because he was distracted by two attractive young tourists.) The exception was a young Motswana female pilot, who was polite, efficient, and appeared to be absolutely professional.
    Disclaimer: Stan is not included in the above description of bush pilots, of course!

  3. Hi Michael. Yeah, I went there with the cash in my pocket to buy it, but was spitting feathers by the time I left. Ah well. As you say, nice for the dealer that he was doing well enough not to care!

    I was very sad to lose a friend earlier this year who was a retired pilot and had a host of stories about the hair-raising places he'd flown in and out of during his career. I don't recall him ever crashing into anyone whilst rubbernecking at tourists, though :))

  4. Oh, Zoe, HOW VERY MUCH I agree! While NYC was a ultra serious lockdown I repaired a toilet and a vacuum cleaner. When a male friend expressed utter amazement, I asked him why. He said it wasn't because I am a woman, but because he couldn't have done such a thing! I don't think he would have been so amazed if I said I had baked a pie.

    In the US, "car salesmen" is the phrase we use to categorize anyone who is smarmy and far short of trustworthy.

  5. Hi Zoë
    I feel your pain! I once went to buy a car only to be told by the salesman that I really should have a different one because it would be safer for me. I replied no... I want that one... He then brought another salesman over to 'convince' me to buy the other. I stood up and said.. It doesn't look like you want to sell me a car... They were both blustering after me as I left. Went to a different dealer... Car bought

  6. Just another reason to never trust a car dealer.

    I have a friend with a construction business in NYC who happens to be a stunning blond. Tough as nails in business, it's amazing to watch her run her all-male jobsites, and the respect and loyalty she garners from those who work with her.

    Sound familiar? :)

  7. From your description of the origins of lalochezia (from the Greek lalia, meaning speech, and chezō, to relieve oneself), I would have guessed that it meant "to abuse a language, to piss all over it."