Ladies, I know all of you have so been here.
I noticed a mushy tire on my car one morning last week, so I dropped Nora off at preschool (don't worry, it wasn't THAT mushy a tire!) and headed to a car repair place near my house. It wasn't terribly busy when I pulled up, so they looked at my tire and patched it up quickly and cheaply, which pleased me greatly. I was full of love for this place until the guy at the counter alerted me that my car was ready: "OK, Ms. Chandler," he said, pausing while I gathered my things from the waiting room and nodded my sympathies to the people still in there being subjected to high-volume daytime TV law firm commercials. "You ready, babe?"
Babe? Are you kidding me?
I was preoccupied when he spoke, and those law firm commercials were LOUD, so I'm not 100 percent sure he really said it. Which is why I let it go. (And, OK, FINE. Also because I'm extremely nonconfrontational and just wanted to get my keys back and go home.) But, I mean, he said it. Let's be honest. He was a super friendly guy, and I'm sure he didn't mean it to be demeaning and overly familiar, but he said it.
I've been called "honey" and "sweetheart" and whatever else before. I live in the South. It probably happens on a daily basis and I barely notice it. And, you know what? I was raised in the South. I get it. If I feel it's being said in a Southern context, I'm mostly OK with it (as long as it's coming from someone older than me. One time a waitress CLEARLY younger than I am gave me the "sweetie" treatment, and that was just … weird). But in a more professional context, including a customer/service provider context, it's no good. Especially when you know you're getting that treatment because you happen to have ladyparts. If men in the same situation are getting called "bub" or "big guy" or "chief" whatever the heck dudes call each other, well, erm, OK I guess, but how often do you see that happen?
In this case, I shrugged it off and moved on. But I'm still mad about an incident at a different place – a car dealership's service bay – four or five years ago. I brought my car in for something or other, and also asked that one of my tires be checked because it seemed to be losing air, but it was so slowly I couldn't be sure whether there was a problem or if it was just due to fluctuations in the weather. When the car was ready a little while later, the guy explained that they didn't find any problems, so probably it was just weather or a little bit of wear. And then he dropped the bomb:
"Do you have a husband or a boyfriend or something who can check the tire pressure for you?"
I'm ashamed to say I just sort of laughed it off and then let it go. Shock, I guess. And cowardice. Of course, I SHOULD have said that I'm perfectly capable, thankyouverymuch, of checking my own tire pressure. I can also do math and get my hands dirty and say bad words without fainting. In fact, I should have demonstrated my bad-word abilities to him right then, don't you think? But I didn't. And I didn't even write his manager the angry letter I composed in my head on the drive home, because I got busy and just kind of let it slip, I guess. But I never went back to that dealership. Hollow comfort, but it's something.
I wonder if these incidents are just a vestige of a long-ago time, with a few scattered adherents still clinging to their ways even as the newer generations roll their eyes and do better. Or will Nora, now 3, be sitting in a car (flying car?) repair waiting room in 30 years and get summoned to the counter with "babe"? I hope she never has to experience that, but if she does, I can already tell she'll handle it better than I have. She's the type to SAY SOMETHING, for sure. No internal seething for my darling sweetheart sugar babe. And that's just one of about a million things I admire about her.