Monday, January 18, 2010

Car repair and gender relations 101

For the most part, I don’t have to deal with the fact that I am a female in a male-dominated field, meaning it’s not thrown in my face at every, single turn. There is an underlying anxiety I have when I am giving a presentation to a mostly male audience, though. I wonder if my science will be taken seriously because I am a woman, or if they are staring at my slides or at my somewhat ample bosom. Do I look too “girlie” and therefore cannot be taken seriously? I know, I know, it may be a tad extreme, but it’s something that runs through my head all the time when I first get up there, but then the coolness of my science, the awesome data and the really cool story I have to tell takes over and all those thoughts fly out of my head.

Yes, I have had my run-ins with blatant sexism in both graduate school and in my post-doc. My friend accused me once, of playing the “sweet, innocent girl” routine when I was asking my boss something. I do, occasionally catch myself doing that as well. Not so much as being the “poor, helpless female” but being a little more sugary than normal. There are also rare occasions when the bitch mode comes out in front of my boss as well. And for that, I have earned the “feisty” title from my boss.

Still, sometimes the blatant disregard or dismissal by a male because I am a “girl and don’t know anything about [insert “manly” subject here]” still takes me by surprise. Today, for example. My little POS car has not started for about two weeks now. With the extreme artic temperatures, wind and snow, it comes as no surprise. Mr. Dr Zeek and I decided to try starting it one more time, since, for the first time in about ten days, it has been sunny and above freezing. Of course, we tried to start the car, threw our hands in the air and decided to call the towing company to get the car towed to the mechanic.

The roadside assistance showed up and asked for our membership card. Since I made the call, I handed mine over (which, by the way, does carry the Dr. title- one of the few pieces of identification that I have that does). He read it, gave me the once over, and proceeded to ask Mr. Dr Zeek if he could try starting the car. OK, no big deal. Even though it’s technically my car (actually, all of our cars are in my name so they are all mine) Mr. Dr Zeek and I make the decisions together. Once he got our car started with the mega-super battery booster (which I now want one of), he proceeded to explain to Mr. Dr. Zeek what he thought was wrong with the car. When I chimed in a few times, he answered/retorted to what I said while still directly staring at Mr. Dr. Zeek! Not once did he address me, not once did he even acknowledge my existence. I could have danced the Macarena around him and he would not have noticed what I was saying. Of course, I thought, I am “just a girl” there is no way that I know what a carburetor is. And, when I pointed out the Mr. Dr. Zeek was mistaken, that my car indeed have fuel-injectors instead of a carburetor, the man looked at him and blatantly repeated what I just said, stood in front of me, and continued to show Mr. Dr. Zeek things under the hood while blocking my view, nearly pushing me out of the way. It was so unbelievably infuriating!

He finally left and we drove the car to the mechanic. On the ride back, I asked Mr. Dr. Zeek if he caught the whole exchange. “What, honey? That you are (sarcasm by Mr. Dr. Zeek inserted here) just a girl and don’t know anything? That I am the “man” of the house who can’t even get the car started?” He grinned a bit, knowing that things like this piss me off. “At least, in this douche bag eyes, honey” Mr. Dr. Zeek continues on “you have an excuse since you are just a silly girl. I, on the other hand looked like a bigger ass since I was the man who didn’t know any better…” Unfortunately, while Mr. Dr. Zeek was trying to make me feel better, he really didn’t do a good job. Just because I wear make-up, tweeze my eyebrows and take a half-an-hour to get ready in the mornings does not mean I am automatically mechanically deficient and stupid when it comes to cars. Granted, I can’t change a spark plug, but I can change a flat tire and my own oil.

It just pissed me off today. It's one of those things that has a tendency to rear its ugly head every once and awhile. For me, it’s (sexism, blatant dismissal just because I am a woman, whatever you want to call it) not something that is always in the fore-front of my mind, but rather, has a tendency to sneak up and slap my in the face. Maybe I am blowing it out of proportion, but I hate feeling like “I’m just a girl” like its not enough, like it’s a bad thing, like I am incompetent at everything except cooking, cleaning and bearing children. Maybe I will take a basic auto-repair class over the summer.

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