In my day to day life, I feel like a good feminist. I support myself, I work for a women’s organization, and I always split the check on a date. However, there are some times when I question myself — when I feel like a hypocrite — and all of those times involve my car.
A few weeks ago, someone hit my car and knocked off my front license plate. I have been meaning to buy a replacement mount and reattach it. I also needed new windshield wipers. The minute I walked into Autozone a friendly guy named Mike came over to help me. I was instantly aware of the fact that I was a woman. Not only a woman, but a young woman. Did he come to help me because he assumed I knew nothing about cars, or does everyone get the same treatment at Autozone?
He helped me pick out some wiper blades, and then offered to install them for me. Again, I found myself wondering if every Autozone customer was treated to this service. I agreed, but asked him to teach me how to do it myself. There was one of those awkward (or adorable?) moments when he stood behind me and helped me slip the blade into place. Uh oh. Now I was not only aware of my gender, but my sexuality too. At this point in the story, it is important to know that I was not interested in this guy. He was certainly nice, and helpful, but I still had no interest in dating him.
He said, “This is the sort of thing your boyfriend should do for ya,” which was a devious way of asking if I was single. Once that was out in the open, it was no holds barred. He commented on my pretty smile, and I found myself wondering if I should make sure not to smile next time I went to an Autozone, or maybe if this sticky situation was my fault because I was “too smiley.” Even while I was thinking those thoughts, I was aware of how messed up they sounded. The feminist in me knows that unwanted attention is NEVER a woman’s fault, no matter how she is dressed or how much she smiles. Yet, I found myself thinking those thoughts at Autozone.
As I was paying for the supplies, he joked about giving me his employee discount in exchange for my number. And he kept offering to reattach my license plate for me. At this point I was stuck. I knew I could reattach my license plate by myself; I had the tools at home. But at the same time, I would rather have him do it because he would probably do a better job (and also because I’m lazy). But he was flirting with me, and if I let him fix my license plate, did that mean I was flirting back? Did I owe him my number in exchange?
I find it extremely hard to rebuff someone while remaining polite and friendly. And so eventually I gave in. I let him fix my license plate, and I let him give me his number. I thought that would be enough, but ah no! He had me call his number so that my number would be saved on his phone. Crap. I gave the Autozone guy my phone number in exchange for fixing my car. And you call yourself a feminist!
The ugly truth is that I have intentionally used both my gender and my sexuality in the past. I have been pulled over for speeding numerous times, but have not gotten tickets because either a) the cop liked me, or b) I cried. I once got a gas station attendant to put air in my tires by saying that I didn’t know how (I did) and flashing my smile. The other example that comes to mind happened when I was living in Europe, and the guy from the bike shop gave me a tune up and a free bike lock just for batting my eyelashes. (Okay, so that one isn’t a car story, but it’s still transportation.)
I don’t buy into the idea that centuries of oppression makes it fair for women to leverage our gender and sexuality to get ahead. So where does this leave me? Am I a “bad feminist?” Am I a hypocrite? I am conflicted, but not sure these “indiscretions” outweigh all the positive work I do.
I wonder if there is something about Autozone and car maintenance that lends itself to this situation. Today women are present and competitive in many fields, but apparently not the automotive and auto maintenance industries. When I walk into an Autozone it is almost guaranteed that the staff will be male, that my experience will be gendered, and the interaction unbalanced. Whether a woman flirts her way to a free oil change, or a male clerk uses his advanced knowledge and/or skills to get her number, there is something suspect about gender dynamics and the art of automobile maintenance.