Tuesday, April 25, 2006

This Is How Oppression Works #1

I took my car into the shop recently, as the inspection sticker had expired sometime around Thanksgiving last year. 
I knew the sticker had expired, but had been ignoring that fact because, (forgive this tangent, but I find it incredibly amusing and wholly indicative of my schizophrenic life: while picking up a Burdock food donation in Brunswick in the middle of a a People's Free Space field trip to Reid State Park last year), I backed into something and broke a taillight.  The light still lit up, but had a neat little hole punched into the plastic.  Which keeps the whole damn car from passing inspection.
I finally got around to calling a repair shop, after researching several on the internet--my main source for this research being the Car Talk website.
I put it off so long because the last two shops I brought my car to ripped me off unashamedly, because, I suspect, I'm female, and I am easily intimidated by guys talking in car language.  I actually know a bit about cars and how they work, but once I get in that office and look at the bill of sale, I cower and write the check.  Lack of confrontation skills, I guess you could call it--which may or may not be related to my gender.
One of the old shops, formerly located on Congress Street on a spot which has recently mushroomed into a huge housing-development-in-progress that blocks all the light on it block, charged me an obscene amount of money to tell me they couldn't fix the problem.
The other, a smallish Maine-based chain, put the most expensive tires in the store on my car even though I asked them to call before they did any work.  I ended up paying for the tires because if I'd demanded that the tires be removed I would have been late picking up my daughter from daycare, which then costs $5 for every minute I'm late.  Also, there's that lack of confrontation skills thing.
OK, so I set up the appointment for the new place, feeling pretty confident that this new place would treat me fairly, based on testimonials from other car-repair-seekers on the website, although a lingering nervousness made me consider asking a male friend to take the car in for me.  I've heard that works for other people.  But then I decided that, as a feminist and car owner, I could handle it.
Then I brought the car in on the wrong day, having written the appointment on Wednesday instead of Tuesday in my planner.  I rescheduled, and berated myself for acting like a ditz (in my mind, a put-down reserved solely for females). 
When I brought my car back, I was nervous.  They did the inspection, replaced the battery (which was the original battery from 1996, amazingly), and then informed me that since I had told them the wrong year for the make of the car, the taillight they had specially ordered would not fit. Feeling even more ditzy, I made another appointment to have the taillight replaced after the correct year's part had come in. Which I then paid $129 for without questioning it because I felt so silly already.
The hard part is that this auto shop didn't have to do anything to make me feel like a dumb girl since I did them the favor all by myself.  (The workers there were, in fact, very nice, and kindly took the blame for my mistakes themselves, offering that they could have written the date/year down wrongly.) 
Mistaking the date of the appointment, misremembering the year of the car--these probably don't have anything to do with the fact that I'm female.  I think they're more related to my overcommitted schedule (and my single-parent status; now that is related to my gender--but that's another essay).  I went into the situation feeling at a disadvantage already, because I have it in my head already that the auto-repair industry can and does take advantage of women, when I made mistakes I ascribed them to my gender. 
I did this, I think, because, whether they're factual or not, the assumptions are out there--that women are ditzy, that they know nothing about car repair, and that auto shops take advantage of that. The awful feeling that I'd done something wrong, and worse, that I'd done it because of something I have no control over, has not really faded--and will probably contribute to my anxiety the next time I have to take my car in.
It would have taken more self-confidence, and maybe fewer internalized messages about women's mechanical competency, to save me a few bucks and a lot of mental agony.

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