I bought a new car this weekend. I also came close to slamming my head on the table of most of the dealerships we walked into.
I haven’t purchased a new car in 14 years. I bought my truck when I was 21 years old and have driven her everyday since. On Friday, she hit 250k miles, on her original clutch, engine, transmission, pretty much everything but tires and brake pads. I love my truck; some might say I am more emotionally attached to her than is healthy. I don’t care. That little baby has moved me nine times, been through substantially more relationships than that, and gotten me everywhere I needed to go safely and with fewer problems than her make and model (Ford Ranger) would have most people believe. When I bought her in 1999, I probably dealt with people treating me like a know-nothing kid because, well, I kind of was. Buying a car was a whole new thing to me, and I’m sure I accepted the mild condescension as part of the deal. Now, however, I am no longer a 21 year old college student. Now I am a – what is they like to call us these days? Ah yes, a feminazi-boner-shrinker, if you will. And I don’t take kindly to that kind of treatment any longer.
I took my dad with me to go car shopping for a number of reasons, the top two being that he LOVES car shopping and I love hanging out with him. He revels in doing the research on comparable models, pricing, options, and all the other pieces of the car buying puzzle. I have been swamped with work and volunteer projects, so it was a huge help to have him in the process. I did not bring him along because I am a meek little girl who doesn’t know anything about those fancy motor vehicles and negotiating is hard and not lady-like. This came as a surprise to all the men I dealt with.
The Honda dealer was the worst. We pulled up and had the swarm of salesmen send out their chosen one. A super tan, pressed polo, boat shoe-wearing salesman. A grown-up dude-bro if ever I saw one. As I got in the car to start the test drive, he made a great show of making sure I knew how the mirrors worked, which told me immediately he viewed me as a simple woman incapable of adjusting a side mirror. It went downhill from there. After the test drive, he actually asked, “Do you want to hear about the features, or do you care?” I replied, “Seriously? Of course I fucking care. Were you just going to show me how the vanity mirrors worked?” Even if I had liked the Honda, I would have left and bought it from somewhere else. You know how sometimes you can feel the misogyny oozing out of certain people? It was coming off this guy so badly that even my dad noticed.
After test driving a few more cars, I decided on the Nissan Versa Note. I told the salesman what color and options I was looking for, and he came back with a pricing worksheet. He sat across from me and my dad and placed the paperwork directly in front of my father and started explaining the numbers to him. I cut in, telling him that since I was paying for the car, he should be directing the information to me. Taken aback, he changed course. He then started to ramble on and on about the different payment options and how the numbers would change based on how much I put down. I informed him that there were a lot of numbers on the page that were going to need to change in order for us to get to the point we needed to discuss payments. I gave him my price, which was based on vigorous research and more than fair, but it was $1000 less than the car he was trying to sell me. He brought in his sales manager who tried to appeal to my compassionate side (little did he know I don’t have one of those when it comes to spending my money on things I don’t want to), with talk of being able to feed his kids. Fucking seriously?
I eventually got the car I wanted for the price I wanted to pay. The process was disheartening, though. Aside from the Honda guy, none of the men (sorry guys, but everyone I dealt with was male until I got to the rockin’ finance woman) seemed particularly misogynistic. They seemed like pretty nice guys, in general. Unfortunately, they still seem to operate under the assumption that if a male is present, he is the person who is in charge, even if it has been made clear that the purchase is for the woman. Even after I gently (and then less gently as my patience waned) made it clear they needed to address their questions to me, they still couldn’t seem to help but default to my dad.
Blatant sexism is one thing. Open misogyny is out there for the world to see. They are easier to fight or dismiss because of their obnoxiousness or lack of reason. It’s the deep-rooted, almost hidden sexism, the “male is the default” that is so hard to push back against. I’m sure some of the men I dealt with came to the conclusion that I was a total bitch because I expected the respect and consideration they were showing my dad. I wasn’t asking for anything more, just the same level of treatment, and yet that still makes me the bad guy, somehow. All I can do is hope that maybe, just maybe, the next time a woman walks into those dealerships, someone might think twice before automatically assuming the man she is with is the one making the calls.