I needed a new car. My old one had reached the stage that if I drove it any longer it would die. Literally. And probably somewhere very inconvenient with the kids in the back.
So off I went. It’s amazing when you do something like buy a new car how all your fears that stereotypes are still alive and well are once again confirmed.
“I think I have just the thing for you, Signora,” the guy in the Toyata showroom said to me. “Here we are,” as he proudly opened the boot in a rather da-daaa kind of way. “Look at this for a boot. You can get all your shopping in here.”
I’d hit the moment where I could either stand there and just smile nonetheless, or open my mouth. I chose the latter.
“Excuse me, but I don’t think you understand,” I began. “I’m only here buying a car like this because I have two kids and all the crap that goes with carrying two kids around. If it were up to me and me alone, I wouldn’t even be here in the first place. I’d be off buying an Abarth.”
Needless to say, I didn’t buy the car.
After there was the brash young guy. “Ring your husband Signora,” he told me, as he laid back in his swivel chair, “and get him to buy you this one.”
Then there was the guy with the Fiat 500L. Never buy a car from a man who tries to sell you a 500L. A Panda 4×4 has a purpose. It will get you up any mountain where you want to go. A Fiat Abarth is the ultimate joy, providing you don’t fall for a second-hand one that’s been thrashed by some young kid. But a Fiat 500L? No. Not for me, thanks.
It all reminded me of the time I went to buy a TV with my husband and kids. There we were standing in the showroom with another brash young guy that was showing us all that was on offer.
“And then we have this, signora,” and he looked at me as if he were showing me the crown jewels. “This would be perfect. You could do the ironing in front of this.”
Another of those moments, of which my husband was also aware. He looked at me with his “oh here we go” expression.
“I think you’ve got the wrong woman,” I hissed. “I DON’T iron. Come on boys. We’re going.”
It’s all part of the world of subtle sexism, although in this case not very subtle at all. Buy a car, buy a TV, and you’ve got woman written all over you especially if you’re over 30, and people or rather men just presume they can assume. Only I don’t sit and take it any more. I have no intentions of sitting and taking it any more.
And every time it happens it makes me more even more resolved how to bring up my boys. So one day they will grow up into men that will break the mould. It’s the responsibility of being the mother of boys, especially in a country as patriarchal as the one in which I live. And the examples are everywhere. Boys do boys’ things and girls do girls’ things, and it starts from when they are young. You try to break through the stereotypes but you’re working against the majority.
I bought my car in the end. I went to this garage with a nice enough guy who let me test-drive it in our local hills. We went off one sunny morning. In fact he let me drive several of his cars which is always a bonus. I like driving other people’s cars, especially when they’re faster than mine.
“You can drive,” he told me. “You know how to use first gear while you’re driving.”
The implication could have easily been for a woman, and it probably was although he had the courtesy not to say it.
So I gave him the benefit of the doubt yet it still hung in the air.
It always hangs in the air.