When I was looking to buy my first car, nearly 15 years ago, I was just a year out of college and thought I knew everything. I especially thought I was on firm footing when it came to cars, since I had just spent two years editing automotive stories in upstate New York. I did my research, took several test drives, knew what I wanted, knew how much the car — a sleek Nissan Altima — had cost the local dealer, knew how much it should cost me.
Even though I’m a feminist by default, on some level I must also have known that it would be a struggle to be taken seriously, because I brought a male friend along with me. He did not know anything about cars, aside from the fact that you put gas in and they go. He had never bought a car before, and wasn’t interested in buying one. He agreed to come with me mostly because he had nothing else to do that day.
I’m sure you can guess what happened.
The dealer zeroed right in on my friend, and ignored me. Even when my friend tried to redirect the attention, the dealer pitched the car to the man who wasn’t buying it, and brushed off the young woman who was. I’d ask about gas mileage, and he pointed out the vanity mirror. I asked about testing, and he walked me over to a wall of paint chips. I asked a question about the engine, and he told me that I shouldn’t “worry your pretty head about things like that, Little Lady.”
Still, I wanted that car. So I sat down at the table with the guy and made my offer.
He countered with a number that even my friend, who hadn’t done any research, could tell was way too high.
I pulled out my printouts. I politely told him that I’d done my research, and knew what the car cost, and my offer had been very fair.
He put one large hand on top of my papers, leaned over the table until he was in my personal space, and said, “Little ladies who study too much miss the party.”
I told him that arrogant salespeople who condescend too much miss the sale, and walked out of the dealership.
Fast-forward 15 years.
While my “Little Lady” experiences are less frequent now — possibly because I a.) have more gray hair and b.) less patience — they still happen. The words themselves don’t actually get spoken, but the attitude is the same. A mortgage rep who insisted that he wouldn’t process my refi application because my husband doesn’t own our home (I bought on my own it before we were married). The husband of an extended family member who told me he had a tip for “the man who pays the bills” (I do, I’m the breadwinner). The cable guy who insisted on hooking up the DVD player for me, because I’m “a girl” (he did it wrong). The bartenders who push my neat scotch over to my brother and hand me his jack-and-ginger instead.
It’s infuriating. If you’re both aggressive and competent then you’re a bitch, but if you’re polite and considerate — and insistent — you’re a Little Lady who gets brushed off or taken for granted.
Working moms, how do you find balance? Do you still get the “Little Lady” attitude in this day and age?