A Shiny New Bike and the Usual Sexism

So we get this new bike, for Winter, a gift from a friend whose kids have outgrown the little, red, pedal-less thing.  I pick her up from the pre-school carrying it on my back.  She’s excited, circling it, trying to get on the seat even though it is still a little bit too big.  One of the male teachers comes over, asks if I want him to look it over.  Not really.  I know bikes.  I just got this one.  We’re likely to survive the trip home.  I politely decline.

While I’m getting Winter’s helmet and coat, he looks the bike over anyway.  One of those well-intentioned, overly helpful people.  OK.  That’s nice, I guess.  A couple of screws are maybe just a little loose, he tells me.

“Thanks.  I’ll look at them when I get home.”

“Yeah, maybe your husband can fix them.”

“My husband? What kind of sexist bullshit is that?  I’m the one who fixes the bikes at our house.”  For once in my life I have said exactly what I wanted to say exactly when I wanted to say it.  It still makes me feel a little shaky.  Calling someone out usually does.

He turns red and says he’s sorry.  He becomes very awkward, but is still very nice.  We end up tightening the screws together, right then and there.  My husband can fix it indeed.  As the Germans say: Am Arsch.

It was a small, quiet victory, but I felt so proud for refusing to let someone make sexist assumptions.  Like the female teacher there who kept calling me to pick Winter up in the middle of rather stressful, deadline-ridden work days.  Days when I would arrive to pick her up expecting disaster and could not convince her to come home with me because she was having so much fun.

When I explained to this teacher that this could not happen, and what was the point of paying them for child care to ensure I could work if they sent her home every day after a few hours, barely managing to hold back tears as I did so, she told me, “Oh, I didn’t know you worked.”  Right.  Because it is always the dad who works. And repairs the bikes.

27 Comments on “A Shiny New Bike and the Usual Sexism

  1. Aggggh that sucks so much, the never ending stream of bull shit that comes from people’s mouths. If I have one more idiot at my job tell me that men should never wear pink I think I will explode. YAY for you for telling him off!

  2. Ow. I got similar comments when I was freelance, and I have a quite magnificent beard so it clearly wasn’t because people thought I was a woman. It was still sort of sexist though:´locally the expectation is:
    “Husband should be working to provide for family. He will therefore be away from home, ergo, any Husband seen near home during the day is skiving.”

    I say that because it may have been more the idea that ‘if you are home, you are not working’ rather than sexism, especially as you live in a Bauwagen: people who live differently (live in a Bauwagen, ride a bicycle instead of driving, do an ausbildung at 37, etc…) are all non-working scrounging hippies, right?

    So we get the ‘expectations’ as well and it is §$%&/() annoying.

    Mind you the bicycle comment is a bit daft.

    • Yeah, assumtions. Still making an “ass out of you and me” as we used to say about that word in high school… Assumptions irritate the shit out of me, but particularly assumptions based on binary gender bullshit.

      The thing that irritated me most about “you woooork?!” lady is that she didn’t actually know that I freelance. She just thought I had no job at all. And for one client I am in their office two days a week, which means she was calling me out of what even a conservative closed-minded person should recognize as fucking work. FUCK YOU LADY. Basically. Hahahaha. Oh dear. The dude redeemed himself with me just by not being an asshat when I called him sexist and apolgizing. She remains an idiot that I can barely stand interacting with to this day.

      • Another comment from a German cook living locally yesterday made me think. The said she wouldn’t ever get a ‘Meisterbrief’ which is the highest qualification for people in practical trades because she’d have to pay for it and wouldn’t get the money back because as a woman. In other words she reckons that at the time she was qualified employers would not have given her a higher paid position because of her gender.

        The crazy thing is that she is a cook. So women are expected to be good cooks at home but not get paid for it? What?

        It also occurs to me that although at college there are some women learning to be carpenters (3, in a class of 30…) I’ve never come across a female master carpenter. This may be practical because a lot of the stuff you have to move in ‘normal’ carpentry is heavy, and I know at least one of the female students finds it too much to lift some things, or is it that customers and possibly employers or employees won’t accept a female master carpenter?

        • Just a thought:
          There are plenty of women who are stronger than plenty of men. It’s not like every man can be a master carpenter… so I wouldn’t be surprised if some women do become master carpenters.

          • Well, since I managed to get Tennis Elbow in both arms, one of the women in the course has been lifting stuff for me, so I can certainly vouch for that.

            I talked to her about the apparent lack of female master carpenters, and she reckoned the weight issue would be a problem: in the company she works at there is one woman who has a masters qualification but neither of us know of any who are self employed.

  3. What I can relate to is feeling shaky after saying what’s on your mind. I’m finally at a point where I can sometimes say things politely and not get too shaky afterwards. Practice, practice.

    • Do you think it ever goes away? I am assuming that I just have to learn to deal with it because, shit, 30 years in I don’t have a lot of hope that that reaction in me is going to change…

      • I have 20 years on you and I’m just getting over it. I realized that most men (yes, I’m stereotyping), don’t even blink when I think I’m being all forthright and defensive. That’s helped me calm down and communicate more confidently and effectively. More importantly, I say what I need to and don’t have the woulda, shoulda, coulda conversation with myself afterwards.

        • I can also relate to that shaky feeling. I always thought it was because I was trying to speak my mind in my non-native language (German). Figuring out the right words, having the right timing and then sounding smooth and competent while trying to call a German out on their sexist or racist bullshit gives me the shakes every time. Not to mention the near obsessive echoing of said words in my head afterwards. I try hard not to let those feelings deter me, however!

  4. The world keeps surprising me. I thought at least the idea of all women being stay-at-home moms had left for the pratice of all adults having a job. Apparently not.

    • The world keeps surprising me. I thought at least the idea of all women being stay-at-home moms had left for the pratice of all adults having a job. Apparently not. * Realised the typo in my name in the first comment, woops.

      • I am the queen of typos, so don’t worry about it. I generally just read right around them on here and don’t even notice…

        Yeah, as much as the media talks about the paradigm having switched in the direction of all the parents work all the time, yeah, not the assumptiong round these parts in reality still. And considering that in Germany most childcare still doesn’t open for hours that would allow you to really work “normally”, well.

  5. What I find terrifying about this story is the fact that those are the adults with whom your child spends the majority of her time (except for you). Be sure to teach her how to fix her bike, so that one day she’s gonna help her male classmates do it 😉

    • *shudders* You’re right. I didn’t even think about that aspect…though I think a lot about the fact that the world is full of shit like this and the best thing I can do is teach her how to recognize it for what it is and to talk about it. Hope that’s enough.

      As for teaching her to fix bikes, I’m already on it. Mostly through the “little kids copy everything that you do” principle. She sees me fixing bikes and then she asks for tools and goes and “fixes her bike”. It is the cutest fucking thing.

  6. Ass-umptions suck! I can relate to the work assumptions/prejudices very well, I’ve got my own small company and do all the work myself. My work hours (away from home) vary due to demand and I keep the books etc., so I work from (and otherwise stay at) home a lot. Often our neighbors seem to think I merely live to take care of my husband…which pisses me off!

    I can fix things around the house, but mostly in our home my husband does that. Which used to be kind of weird to me, since I grew up in a home where my mother – in some ways a very feminine woman – took care of myriad of stuff from changing the light bulbs to painting the walls; partly because she enjoyed it, but also because my dad was buried in his books and work…

    Btw, I like the new look! 🙂 I only found my way back here a week ago.

    • Thanks! Glad you like it! Sometimes I still miss the sort of photocopied and pasted zine look of the old site, but this one looks fucking great too (thanks Lark).

      Anyway, yeah, I wish people would not assume that anyone does anything specifically because of gender. Recently at a meeting I attended someone was asking me if “my husband earned enough that we felt comfortable/didn’t have to struggle.” And I was like…ummm…I make enough money for both of us, thanks, though we both work. And luckily that dude, too, was like oh shit sorry, look at how old fashioned I am in my thinking that I assumed your husband was the breadwinner and you weren’t. Even if it wasn’t the case (or doesn’t even fucking matter for us really) I would have been tempted to say the same just to shake him out of that stupid fucking way of thinking.

      • Right on! I know countless examples of couples where the woman earns more…Not that it matters to me which way it goes, but if people just automatically assume that it’s the other way around…

        I really liked the ‘old’ gorilla look as well, it was so colorful and earthy – hope that doesn’t sound corny – but this new look pleases the eye in a different, more streamlined way and I love the gorilla hands and the typewriter.

        • Thanks. 🙂 Yeah, agreed, it isn’t the fact of it that bothers me (unless we’re talking about men and women making incongruent salaries in the same position), it is the assumption.

    • Yes! I keep meaning to do a “reintroducing the cast” sort of post to blatantly mention this, and keep not getting around to it because I wanted to take some sweet new pictures beforehand.

  7. I have enjoyed reading Clack Clack Gorilla for a few months now, found it through the Tiny House video. I admire the brave, honest way you are living and am proud of you – having spent some years in Germany and France a long time ago and never mastered the knack of brave or honest myself. And I’m old enough to have a proud mama reaction to what you’re doing. Well done!

  8. I wanted to make an observation about your bike story despite it being a few weeks since you wrote it.
    What I also find pretty sexist about your encounter (besides the obvious ‘husband’ comment), but in a more subtle way, is the guy’s attitude of ‘I’m going to butt in and provide ‘help’ even though my offer has been clearly refused’. I’m pretty sure men don’t get this kind of thing, while women frequently seem to.

    I was once in a long line in a grocery store with two guys standing in front of me. One of them asks if he can help by holding my basket. I firmly say no thanks. The basket was very light; and even if it hadn’t been I’m perfectly capable, or I would’ve just put it down on the floor. Five seconds later, his buddy grabs my basket and literally just pulls it out of my hands – obviously with the intent of ‘helping the lady’, even though there’s no possible way he didn’t hear me just refuse help from his friend.

    I totally freaked out at him. I do have a pretty serious thing about people purposefully invading my space – but also – it wouldn’t really be accurate to say I overacted; more that I intentionally chose not to suppress my natural reaction of freaking out in response to this, despite being in public. I decided I couldn’t care less if random guy and a bunch of other random people that I’m never going to see again think I’m crazy: I wasn’t going to play meek and let it pass like I didn’t care.
    I’m not just present in public spaces to play damsel in distress and let random guys score macho points off of me whenever they feel like they need an ego boost or whatever. I’m in public to go about my business like everyone else, and have the right not to have my personal space deliberately invaded by so-called ‘well-meaning’ strangers who choose to ignore what I actually say.

    They may have thought I was unbalanced to become so upset over it, but I’d bet they thought twice from then on before ignoring what a woman says or forcibly ‘helping’ one without even asking first, so I consider it worthwhile to sometimes make a public scene.

    This is just one of many ways I’ve noticed where women are treated differently, and it’s not easy to call anyone on it since it’s not a clear-cut thing like ‘you said something sexist and that’s wrong’, but it is present and it affects you and it makes you feel belittled and infantilized and like complete strangers can decide that you don’t have a right to make your own every-day decisions because they assume they know what’s best for you, and it’s done under the guise of being helpful so you’re likely to be seen as ungrateful or outright crazy if you dare to object.

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