Recently my partner and I purchased cars. It was a life step he was very excited for, and I was dreading. See, to me, a car is just a way to get from point A to point B as safely as possible. I don’t get excited about cars, I don’t find them sexy, and I don’t want to show them off.
But it was time for a new car. My car was old. My car was about to need work that would require putting more money into it than it was worth. And while it was a loyal and wonderful car, its time had come. So we did our research and made our short list of cars to test, we checked the dealership websites, we learned what these cars were actually selling for, and we got our game faces on.
Now what you don’t know about me is that I work in sales. High pressured, fast paced, major expectations sales. I don’t sell cars, but I know all the tricks. Which makes me kind of a car salesman’s nightmare.
I hate the process of buying cars. But we survived and walked away from the weekend with new cars that we are happy with. And when we finally negotiated my partners car down to a deal we were happy with and ready to move forward with, the salesman said to me, “I mean this as a compliment, but you are a very intimidating negotiator”.
Ok let’s back up for a moment. I’ll be honest, I didn’t love this salesman. Pretty much from the moment we started working with him I was not impressed. He talked too much, he talked over me too much, he couldn’t get to the point, he took a long process and made it 3x as long because he wouldn’t stop talking. But my partner is a much kinder person who was taught not to dislike people, so he was fine with the guy. And it was his car, so if he was fine with the guy that was what was important. But I was not impressed with this guy.
So when he first told me I was intimidating, I’ll be honest, I was almost flattered. In a world where men dominate, it is satisfying to knock them down a peg or two and remind them that women are a force to be reckoned with. But then I started thinking about it and started to wonder, what made me intimidating? I wasn’t chatty, I was knowledgeable about the car prices and discount options that were available to us, I had to ask him specifically to stop talking over me during the negotiating process, and I wasn’t putting up with his bullshit.
But here’s the thing, he didn’t try talking over my partner. When my partner spoke, the salesman let him speak, and waited for him to finish before talking. The salesman didn’t have to be asked to let my partner speak. When my partner asked him questions, he answered them directly, he didn’t flower them with stories meant to charm. When I told him the price wasn’t good enough he went on and on about why the price was the price, when my partner told him the price wasn’t good enough he went to go negotiate a lower price.
So it wasn’t so much that I was intimidating, but more that I didn’t fit his expectation of women. He expects the men to come in with knowledge about the car and knowledge about the market, he doesn’t expect women to. He expects men to negotiate, he expects men to keep their cards close to the vest, but he doesn’t expect women to. He sells to women very differently than he sells to men, because he thinks women have different values. He doesn’t respect women like he does men, and he doesn’t expect women to demand his respect.
Look, this guy isn’t a villain. He doesn’t start his day hating women, he doesn’t end his day hating women. In fact, he probably considers himself an advocate for women. He doesn’t realize the socialized sexism he carries with him every day. This man wasn’t sexualizing me, he wasn’t harassing me, he wasn’t even degrading me. And yet he was still behaving in a very sexist way. He doesn’t realize how drastically different he treated my partner vs me. He doesn’t realize the obvious lack of respect he had for me. He has these subconscious expectations of women that inform how he treats women. When I didn’t fit his expectations, when I demanded equal treatment, when I demonstrated my competence, he didn’t know what to do.
And that’s why I was intimidating to him. All of these micro aggressions he is allowed to get away with on a daily basis I would not put up with. I was intimidating because I wouldn’t take his bullshit and I demanded his respect right then and there. And he clearly was not used to that.
And if that doesn’t explain the battle women fight every day I don’t know what will.