(RANT) Why I Always Take My Husband With Me When Shopping

7 years ago

On Wednesday morning, my Blackberry stopped working. Its death was permanent, necessitating a trip to the store to get a new one, a frustrating exercise because I would need to take the twins with me and I wouldn't have my husband there -- the person in our house most familiar with Blackberries. No worries: I have an advanced degree, 36 years of life experience, and the ability to somehow watch the twins simultaneously even when they run in two different directions. Surely I could run this quick errand and be home by dinner time.

NEW YORK - JULY 27:  A woman shops at a Verizon store July 27, 2009 in New York City. Verizon Communications Inc., the second-largest U.S. telephone company, posted a 21% decline in its second-quarter net income today and announced it will cut 8,000 positions.  (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

We walked into the cell phone store and a man immediately started helping me. I showed him my old Blackberry and told him I wanted to get something as close to it as possible, and he showed me my two options. I picked the one that was closest to what I already had. Easy peasy lemon squeezy -- we were going to be out of the store with enough time to drop off my friend's birthday present.

We went to check out, and the man informed me that I had two weeks left on my contract -- two weeks until I could get a new phone. Even though I was upgrading. Even though they have waived that rule every time in the past because we are long-time customers who always pay on time (and if they had never waived the rule in the past, I wouldn't have expected them to do it this time). Even though we have given them thousands of dollars of business. He suggested that I go two weeks without a phone, since it would be about a $500 difference in cost between now and two weeks from now.

I explained to him that this wasn't possible due to work, and that not having a phone for two weeks would mean that I would be tied to home and the computer, missing appointments, volunteer work, and general ... life. The Blackberry made it possible to still be reachable for work and to do small tasks from afar, but use my daytime hours for other things. He didn't seem to care.

I told him that I would terminate my contract in two weeks (as soon as I could do so without penalty) and go with a different company today if he couldn't help me. And he told me, "Go do that."

So I left.

And I sat in the car for a second, fuming.

And then I turned to the twins and told them about misogyny. And I told them that when Daddy was there, we were treated very differently in the store, that people bent over backwards for our business. That people spoke to him with respect. And that Mommy, walking in wearing the sweatpants she wrote in all day, with twin kindergarteners in tow, wasn't given the same respect. That people saw someone not worth taking seriously. And that what we were about to do was all part of playing the game.

I called my husband. He called the store. He chewed them out for not being helpful. They were suddenly very helpful and able to waive that two-week window and give me the phone today. In the meantime, we sat in our cold car. The twins and I had to wait for our knight in shining armour to come battle the dragon. I felt impotent. I felt really angry that my kids were observing all of this. I felt sad for everyone who didn't have someone in their life who could come in and save the day. I felt really frustrated that my husband was going to be able to do something I couldn't do.

Many years ago, I went to a store dressed in overalls and a t-shirt: normal clothes for moving into a new apartment. I wanted to buy a bookcase. The employee was rude to me as I was asking my questions and dismissed me entirely as someone who couldn't afford the furniture. I left without buying it. That night, I realized I was going to have to go back to my one furniture store option and get the damn bookcase. The next day, I went to the store directly from my teaching job at the university. I was younger than many of my students, so I dressed up a bit. The same employee was there, and she was now sweet-as-pie. She answered my questions, helped ring me up, and called over another employee to help me get the bookcase in the car so I "wouldn't mess up my clothes."

And I'm used to that, and it sucks that I have to be dressed in a certain way to get respect. That the professor wearing overalls doesn't get treated the same way as the professor wearing a skirt. It's repulsive that what others perceive to be our socioeconomic status comes into play. But at the same time, I can put on a costume and work my way around that one. But what can I do about my vagina?

This comes up over and over again. If we want to get something done, if we want to move mountains or even get antibiotics for a UTI without needing to come in and give the urine sample (come on, I know my body well enough by now to be able to self-diagnose a UTI. If I was ever wrong, I'd eat my words. But I haven't been in the past), we need to have my husband show up or call.

Seriously -- same doctor, two different calls. I call and tell him I have a UTI, and he tells me that he can't prescribe antibiotics over the phone and I need to come in to give a urine sample (which means a painful drive 45 minutes away to his office). My husband calls and tell him that I have a UTI, and he asks him for the name and number of our nearest pharmacy so he can call in a prescription.

And I'm sure we all have examples of times when we've seen how differently a man is treated in the exact same situation. My husband gets the better price, the faster service, the kinder treatment -- all because of his penis.

My husband called us back in the cold car to tell us that all was taken care of. I'd be able to get my new phone and go on my merry way, though he didn't want me returning to the store I was just in and asked that I go a few miles down the road to a different store owned by the same company. He called ahead to that store and told them what had just happened.

And an employee met me at the door, and smoothly walked me through the transaction, and apologized profusely for the actions of the employees at the other store. He additionally set up my phone so it was exactly like my old one, went through a few extra tasks in an effort to be helpful and provide great customer service. Customer service I was only getting because my husband raised hell. I raised hell and got a shoulder shrug and a "see you later" from the first store. My husband raised hell and suddenly I was getting this amazing discount and additional service.

My daughter asked a great question, jumping to the heart of the matter as only a child can: couldn't I just not have Daddy call? Aren't I doing exactly what the bullies want me to do?

And it's hard to explain to her. My options are to play the game and be thankful that I have someone who can do this for me. Or to not play the game and ... what? Lose money by switching to a different service provider (it would have been a lot more expensive)? Not have a phone for two weeks? Stand my ground in the store even after he said, "see you" and demand that we somehow go higher up than his managerial position? I've done that in the past in other situations, and I've still found that nothing gets a person or company to take action like my husband's voice and presence can.

There are plenty of times when I can walk away and give my business elsewhere. But what about the times that I can't? When I need the antibiotics or I need the phone now, and my options are to either use my husband or to miss out? I told my daughter that there are plenty of times later to make my feelings known, but sometimes, other people put you between a rock and a hard place and you have to choose between two cruddy options.

I'll write the store, and cc those higher up to highlight how I was treated. I switched doctors after my UTI was cleared up and I wasn't in pain. And I did use the moment to teach my kids about misogyny and why we should never make assumptions about other people nor treat them poorly. But even though I have power after the fact, have the power to teach from this experience, I am still heartbroken that my daughter just got a taste of what's in front of her -- that there will be people who will give her different service, different options, different treatment; all due to her vagina.

Has this been your experience? What have you done? How can we change the system beyond the follow-up we do to express our feelings after the incident?

Melissa writes Stirrup Queens and Lost and Found. Her latest book is Life from Scratch.

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