Or, On buying a car while female.
I bought a new car last month—a sweet little hybrid Ford C-Max to replace the less-efficient SUV I’ve driven for the past 12 years. My husband and I communicated openly about the financial elements of the process, but as I was to be the primary driver, I did my own market research, test drove several vehicles, decided exactly what I wanted and how much I wanted to pay for it. I went in alone to make the purchase, feeling supremely confident that the experience would be relatively quick and painless, as thoroughly prepared as I was.
Hours of facile sales psychology and a heavy dose of sexism later, I had what I wanted, but at considerable cost to my delusions of equality. The sales associate persisted in trying to guide me toward a particular car based on color rather than the more substantial features I knew I wanted, even after I told him repeatedly that I didn’t care what color it was as long as it wasn’t white. Immediately after this revelation he showed me a white car, claiming that it was actually a beautiful sparkly pearl color—couldn’t I see it glistening in the sun? Seriously. When drawing up the paperwork the sales associate/manager team repeatedly got the math wrong in the dealership’s favor, and blinked at me reproachfully when I challenged the calculations. I can’t say for sure whether these and numerous other miscues were due to rank incompetence or to their presumptions about my level of consumer intelligence based on my gender or appearance, but either way it was a sorry state of affairs.
I made my husband a co-signer on the sales agreement so that both our names would appear on the title. Hubby came in at the end of my two-hour negotiations, just to sign the finished papers, whereupon everyone involved ceased communicating with me altogether and spoke only to him.
I survived the experience unscathed, and, if I’m being honest, I had a bit of fun calling them out on their slimy behavior while I was in there. The look on their faces when I whipped through the sloppy math was pretty priceless. And I do love the car. That said, I think it tells a really sad story about our culture that someone with my socioeconomic and professional status who is also well-informed about the product will still receive the default assignment of ‘easily duped bimbo’ the minute I set foot inside a car dealership. And just to clarify that last, I don’t mean to suggest that I would expect different or special treatment because of any status. Rather, I know I am more privileged than the majority of car-buyers, and if ANY woman had a chance of being treated equitably, it would be someone like me. And still – no! So how do women who aren’t as well-off or educated get treated when they need to buy a car, I wonder? I think the answer would probably make me physically ill.
I’ve since been back to the dealership several times, alone, to pick up the car, drop off some paperwork, and collect the license plates. I wrote the checks, my name came first on every document. It could not be clearer that this is MY CAR. Nevertheless, today a customer satisfaction survey arrived in the mail addressed to my husband. Only his name appeared on the envelope. And so it goes.