[Note: this piece was written a while ago; hence the low figures!]
For those who think it’s no longer a patriarchal world and women are treated the same as men – you’re wrong.
And I am so tired, so very tired of my sex getting in the way of my life, making every little thing so very difficult.
A while ago, I decided to afford an addition to my cabin. (Sidenote: A man would say he decided to build an addition – but I didn’t build it, the people I hired did – so I don’t say I did. I first understood this difference when a man asked how long ago I’d put on my new roof. I replied that I didn’t put on the roof, I’d hired someone else to do it – unlike the gazebo and the lean-to, both of which I’d built myself. He looked at me as if I’d made a joke. I then understood that for men, he who pays for it takes credit for doing it. This is not a trivial insight.)
Anyway, a while ago I decided to afford an addition. So I asked around a bit, looked in the yellow pages, then selected and called five contractors to come out, see what I wanted done, and give me an estimate. One didn’t bother returning my call. And in this time and place, it’s probably not the case that he didn’t need the work. A second spoke with me over the phone at some length, arranged a time to come out, but then didn’t show – and I never heard from him again. The other three did come: they all got the tour and a full explanation of what I wanted done. Of these three, only two submitted a quote. The third, once more, I never heard from again. By now, I’m wondering about this lack of interest, this not-being-taken-seriously. Were they disconcerted by the absence of a husband, a man in charge, a breadwinner – did the came-out-but-never-heard-from-again contractor think I couldn’t pay for what I wanted done?
(Sidenote: Getting the money from the bank was a pleasure. The loan officer, a woman, did not even ask about my marital status, let alone request a husband’s signature. She asked only about the state of my financial affairs – current employment, salary, mortgage, debts, etc. And when I briefly outlined my projected budget/plan for repaying the loan, she never questioned my ability to do so.)
So, while I’d hoped my options wouldn’t be quite so narrow, I decided between the remaining two contractors: I chose the one with the lower-by-$3,000 estimate who was just a little less formal and business-like; I wanted to retain input into small decisions along the way, so I chose the one who talked with me a little more and would, I thought, listen to what I had to say.
Things were generally fine – I say ‘generally’ because I was a little peeved at the sudden slowdown come September. Work got done at full speed during the summer but as soon as the walls were up and the roof on, Hank (the contractor) started on another job. I agreed that the interior stuff at my place could wait a bit – construction’s seasonal, you gotta take what you can get, winter’s coming, I know it’s not pleasant to be putting up walls when it’s so cold your face hurts – but ‘a bit’ turned into four months and I ended up having to prod to get the crawlspace insulated before the snow fell. (Sidenote: I was also a little peeved that I was paying this builder $20/hour and he was paying his men $18.50/hour, while I, with three degrees, two of which are required for my job, am paid $17.10/hour.)
Anyway, things were generally fine until the new pump that Hank installed didn’t work properly. First, he spread his four house calls over three weeks. Clearly, other clients were getting priority – despite the urgency (most people would consider being without running water to be somewhat of an urgency).
This seemingly second-class treatment was true too of the plumber I eventually called (four tries in three weeks and I still had no water): it took him two days to make his first appearance and another two days to make the second. (At $25/hour.) It felt very much like they were coming out only when they had the time – as if they were doing me a favour. (Is it because they’re so used to doing favours for women they can’t see us as paying customers? Where does that come from, the chivalry tradition? The history of women not having money of their own – with which to pay people? The man’s blatant misunderstanding – like doing the dishes is doing a favour for the wife?) This is just speculation, but I think that if I were a man, I wouldn’t’ve been put on the back burner like that.
More annoying was that each of Hank’s house calls seemed to last just a little longer. I tried not to be rude, but I really didn’t want to chat with him all evening. He’d linger, not taking the hint of me sitting at my desk with work spread out in front of me (it’s not like I was just sitting on the couch, let alone offering him a cup of coffee).
Then one evening, he asked, rather out of the blue in the course of a conversation I was trying politely to end (“…so I’ll call you tomorrow then if it’s still not working – “), if I’d heard about the Gwen Jacobs decision and what did I think. I was a little surprised at this (Hank broaching a philosophical issue), but it’s a small community and he knows the guy who lives and fishes on this lake, who knows I don’t bother with a bathing suit, it’s no big deal, so maybe that’s why he asked. Part of me really didn’t want to get into a discussion about this with someone who was bound to need a lot of explanation before he really understood the points I’d make (“I’m wondering about sexual assault,” he’d said, with a grin) (with a grin) – but part of me wanted to kill any undercurrent leer in mentioning the topic. So I spent a minute outlining what I thought.
It wasn’t until later that I connected the dots: he had, on a previous visit, suggested that I put something (the pump line he thought was frozen?) wherever it was warmest – “what’s the hottest place in your cabin – your bed?” I had responded that ten years of celibacy does not a hot bed make, hoping to indicate that I was not a sexual possibility. (Did he take my response as a sexual challenge? Or worse, did he not even consider that my celibacy might be my choice – did he think my comment was therefore a veiled ‘asking for it’? Amazing.) On another occasion, after a few inconsequential elbow or knee brushes, he actually did the bum-pat thing.
After the second protracted evening visit, I called when I thought his wife would answer. If something was going on in his mind, I wanted not to encourage it; so I decided to leave a message with his wife rather than get into yet another conversation with him. I swear I heard ice in her voice. Unbelievable. I thoroughly included her in the loop then, explaining in great detail the plumbing situation. I even told her to tell Hank that the next house call could wait until Saturday, if he was available then, because I didn’t want another evening’s work disturbed that week.
Well. Saturday he arrived. He hadn’t called to confirm that he was coming, so I didn’t exactly expect him. I certainly didn’t expect him to just open my door and walk in at eight o’clock in the morning. My bed is right by the door; I was still in it.
I was, of course, enraged. The nerve, the assumption of familiarity, the proprietariness – this is my house, you knock before you enter, and you wait until I answer the door; even friends usually do that, and we are not friends, you are my contractor, I hired you, you work for me!
Did I say any of that? Of course not. When you’re a woman, in a male-dominant society, and you find yourself still in bed, just awake, and a man is standing a mere two feet away, probably with a pipe wrench in his hand (hopefully he has come to fix the pump), you don’t tell him off. (Not then. But, alas, not later either. And that’s what makes me really angry – I’ll never be able to set him straight. Telling him what I really think would no doubt make him angry. Angry men are to be feared. He knows where I live. One ‘accidental’ shot at Chessie (my canine companion) from the hunting rifle he no doubt owns and she’ll be dead. So I let it go. I smile it off. And he carries on, oblivious to the damage he’s done, the danger he is.)
Now the question is this: would he have done this if I’d been a man? I think not. Nor would he have done it if I’d been in bed with my husband. In fact, it’s probable that none of this — the casual touches, the sexual innuendo talk, even the extended house calls (not to mention the second-class client treatment) — would’ve happened if I’d been a married woman, and it’s almost certain that none of it would have happened if I’d been a man. (I suspect that if I’d been a man, he wouldn’t’ve left all the clean-up work he left either – piles of sawdust for me to sweep up, handprints on the walls for me to wash off, etc. Why is it guys always think cleaning up means cleaning up only the big stuff?) (Men=big. Women=small. WTF?)
Things really made sense when my neighbour told me that when I’d hired a ‘handyman’ to fix the bathroom floor and put in a shower stall several years prior, his wife had called this neighbour to ask about me – did she have cause for concern? I was flabbergasted to find out about this. As with Hank, I had asked Bob to do the work, if possible, on the days I wasn’t there (I really don’t like the solitude of my days off to be invaded, so I usually arrange to be there the first time, to make sure Chessie is okay with the guy, and then schedule subsequent visits for the days I have to work).
Both wives seemed to think that a woman living alone would automatically be sexually encouraging. As did Hank. (Perhaps he thought my friendliness was an invitation. Sad, isn’t it – you can’t even talk to a man without him thinking you’re coming on to him. Why is that? Because men don’t chat with each other? Because in the man’s world, chatting is not considered part of normal friendly interaction, so when chatting does occur, it’s taken to indicate extraordinary friendliness?) (No maybe that’s not what was happening at all. That’s a woman’s take on the situation. At one point in one conversation, I realized that he was giving me all this advice, about how to get business – I’m a disc jockey too – and I thought ‘Wait a minute, did I ask you for advice?’ I had merely said that business was poor. Why is it that when you say something’s difficult, women will empathize but men will advise? So maybe what was happening was that he was seeing himself more and more in a ‘superior’ position and seeing me more and more in a subordinate position and that’s what led to the sexual stuff, sex being connected to power for men. Downplaying my degrees as I did, so as not to appear elitist (or rich), wouldn’t have helped in this regard.) At the very least, Hank and the others considered my sex to be primary instead of irrelevant.
And that’s how it gets in the way. I just wanted to hire someone to fix my bathroom, to build an addition, to fix my pump. But being female got in the way: it restricted my choices, it affected the quality of the work I got, it limited my actions. And it made such ordinary stuff so very, very difficult: I had to deal with all this other shit – shit a man wouldn’t have had to deal with.