Four hours. Four hours of waiting, dialing for help, knocking on neighbors’ doors. There I sit, listening to the sounds of my youngest children barking like dogs. It is cute for the first few moments, but for the love of all things good, could we please stop the barking! Needless to say, I am thankful when the barking subsided. Practice gratitude. Isn’t that what the experts say? Grateful that I only have three out of the four of my children with me? Check. Grateful that it is warm and we are safe? Check. Reflecting that seven years ago this day I was in surgery for cancer and grateful that a minivan breakdown is nothing compared to that. Check. Clearly, I know how to be grateful. I know this isn’t the worst thing that could have happened today.
After four hours of calling for help with no response, I spot our neighbor who is being walked by his dog. We call out to him and he is kind enough to rescue us. Of course, the rescue is not without peril, as all stressful moments tend to have a plot twist just to keep us on our toes. The jumper cables that he drove 40 minutes roundtrip to purchase were not working- the car was just dead. After he readjusts and shakes his head, I walk to the engine.
All at once, the car turns over. Again comes the gratefulness. “Look, all it takes is a woman,” my kind rescuer remarks. He likely doesn’t think it is offensive. I swallow every bit of annoyance I have because this man did, after all, come to help us. But should I have? At the risk of seeming ungrateful, I thank him profusely, all the while squeezing his head in my brain. I remind my children that we are warm, we are safe, and that helpers always find you. Even if it takes four hours.
So here I am feeling, well, conflicted. I know, I know. Here comes the crazy soccer mom who is on her high horse about an “innocent” little comment. The feminist with the pink pussy hat marching around Washington, throwing a tantrum because a man said an “innocent” little comment. Let’s talk about this for a minute. Just because someone is kind and generous does not detract from the microaggression they place upon me. While my rescuer probably believes his comment to be harmless and likely hasn’t given it another thought, I am here to tell you it was not.
My daughter wasn’t with me but my three sons were and my oldest was well within earshot. As a matter of fact, he was sitting in the driver’s seat, helping me by trying to start the car. This is not the type of dialogue I want him to hear. This is exactly the type of unintended bias that we caution our children to be mindful of in society.
Women are taught at a very young age where their place is in relation to men. Gender normative behavior teaches us to be softer, more emotional, dainty, empathetic, and submissive. Society teaches us to anticipate needs and accept what is given to us. Organized religions tell us that patriarchal structures form the foundations of families. They direct us what is good or evil, counsel our marriages, or can you even imagine-divorce, they tell us when to have babies. The list goes on and on.
When girls go into the world as women, there is often no seat for us at the board table. We should feel lucky to be an assistant. When we finally make it to the head of the department or company, there is always an excuse. “She is the doctor’s wife” or “Her father is the CEO.” The professional world completely discounting our hard-earned degrees, our valuable experience, and more than anything, our hard work.
On the flip side, women who stay at home and care for their children are seen as a drag on the family rather than performing the most important function in society. These women are ushering in the next generation. I can’t leave out men who chose to stay at home to raise their families either. Emasculating stereotypes abound for this group of hardworking, priority-focused families.
The harmless comment made during this terrific act of kindness was a way of putting me in my place. Looking at it through the lens of intention, I do not believe he meant to offend me. Rather, it is commonplace behavior that is affirmed and reinforced for generations and that makes this “acceptable” banter.
As I reflect on those four hours, I ask myself this question. Should I have reacted differently? I don’t know. We all have to decide where we are going to invest our energy. That day my investment was getting that car started and getting my kids home safely. If I’m really honest with myself, I don’t want the conflict or the negative response. I just want it to go away. But, it bothers me enough to notice it, really notice it. To stand back and say, did he really just say that? What the heck?
On my way back to the mountains yesterday, I stopped at National Harbor and picked up a cheesecake from The Furlough Cheesecake. Two incredible women started this business after being furloughed by the government. Together, they are making change and rising above. It is inspiring, really. Women out in this world making a way for themselves. When we got to the mountains, we pulled up near my rescuer’s home. My boys dropped the cheesecake on his door with a thank you note from our family. We are grateful, just listening.