Written by Jessie Sage, originally published by the Pittsburgh City Paper.
During a wild storm on the evening of Halloween, a tree snapped in half in my front yard and fell on my house, taking out my electrical meter and box, my awning, roof shingles, the gutter, and a few other things. The fact that we were displaced from our house for four days was somewhat annoying, but fortunately we have family in the area, so that part wasn’t too much of an issue.
What was worse is that I’ve had to spend inordinate amounts of time with electricians, inspectors, contractors, insurance adjusters, and sales reps, to try to get my house back together, and these interactions have reminded me how incompetent and irrelevant many men presume women to be.
Let me give you a glimpse into just one of these interactions. I called a sales rep to arrange a time for him give me a quote to replace my awning. This should have been a relatively straightforward exchange; I just wanted him to write up a quote that I could submit to insurance.
The sales rep says that he can’t come to my house to give me a quote unless my husband is here. There are two possible interpretations of this ridiculous rule (which, by the way, is not a rule). One, that he fears being alone with a woman a la Mike Pence; or two, that he doesn’t think that I have the capacity/authority to make a decision.
The first interpretation is sexist and problematic for so many reasons that it would require its own column (which I may just do because I have had bosses in the past who have maintained this position, to the detriment of my career). The second is both sexist and silly because if anyone additional needed to be at the meeting, it is my insurance adjuster and not my husband, given that I am not buying anything insurance won’t pay for.
After much back and forth he came over when I was home alone and decided to make small talk by asking what my husband does for a living, assuming that I don’t have a job despite the fact that I am fully made up for work. When I flatly answer his question (he teaches at a university), he started to mansplain to me how difficult college is, as if I haven’t gone. Now I don’t think that everyone needs to go to college, or have careers for that matter, but that he would assume I have neither because I am a married woman is mindboggling.
Yet, it shouldn’t be. I have been married since I was 20, so I have been dealing with this for my entire adult life. It comes up in subtle and surprising ways: when people ask to speak to my husband when I am perfectly capable of handling whatever it is that we are talking about; when I am introduced as someone’s wife when my marriage is irrelevant to the context; when strangers ask what my husband does for a living and don’t imagine that I have a career of my own; and when potential employers look at my wedding ring and ask if I have children and then tell me the job is too demanding for a wife/mom (before you tell me this is illegal, I already know, and yet it still happens).
It is almost 2020; it is long past time to retire these outdated gender stereotypes and start speaking to women as competent adults worthy of respect, regardless of their relationship status.
Jessie Sage is a sex worker and writer based in Pittsburgh, PA. She’s also the co-founder of Peepshow Magazine and the co-host of the Peepshow Podcast. Her words can be found in the Washington Post, VICE’s Motherboard, Hustler Magazine, Men’s Health, BuzzFeed, and more. She’s currently writing a book on sex work, motherhood, and illness called An Unexpected Place (forthcoming on West Virginia University Press).