Misogyny in my Mailbox
I got a letter in the mail the other day. It was addressed to “Mr. and Mrs. Zachary James.” I flipped it over, thinking it must be an invitation or something from someone who knows me primarily instead of my wife.
This letter came from the College of Engineering at our alma matter, where my wife earned a chemical engineering degree. It was a newsletter to update us on the goings-on at the school, etc. Problem is, I don’t have an engineering degree. I went to school for music, I don’t give a shit about the engineering college. How did my name even make it into that mailing list? The fact that it is there means that someone who works for marketing had to find out that Maggie got married, and literally replace her name on the mailing list with “Mr. and Mrs. Zachary.”
This isn’t the first time, either. This kind of thing happens all the time:
We go to a restaurant on a nice date. The meal is getting close to finished, I get up to use the restroom after the waiter drops the check. Maggie puts her card in the little folio thing, I come back from the restroom, the waiter brings the check back, gives it directly to me…
We run to the store because Maggie wants to pick out a gift for a friend. She grabs the gift, gives it to the teller. The person behind the counter looks at me and says “that’ll be…”
We are looking to buy a new washer and dryer and are at the hardware store to compare models. Both of us are asking various questions about different types of units, etc. When it comes time to talk price, the sales person switches from looking at the two of us to just making eye contact with me. Only me. The whole time…
…It happens all the time…
Now I know that we are not unique in this situation; that all women in situations in which they are doing things with dudes are subjected to this kind of subtle condescension. But I do feel odd because I notice it.
There used to be a time when I didn’t notice it. Like, it didn’t used to bother me AT ALL. We’ve been married for almost three years. We share bank accounts and credit cards and auto loans and mortgage payments, etc. It never occurred to me to be a big deal.
And then I got that newsletter, the one from the engineering school where Maggie got a goddamned engineering degree. And it hit me: HOLY SHIT HOW HAVE I NEVER THOUGHT ABOUT THIS BEFORE!!!
I am pretty pissed off about it. But I think the reason I am upset is not so much because of the act of some person making the mistake of referring to Maggie as “Mr. and Mrs. Zachary,” although that is ridiculous. I’m mad because I never noticed that aspect of my privilege before.
And I’m culpable all the time. I’m part of the problem.
I go back to a couple of those situations, and I now notice in my memories that I assert myself as the “payer,” I give the impression that I am in charge, that I make the decisions. And that couldn’t be farther from the truth. There is not a major financial decision that we make independently of each other. We both have full-time incomes, and even if we didn’t, it doesn’t matter. There is nothing about my having a penis that says that I should act this way or be complicit in this kind of discrimination.
Now, I am not looking to pat myself on the back or to seek out some kind of weird good-guy feminist points or something. But I do think that this experience for me is something that others can learn from.
There are moments in your life when you realize your privilege. You notice that you are wrong, complicit, ignorant, whatever. There is nothing wrong with having privilege; it’s not really a choice. But you can choose to be a better person in spite of it. You can choose to break down some of your privilege to make room for others. You can choose to use your privilege to change minds.
Sexism is systematic and sociological, but the system won’t change if the individuals in the system refuse to get started.
Originally published at www.godlessrevolution.com.