Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Geek Girls Get No Respect, II: The Mansplaining

I want to tell you a joke:

A woman walks into a computer store.  She says, "I would like to buy a computer."  The sales clerk says, "We don't serve your kind here."  The woman says, "Well, at least you're honest."

Yeah.  I didn't think it was very funny, either. 

This kind of thing happens in real life so often that it's almost a cliche.  I don't know a single nerdy, techy, geeky woman who doesn't have a story like that...and the ones I know who work in IT or other presumptively masculine* fields have many stories like that.  Many, many stories.

So, anyway, I decided I needed a new computer because the one I have has gotten a bit moody about booting up.  Some days, it just doesn't feel up to facing the world, apparently.  I sympathize, but I still have work to do so I decided to go to the Tiger Direct retail store in Jefferson, GA north of Atlanta.  I had definite ideas about what I wanted and did not want, and was envisioning walking in, giving a list of specifications with a range of what I was interested in, and with the help of a helpful sales clerk finding the best combination of speed, memory, graphics, and cheapness.  I am in the habit of buying the cheapest computer that will actually do what I want, and using said computer until it threatens to stop working or actually does.  I am comfortable with my choices in this matter.  I am not saying I would turn down the fanciest fastest shiny new thing out there if you gave it to me, but I have zero interest in spending money on it.

As I say, I had a plan.  A vision, even.  What actually happened was that I got someone who ignored what I said about having specific ideas in mind and immediately started trying to sell me the most expensive computer they had, mansplaining all the while.  When I said I wanted Windows 7 rather than 8, he told me they only had one or two that ran Windows 7...the first of several flat-out lies.  Other prevarications included a statement that they didn't have many refurbs in the store, that it was not possible to do a search for the specs that I wanted (I had done one ON THEIR SITE before I came in), that "nothing will run on those older computers"  (I know what kind of software I use, thank you very much.  Since I don't play computer games, it's amazing how practically anything I want to do works just fine).  He flatly contradicted me a few times and when I expressed a preference he told me immediately how whatever it was I wanted wasn't going to work.  The reason I characterize this as mansplaining rather than your garden-variety hard-sell is that he was holding forth and not listening to me in a particular way that I found depressingly familiar.  Unless a wide variety of men in a number of different situations have been trying to sell me something, there was more to it than bad sales practices.  Though now that I think about it, the motives could be similar.

Of course I giggled girlishly at this display of male dominance in the area of computer knowledge, bought what he told me to, and came home having spent half my paycheck on shit I don't need.  Tee hee.

...Oh, wait, this is the other reality, the one I live in.  Actually I appear to have run him off.  He had to have known it wasn't going well, because in my natural state when angry I have all of the poker-faced reserve and serene poise of Donald Duck.**  However, I try to act civilized.  The combination of these opposing forces prompted one of my students to say after witnessing the results, "You get the scary quiet voice when you're angry."

After I said, for the third time and Very Quietly through gritted teeth, "I am telling you that I looked on your website before I came here and I was able to find several examples of what I am looking for,"  he literally told me to do the search again myself on one of the machines nearby and "let me know if you find anything."  Then retreated...to the other end of the store.

I don't believe in taking people's shit as a moral principle, and this experience made me so angry that I nearly went home, never to return.  However, Jefferson is about an hour from where I live, and I had taken time away from work I was supposed to be doing in order to solve my moody computer issues.  So I decided to try again.

Here is where the story gets a surprise happy ending.  I went looking for another sales person and found one Jeff Barrett.  Let us take a moment to praise and consider Mr. Barrett.  He helped me find what I wanted on the site (which worked for him just fine), physically went looking for it, made useful suggestions without presuming that I didn't know what I was talking about, and when it took a while to get the computer out of the warehouse, apologized for the delay. 

I wish to note that both of these men were middle-aged white guys, and both of them were equally Southern.  Let me tell you, I have been mansplained to at all points of the compass in this country, and I'm sure if I spoke any foreign languages fluently enough I could be mansplained to internationally.  It's not a matter of identity or culture or some kind of Y-chromosome-related deafness problem.  It's true the times have changed...a hundred years ago, and it's time for people to catch the hell up.  I'm middle-aged now, and I was a child in the 70s, at the height of Second Wave feminist grooviness.  Anyone who remembers the 60s is old enough to know better, and anyone younger than that has no excuse whatsoever.  Behavior is a choice.

*Lest we forget, Ada Lovelace invented computer programming, just like Mary Shelley invented science fiction.  And more recently, my older sister worked for Burrough's Business Machines and later UNISYS starting in the 1970s; she was not an anomaly.  Women aren't "trying to break in" to those fields; they've been there for decades, and are nonetheless still constantly fighting attempts to push them out.

**The Akkadian god of frustration.


  1. Excellent article, great job standing your ground and getting what you needed and wanted. Thankfully some of us males do know and understand women are just as capable as males. I wish more women would actually choose to speak up and not play the "weak, naive" role. I sought out and married an intelligent lady, who will stand her ground on her knowledge and decisions and am thankful she does speak up. Keep it up!

    1. I agree on one level...I probably find it more irritating than you do. But people play the gender role assigned to them because they get rewarded for doing it and punished if they don't, in a million different ways. Paddling against the tide is hard work and sometimes frankly not worth it. I do it because I'm kind of pig-headed, but not everyone has the energy for it every single time.

  2. Wow Ms. Sara, Bravo!
    I am thoroughly impressed with your tenacious mindset and am very familiar with mansplaining, as well. Your article perfectly describes two contrasting mindsets a male (or female in a flipped -unlikey?- scenario) can exude. You make it hilariously obvious - to anyone who can't read the female mind ; ) - which exuded attitude is preferable.

    Trek on, dear geek. Trek on.