I was working from home one day, and in the middle of the afternoon there was a knock on the door. I answered to find a tall, dark, handsome young salesman (this is an empirical observation—I am married, I am not blind) who was trying to pitch security systems to the neighborhood.
I listened to the pitch to be courteous. As soon as I started leaning toward “no”, he ramped up the razzle dazzle. So I went for my heteronormative loophole, “I’ll need to discuss it with my husband,” I said, “but do you have a card? Can we go to the website for more information?” (Subtext: Take the hint, dude.) Salesman swore this offer was only available in person, but he could stop by again later in the afternoon. Sure. Fine. Have a nice day. Boy, bye.
In hindsight, maybe I set myself up.
I’m a strong Black woman, from a line of strong Black women, and I am not interested in wasting my time convincing folks of my worth and humanity. So, sometimes I play the ‘husband’ card when I’m tired of talking (and listening). Nine out of ten times, it works like a charm. This, apparently, was the tenth time.
Not 20 minutes after my perennial plus-one actually gets home does this salesman come callin’ again. I answer the door and explain—in my most polite, most Midwestern way—that we’ve talked it over, and thanks but no thanks. Dude must have had a quota because he doesn’t quit. “Well, could I just speak with your husband?” the salesman says.
“I’ve already spoken to him. I told him what you told me—”
“It would just be a couple minutes, if he could just come to the door…”
Now, I was trying my best to be calm. He’s a young brother, I think to myself, this may be his first job; I respect the ambition—blah, blah, blah. But he keeps trying to get to ‘my husband’—if he could just talk to him… I don’t remember what act of God got that salesman to leave my porch, but by the time he finally did, the damage was already done. Who did he think he was? Who does he think I am? What in the name of Audre Lorde—?!
I was stunned. Dude did everything but pat me on my head and call me ‘the little Mrs.’ I couldn’t remember the last time I’d experienced such blatant sexism. (I guess I regularly surround myself with folks who got some sense.) After the house call from hell, suddenly I could feel the sexist slights everywhere: postal mail that listed my husband’s name first, even though it was addressed to both of us; correspondence that hyphenated my last name, even though I never changed or hyphenated my last name after I married; anything and everything involving a mechanic…
One less-than-desirable side effect of being a thoughtful person is I can spend too much time thinking, trying to see all the angles. As a result, I didn’t think of a suitable response for the salesman until after the moment had passed. But O! Sometimes God smiles down and I get another chance—like I did a couple weeks later when the salesman came back…
Another afternoon I’m working from home, he knocks at the door. I look out the front window, and my face must be the very definition of WTF. The gall of this dude! Clean shaven and all smiles in the logoed company polo, he greets me and pitches me, again. I tell him that we’ll pass, again. He doesn’t ask to speak to ‘my husband’, but I think—I could have sworn—he still tries to look passed me—look through me.
This time he accepts “no” for an answer. But before he can make his exit, I ask if I can give him some feedback. To his credit, he says yes. So, I begin, “When you are dealing with a household where there is a partnership, and one partner tells you that they speak for both parties, do not insist on speaking to the husband.”
“The way I was raised,” he tries to explain, “my mom is a strong woman, my parents make all their decisions together and—”
“It’s just institutionalized patriarchy,” I interrupt, “but I wanted to give you the note, so you can avoid it in the future.” To his credit, he heard me out and apologized. We each said some version of ‘have a nice day.’ Then he walked down the front steps, and I closed my door.
That salesman’s first visit caught me slipping—had me out here starting to doubt myself. But the gift of his return, that second exchange, helped me to feel like—to remember—that I am clear. That I do know my own mind, and I do know how to stand up for myself. (Eventually.) (Okay, the standing up for myself could still happen a little faster, but I’m getting there.)
Have you had to deal with someone minimizing who you are? How did you handle it?Leave a Comment