I was indulging an acquaintance in her usual rant about the local roads and drivers. I mentioned that since I got my new-to-me-but-extremely-old van (aka Matilda), I’ve noticed a change in how other road users treat me. My driving hasn’t slowed down in the least; if anything, Matilda is a bit nippier than her predecessors. Still, a lot of drivers seem hell-bent on overtaking me regardless of all other considerations. I can be doing 50 on a 50 at the end of a 50 cars line, and they’ll still near-kill themselves to get past me. I attribute it to the fact that Matilda looks decrepit, and they make assumptions about my speed rather than checking what’s going on.
My customer had a completely different theory: “It’s nothing to do with your vehicle! It’s because you’re a woman!”
Now, as narratives go, that one is rather attractive. Me and my driving and my van are fine: I’m being oppressed by the misogyny inherent in the system! If my focus was on shifting blame as far away from myself as possible, this would be perfect.
The teeny tiny problem with it is that it is obviously bogus. People behind me can’t see me, so they can’t know that I’m a woman. If I was driving a Barbie pink Smart Car, ok, they might be guessing; but nothing about “decrepit ex builder’s van” suggests “chick at the wheel”. Could it be the seductive sway of my bumper?
I didn’t much see the point in challenging my customer, as she was happy with the narrative she had created (which, naturally, also applies to herself). I did get me thinking about a few people who seemed to go through a similar process, managing to find explanations for their problems that made very little sense, but suited their purposes.
A female colleague was adamant that guys never hit on her in bars because “they are threatened by a strong, independent woman.” I’ve always been puzzled by how that was supposed to have worked. Without talking to her, how did they know that she was strong and independent? Personally I wondered if it didn’t have more to do with the fact that she looked and dressed like a guy, to the point that she was routinely addressed as “sir” by strangers. She was aware of this, obviously, and routinely annoyed by it. Yet, she apparently never considered that it may be a factor affecting men’s willingness to try and pick her up.
A friend was convinced that women rejected him because of his back problems. He had been at the receiving end of the same not-back-related list of complaints, culminating in the same Dear John letters, a dozen times by dozen women, but those weren’t the “real” reasons. They were just excuses those women were making for dumping him because he was, eventually, going to be a cripple. The fact that his back problems started in his late 30s while his problems with women started in his teens apparently was not a relevant data point.
When I look around, this kind of mental process seems far from rare. I guess finding a soothing narrative is comfortable, or at least comforting, however incorrect that narrative may be. However, I wonder whether the comfort derived from it is worth being stuck in the same place, dealing with the same problems, time and time again.