Recently, we had the misfortune of getting into a car accident – one day before my birthday.
Imagine my ire that it was caused by the total carelessness of a driver hailing from the most expensive, ritzy county in our area, who had decided to cross from the rightmost lane to traverse three lanes of traffic, just to turn into a gas station he had already passed. In the process, he struck my beloved BMW X3, which was traveling slightly behind him in the same direction, in the neighboring lane.
My car sustained significant front-end damage. Because the car was still drivable, I initially speculated that the extent of the damage would be primarily cosmetic. However, as the car was dismantled for the adjusters to assess the losses and calculate the repair costs, it became clear that it was awash. My long-paid-off vehicle was no more, and the insurance company cut us a check for its market value.
The X3 was fabulous. We had a great relationship.
So my husband and I embarked on the quest to find a replacement. My X3 was beginning to show the challenges of its compact size; my daughters' lengthening limbs were beginning to cram for space and comfort. So we wanted something bigger and child-friendly, with high marks for safety and a good warranty, but that certainly was not a minivan.
We decided on a Lincoln MKT with the EcoBoost engine, whose performance and kick have been praised and given high marks in car trades. We traveled out of state to get it, as the only one in our area had been clearly owned by a smoker; it stunk of cigarettes and had a grungy, shadowy cast on all of the interior. At the dealership, we were greeted warmly by the salesman, as we had spoken to him several times on the phone already.
When we test drove it, I was handed the keys first, and the salesman sat in the passenger's seat beside me. When we were done trying it out, he asked what I thought of it and seemed interested in my feedback. However, imagine my chagrin once we were in the sales office, ready to make a deal, and the tables started to turn.
I began to fade into the background, like nondescript wallpaper. All of the important questions were pointed to my husband. Questions about warranties and details about what being a certified vehicle were explained to him, eye-to-eye, with only a cursory glance at me. Even when we both filled out financing paperwork, which clearly showed what I was bringing to the table, my husband by default was listed as the primary applicant, without the salesperson ever asking us what we wanted or intended. (In fact, if I recall correctly, I was actually listed as the primary applicant!).
Later, when we got home and I started reviewing the mountains of paperwork, I saw that my name had been omitted from key documents, including but not limited to the authorization to register the vehicle in our state! So my money was good enough to garner them a profit and help them meet monthly quotas, but not enough to be treated as an adult, capable of making decisions and bringing resources to the table for a major transaction?
This is not the first time this has occurred. In every house purchase we've made together (three to date – yes, we've moved a bit), a very similar scenario has played out. Here I am, an educated professional woman who just happens to be married, and I am implicitly undermined in the process. My profession, my income and my credit becomes treated like an ancillary grab bag, when in fact, they've all been pertinent to our ability to acquire or access the transaction we were making.
As insulting as I find this, I have to wonder if such antiquated treatment, seemingly instituted into the process of making major financial transactions, is encoded with the gender norms people instinctively feel should be at play? For example, today's workplaces are still structured as though all women are home in aprons, nursing babies and baking cookies. But the reality is that most mothers are in the workplace, especially once the children are school-aged.
Moreover, is there the ethos of presumed male providership in these transactions? Culturally, are financial institutions and their exponents hardwired to assume a man – a husband, especially – is the autonomous monetary provider in a household? How does this bode for the current realities that are much more different, in a world and time when more and more wives earnmore and have more formal education than their husbands? Or when more husbands and wives are full partners, not adhering to the traditional gender script?
I don't know, really.
But I do know that the next time it happens, I'll speak up and walk out, finding someone with a more progressive approach to such dealings.