Saleswomen or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Heteronormative Gender Stereotypes

So my husband, a male friend (the “male” detail should not be relevant, but it is), and I go out to look at furniture. We go into one particular store and proceed to have one of the most hilariously offensive experiences I have ever had. Admittedly though this is a bit of a had to be there situation. But picture the most faux-friendly, condescending overbearing saleswoman you’ve ever had the displeasure of interacting with in this story and maybe it’ll come close to an approximation of the annoying hilarity (annolarity?) we were experiencing.

We were looking for living room furniture to replace the second-hand college stuff that we have now and while we were there we stopped into the appliance section to do some comparison shopping. That’s where we met Joan (*not her real name), approximately 40-year-old saleswoman. It’s not any one thing Joan said or did, it was the way everything added up to make her seem like not only a terrible saleswoman who was completely unable to adapt to the sensibilities of her potential clients, but an extremely sexist and awkward woman stuck in a 1950s ideal of gender and sexuality. It’s actually really hard to describe this because I was at the same time speechless, offended, and wanting to burst out laughing — but I’ll do my best.

I’m looking around in all of the fridges to check out the shelving and I open a particularly tall freezer, which says freezer right on it by the way, and look inside. This is met with “that’s a freezer” said in that way of “oh no, dear, a fridge is cold but freezers freeze things” like I was about 5. I was a little flummoxed at this point. But I think ok maybe she just sucks at jokes? I dunno. Moving on.

Then we’re talking about ovens and she asks our preferences, I said other than flat-top, I really have no preference for other features – I’ll use what I have. She said “well you’ll want self-cleaning right?” – I wasn’t particularly interested. Joan leans in towards me, points at me and said in an attempt at levity “well you’ll definitely want it, seeing as you’ll be the one cleaning it [laughs]”. My husband goes “whooooaah, hey now” in kind of a joking way like he’s pretending to be insulted (meanwhile he has every right to be entirely insulted by her assumption that he’s a lazy asshole). To not be assholes ourselves, we just moved on and didn’t say anything. She slipped up, ok whatever. She’s lost me at this point, but I’m willing to at least listen and get the prices I’m interested in hearing about. But it was like “sense the tone!”

Nope. Then we’re talking about laundry. She asks me which kind I prefer (I have no preference — I’ll take the cheap one that works). Getting a distinct lack of interest from me (I want a price range, not a dissertation), Joan feels the need to explain to the 2 boys how to do laundry with each type of washer (why 2 grown ass men wouldn’t know how to do laundry is beyond me). She says to my male friend that he would impress the girls with his laundry skills — because 1) he’s automatically heterosexual (he is, but beside the point) and 2) girls are impressed by basic living skills that anyone should know.

And then there was something important that I (me, the one with the vagina) needed to know about dishwashers. But I was able to cut her off on this one – we don’t have/need one. Phew.

So finally this high pressure rant about appliances (“buy now cause sales are ending blah blah”) that we are not going to buy from her anyway, my husband makes the mistake of asking her about TV stands. Oh dear. We were almost rid of her! In some ways I’m glad he did because it led to much more amusement, but on the other hand it also led to more embarrassing awkwardness and also I’m pretty sure I have a heart condition now.

Enter “the man’s TV stand”. Why is it the man’s TV stand? Because it’s expensive and has a fireplace in it. Apparently. This was met with polite silence (because it wasn’t funny, nor accurate, so what else do you do but smile and nod?) so she said it again as if to make sure we understood this is a man’s TV stand haha joke. Men in my readership: Does this TV stand scream “mine!!” to you? I wonder what the woman’s TV stand looks like. It’s probably pink with a Princess Pony Princess Barbie on it. With storage for our many cleaning supplies.

So we go upstairs to look at the last few models she has to show us. I’ve been quiet this whole time because I cannot think of anything to say to Joan that isn’t tearing her a strip for being so ignorant, condescending, and sexist. So she has the lack of self-awareness enough to say to me “you’re so quiet, you can talk you know, you’re allowed to talk”. I say nothing (I can talk?! REALLY?!?!). Awkward pause for several seconds. She asks me my name, I give it to her, and she shakes my hand. “You can be honest” (I really, really can’t). “You don’t look too impressed” (yeah, gee why wouldn’t I be impressed with you assuming my husband is an asshole that never lifts a finger around the house and I’m a demure doormat that doesn’t know I’m allowed to talk). Unfortunately, though I thought I had polite smile on my face to cover my rage, apparently some was leaking through and I looked more like I was taking a shit. I was completely gobsmacked at this point. It was like I was fighting a boss with stun and I just couldn’t move. I just had to absorb it until it was over.

She gives us her card (well, she gives my husband and my friend her card because at this point the 10% amused rage volcano is about to explode so I was following several feet behind and while they paused on the landing, I continued downstairs to wait). As soon as we three get out the front door we burst out laughing because of the sheer “yikes” of what just happened. We spent the drive home making several sexist jokes. For example just now my husband just jokingly said “hey woman, make the salad” and I said “go fuck yourself” and then we laughed. So at least it led to hours and hours of amusement. Though I wish now that I had that battle song from Star Trek TOS where Kirk fights the reptile man on my phone for just such moments. Battle was eminent.

Salespeople out there in the ether: Assume nothing about your clients. When your client reacts negatively to a certain approach, don’t continue to sledgehammer them in the face with it – adapt. I guarantee if you are selling something to me and assume that I do anything because of my vagina (or my husband doesn’t do things because of his penis), I will not buy anything from you. What decade is this?

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8 responses to “Saleswomen or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Heteronormative Gender Stereotypes

  1. Since you’re curious, as a straight (is that part important?) male, I have no idea why anyone would want a tv stand with a fireplace.

  2. Agreed. As a more-or-less straight male, I concur that the TV stand described would fit into the “abomination” category.

  3. Lol, we wondered the same thing. Wouldn’t the TV get stupidly hot?

  4. Perhaps one or more of the following apply:

    – She grew up in an oppressive patriachy and knows no better.
    – She lives in an oppressive patriarchal community.
    – She is not as well educated as you.
    – She is not as well informed as you.
    – She has not been constructively introduced to feminist ideology and knows no better.
    – She is functionally illiterate and unable to dabble in social theory or online debate.
    – All potentially helpful and informative folks just writer her off as an outdated, stupid, and useless sales person not worth the time or effort to inform.

    Or perhaps she is a brilliantly insightful sales person, gifted at cold reading, who immediately sensed your presumptious hositility, wrote you off as a potential sell, and decided to play you like a dancing trout.

    Just sayin’.

    • Apparently you missed the parts above where I describe experiencing an inability to appropriately deal with the situation. Consider that you’ve maybe never experienced what this feels like. This anecdote is not a model for behaviour – I’m telling a story.

      • Apparently you missed the parts above where you denigrate, insult, and dismiss the sales person right from the get-go, expressing a very narrow minded and thoughtless intolerance and impatience with someone about whom you know almost nothing. Consider that I’ve maybe been on both the giving and the receiving end of such hostile presumption layered with groundless assumptions, misunderstanding, and lack of tolerance, and know fairly well what the experience feels like from both sides. My anecdote is not a model for behaviour either – I’m reacting with honest frustration to what I perceive as a rather profound intolerance expressed in your story.

        C’mon Kimbo. You generally present yourself as an intelligent, thoughtful, rational, and tolerant skeptic. But this story contradicts most of that and makes you look like an intolerant, impatient, narrow-minded, thoughtless classist bigot.

        In my opinion.

      • I think you’ve missed the point. In the moment, I didn’t know how to react. You’ve never been in a situation where you didn’t know what to do or say? You respond to every situation perfectly? So because I’m socially awkward and wanted to tell a funny story about a bad salesperson encounter, I’m a bigot? You weren’t there. Gee, thanks.

      • Bigot? Classist? Intolerant?

        Holy hell John, how in bejayzzus did you get that?

        Let me get this right:

        I also don’t like being talked to as though I am supposed to fit into a particular mold as defined by social mores and norms based on my gender (not my sex).

        Therefore: BIGOT!

        I’ll repeat: Holy Hell.

        One doesn’t need to be familiar with the writings of Camile Paglia to know enough to not talk to customers (or humans not sent here from the past in a Delorian-style time machine) like that.

        Holy hell, John.