Sunday, February 01, 2009

Assumed Gender Roles

There have been several times in my life when I have become more or less stranded because of car trouble when I have driven on my own. While some of these things are thought of as stereotypically female (locked keys in the car, low on fluids, etc.) I am certain they happen to men, too. Each of these things, however, seems to bring out a heroic side in any man who stumbles across the situation. If you've ever read Men Are from Mars, Women Are from Venus you will know that a man cannot come upon a situation in which he can help a woman do something he thinks she is incapable of and not help out. Especially when it has to do with cars. For example, when I was student teaching at Alta high school I came out of the building at the end of the day to find that my tire was flat. I took the tools out of my car and got to work. Within two minutes of bending down to place the jack I had an army of construction workers (maintenance on the school's roof) there trying to pry off the hubcap and lift the car off the ground. Any input I had fell on deaf ears.

Or I can think back to the time I blew the tire driving out of the MTC parking lot (in my defense, I was in high school and watching my cute coworker drive away and deciding whether or not to stalk him to his house when I ran into the curb hard enough to honk the horn and blow the tire. TMI?) At that point I was too young and had not yet learned how to change a tire. I called my dad and when he got there I already had a group of concerned elders surrounding the car. Or maybe they were just interested because it was a change from their routine. Anyway.

Saturday was spent at an Usborne regional training in Layton. I was the driver for our little carpool. On the way there the engine light went off. It blinked a couple of times in American Fork and then again just as we were arriving at the training site in Layton. The second blinking of the light was accompanied by the car stuttering and not wanting to shift. I was concerned, but the car did not die.

When it was time to go home I started to worry about the car and whether or not we would make it home. My worst fear was that the engine would seize from lack of oil (I've been in a car when that happened. The car was junked.), but the car wasn't acting like it was low on oil. It was acting like it was low on transmission fluid. We stopped at a gas station where I went in to purchase a quart of transmission fluid. We bought our car used, so we don't have a manual for me to check the proper brand or type. There were two kinds and I decided which one was best, but took both to the counter just to be sure. The attendant was pretty useless and slowly read me the back of the bottle, which I had already done before bringing it to the counter. She then asked for help from the hairy, smelly man who had come into the store after me. Here was the conversation.

Attendant: Maybe you can help us. Which of these transmission fluids should she buy?
Hairy, smelly man: How do you know you need tranny fluid?
Me: My car isn't shifting well and it's leaving pink puddles.
Hairy, smelly man: (looking at me incredulously) How old is your car?
Me: 2004
HSM: Well, they both look the same except for this one says Type F.
[At this point the man launches into a bit of a story about how long that kind has been around before finally suggesting I buy the one I had already decided on.]
Me: Thanks, I just thought I'd check.

The attendant handed me a paper funnel, I grabbed a paper towel, and then I went out and opened the hood. I checked the fluid level and double checked to make sure the fluid goes in the same hole as the dipstick. Admittedly, it has been a few years since I have replaced transmission fluid, but I do know how to do it. I thought it was better to be certain before I poured liquid down a tube. That moment it took to double check was all that was necessary for the hairy, smelly man to come outside and decide that I was still a damsel in distress. I had already placed the funnel in the tube and opened the bottle when he concluded he should take over the job. He graciously allowed me to use the dipstick to check the level. My favorite part was when he asked me how full the fluid was supposed to get, as he was unaware and said he only knew "old cars". It was a fight to stop my eyes from rolling around completely in my head. He filled it until he thought it was full enough and warned me to be careful not to fill it too full. Once again I said, "Thanks."

I know he was just trying to be helpful, but I am quite capable on my own. I've found it's just easier to stand back, let them do the work, and graciously thank them for their kind help. It gives them a warm fuzzy and keeps my hands clean. Even if it does perpetuate a false idea that women are ignorant about car basics. Maybe men will think I am more competent if I keep a screwdriver and a rock inside.


stephasauri said...

Ha! This totally reminds me of a time when I was home from college for the summer, and left my lights on when I was at work. I came out to go home and the battery was dead. I have never jumped a car, but I know how to and besides, the cables had instructions. As I began a man came over to "help" me (read: do it for me). The macho idiot hooked the cables up backward, which FRIED the car's computer chip, resulting in a very, very expensive repair. It was not a pretty situation. Moral of my story: Just because your a boy doesn't mean you know what you're doing and just because your a girl doesn't mean you don't.

Charlotte said...

Well that sounds like a fun adventure! :) My favorite of your car troubles is when you blew the tire driving out of the MTC cause you were watching your cute coworker! HA!! So funny!! And totally something I would have done in high school too! :) It is true that men just love to help, even if the girl knows more than they do about that particular thing. I guess it's just the way they're built. Very annoying sometimes!