That’s right. Oil changes. Just another reason being a woman is demeaning, in addition to being potentially dangerous and deadly.
The signs were all there, but I shrugged them off as ‘feminine sensitivity’ – the FORD dealership salesmen addressed their thank you card to just my husband even though both of our names are on the bill of sale. Then the grooming began – I was offered free oil changes with every second service appointment.
The first time, it was over in 30 minutes. I had left my day planner behind once and they called me right away – I was so grateful I gave them the cinnamon buns 6-pack that I just picked up. Then I started to bring the service guys donuts and fruit trays on every visit. Erik and Matthew were so friendly and always helpful, letting me know what was coming up for maintenance but never pressuring me.
Then one visit, I arrived early and another service guy checked me in. Only this time, he stood about 20 feet away, didn’t greet me, then punched in my mileage and gave a cursory glance to my tray of treats on the counter as I walked to the waiting room. For the first time, Chris, whom I’ve never met before, approached me in front of other customers and loudly declared my ownership of an apparently very dirty engine filter. “This beauty belongs to you,” showing it off as though I should be humiliated about it’s condition. He asked if I wanted to replace it.
Nice trick, Chris. Feeling pressured worked and I agreed. Notice how he didn’t tell me it needed replacing.
The thing is, we have a mechanic friend who helps us with the big maintenance things and he’d just recently examined the vehicle. Turns out, the engine filter didn’t replacing.
So I called Chris up and told him my concern. He claimed that because he ASKED me if I wanted to replace and I said yes, that it was my decision. Here’s how blame the victim works when gender and power create an imbalance – man takes advantage then blames woman for her complicit actions.
It reminded me of the time in my teens when another garage charged me for “replacing the timing belt” on my 1985 Chevrolet Celebrity. A male friend of the family informed me my vehicle make didn’t have a timing belt. I was rescued by one man but had to face the perpetrators on my own. They gave me a refund without an apology.
I told Chris that I was at his mercy because I wouldn’t know what needs replacing and what doesn’t. I told him he’d lost my trust and that I wasn’t happy about it. He denied any wrongdoing. It only lasted a few minutes.
What he forgot about was that FORD and the dealership send out surveys the day after. They ask you to rate the service out of 10 and if you can’t answer 10 they want to know what they can do to improve.
I was honest and within a few minutes, I got a phone call. It was Chris. Sounded like there was another person with him and his tone was different. He apologized for how I felt and stated he had no intention of misleading me. He was trying to make it better. I can’t judge if it was truly for my sake or his boss’s. Either way, the day after was a reckoning, of sorts.
Thankfully, on my next visit, Erik was back. But you know what, things had changed. Something was up. Erik too, came to me in the waiting room and suggested the pollen filter get changed. But he was sheepish about it, as though he’d been told to upsell even though he didn’t want to. I was ready this time.
There was one other older lady in the room and I told Erik about what happened to me last time and that no, I wasn’t prepared to change the pollen filter. I explained that I recall changing it in the not so distant past and that I would have to look back at the paperwork to find out when that was. I wasn’t rude but I wasn’t backing down either.
After he left, my waiting room feminist companion giggled that maybe they weren’t even showing us our own filters – they probably just have one in the back that’s always dirty. She told me she usually has her husband bring the vehicle in because she can’t stand the tactics anymore.
It reminds me of the time my front load washing machine was permanently locked and when I asked my husband to handle it, he pointed out how strong I was. I looked up the piece required on Google and found a parts place that carried it. When I arrived, the man at the desk quoted me $34.99 for it. “That’s funny,” I say, “because when I looked up your website not more than an hour ago, the part was $7.99.” The men in the small, crowded shop, including the one looking at me from across the till, say nothing. My small boys play with the items hanging below the counter. They don’t know that I just rescued myself, but they also don’t know that I had to. With a how-to video on YouTube, I fixed my washing machine later that afternoon.
This week, I was mentally preparing myself for another visit at the dealership. Because that’s what it’s come to. Then my husband suggested one of those no-appointment oil change services. You know, get in, get out.
My hopes for just a tad less misogyny were met first with a recommendation to change my transmission fluid, to which I sighed, and said no. When he came back with my engine filter, I paused deliberately to breathe – then I said no again. Now, at some point these will need replacing, but this one in particular, I find out when I get home and look at my service records, was replaced in June. Then the time came to pay, and the tip option popped up. I couldn’t believe it. I balled up my frustration and laughed out loud. I shook my head.
Here’s a tip: I said no.
“Drive safe and have a good one,” he says, as the garage door opens and he ushers me out. As though he actually cares about me. It reminds me of the time a male teacher colleague came into a small office in one of my assigned schools where I was working, closes the door and stands in front of it. I barely know him but, he tells me, as I’m shifting uncomfortably in my chair, and not just because I’m near the end of my second pregnancy, that he thinks pregnant women are beautiful. He goes on. It only lasts a few minutes but as he opens the door, I stand, and he gestures for me to pass by him first. As though he actually cares about my wellbeing. Or about being a gentleman.
I made a formal complaint, which was difficult because the school district had two conflicting policies on the books about how to handle it. I heard he was later accused by another female colleague but she was given a gag order and no one was talking.
I feel like I need to shower and I realize just deep this male privilege goes.
I think about what I will need to do next: I will have to bring all my paperwork with me. I will have to know my engine oil type and when the last time was that my filter was changed. I might even have to try learning to do it myself.
Because taking advantage of us isn’t going to work anymore. We have no choice but to defend ourselves, tell our friends about you, and warn other women about your tactics.
No matter. You will have fewer and fewer victims to blame, and better, to take advantage of for sexual assault, harassment, and yes, even oil changes.