Editor’s Note: The following op-ed was authored by Lindsey Johnson after a series of experiences while car shopping in the Rochester-area. The experience was initially shared on Twitter. That series of tweets eventually led to this column. Questions and concerns can be sent here.
‘More Than a Misunderstanding’
– By Lindsey Johnson
“Good for you for speaking up. It is insidious how men’s inherent sense of entitlement to women’s bodies shows up in creepy and rude little ways literally everywhere we go.”
That was the response when I told my friend about my experience while car shopping at six months pregnant.
I was at the Dorschel Toyota in Henrietta on a September Saturday. We were back from the test drive, where the car salesman had learned I was pregnant, and going over numbers when he stepped away. The salesman returned with his manager who immediately commented on my pregnancy that I was, “hiding it well.”
People have a lot to say when you’re pregnant. I didn’t say anything in reply in the moment. To be honest, I didn’t fully process what he had said until I’d left. But as I reflected, I felt an increasing need to speak up. I was mad. No one has a right to comment – or pass judgement – on a woman’s body. My pregnancy isn’t something I’m trying to hide. To suggest it is implies that showing a pregnant belly is bad, shameful, or negative in some other way.
And so when he called as promised on Monday, I was ready to tell him how he affected me and how similar behavior might affect others. I wanted him to get it. Maybe he didn’t understand the implications of his words and attitude. I wanted him to understand and to apologize.
The conversation did not go well. He spoke over me the entire time. I think he almost hung up on me. He patronized me, and he explicitly said, “I will not apologize.” Instead, he told me that I’d misinterpreted what he’d said. His reaction was to blame me. He took no ownership and he certainly made no effort to understand a viewpoint other than his own.
I spoke with his supervisor. This conversation, too, was unsatisfactory, though not abrasive. The supervisor assured me that he would try to get the employee to call back with an apology. But at no time did the supervisor offer an apology of his own.
Later that day, I tweeted about the experience. And two weeks later, Dorschel replied to my tweet that “misunderstandings do happen” and that Twitter isn’t the best way to reach them. A few minutes later, the employee called and left an apology on my voicemail.
In the two weeks since the employee told me I was hiding my pregnancy well, I’d started writing this op-ed. This was not a misunderstanding. This was a man at work, trying to sell a car, rudely, inappropriately, and presumptuously commenting on his customer’s physical appearance. It was not a misunderstanding. It was a man confronted by a woman asserting herself two weeks ago, who refused to listen. it was not a misunderstanding. It was a man who chose not to respect me.
I don’t know if upper management made the employee call me back finally. I don’t know if the employee meant any of his apology, having been so adamant that he would not be making one when I asked. And I don’t know if he actually gets the error of his ways.
But I do know that I’m not alone, and I’m sharing my experience here because I want others like me to know they aren’t alone, either. This is one story from my pregnancy, but the experience of getting advice on how to be female isn’t unique to being pregnant. Every day women face unsolicited commentary and judgement about their appearance from men who feel entitled to give it. Women interact with men every day who decide not to listen and whose actions show disrespect. It should not be our responsibility to educate the employees and supervisors of the world but when others don’t, we must, even if we are the customer. So here’s the rule: Never comment on anyone’s body uninvited.