The Story of Tommy our Bug Guy, or, A Time I Benefited from Male Privilege

Recently, convinced that we had a bed bug infestation, Amy and I called out our pest control company. In response, a technician named Tommy stopped by the next day. Tommy took a look around our house, put out some glue traps, checked in with Amy, checked in with me and then he was gone. Altogether, he was in our house for 10 minutes.

After he’d left, Amy and I convened in the kitchen to compare notes, and as we did, what was obvious was that Tommy didn’t think we had a bug problem. Praise the Lord. But at the same time, it was also obvious that Amy and I had had two completely different conversations with Tommy.

To Amy, Tommy had come across as condescending and patronizing. He had treated her as if she was a panicky and uninformed child. In fact, his final words to Amy went like something this: “There, there, darlin’. There’s nothing to worry about!” By contrast, to me he had been polite and cordial, and he had treated me with respect. “Nothing to worry about sir, I think you’re fine.”

What was going on in that interaction? Amy and I had heard the same exact message (“there are no bugs in your house”) but we’d experienced two completely different conversations. I’d left mine without any angst whatsoever. Tommy had treated me as an equal and I basically felt validated by the interaction. Amy, on the other hand, was less than pleased. “Can you believe how that guy treated me?” she wanted to know. Honestly, she felt belittled, unseen and small.

And here’s the ironic thing:  Amy knew far more about bed bugs than I did, thanks to hours (and I mean hours!) of research on the internet. I mean, if Tommy was going to have an intelligent conversation with someone who knew something about bed bugs during his visit, it should have been with her!

What we experienced that day is the reality of male privilege, and I clearly benefited. Conscious of it or not (and I’m sure he wasn’t), Tommy had treated me as an equal, as someone worthy of respect, simply because I am male. Of course I would know about bugs and not be troubled by the possibility of them in our house. I didn’t need to be consoled, just informed. By contrast, he treated Amy like he assumed that she needed to be comforted, pacified and instructed.

That’s male privilege in action. And I think that our experience that day was more normal than not.

How about you? Have you ever had an experience like this one? Depending on which side of the interaction you were on, how did you feel?

2 responses to “The Story of Tommy our Bug Guy, or, A Time I Benefited from Male Privilege”

  1. Zoe says :

    Sadly, many. One that sticks out in my mind was when my husband needed the car dropped off for repairs during his work hours. I brought the car and explained the problem. I waited because it was a short repair. After they had the car up over the pit, however, the guy at the front desk informed me that a $50 repair was not enough, there was a major problem (he described it and it is a real problem that exists–at least he didn’t make one up, but he didn’t realize that if he had, I would have known about it), and it would cost $500.

    Now at this point, I knew full well I was being taken for a ride, pun intended. This was not the first time car repair people had tried this sort of stunt; my female friends who had dealt with car repair people also had an experience like this to recount.

    But the guy had my car up on the blocks, and I didn’t want to offend the staff–places that will lie to women to bilk them out of money have been well known to break the car to necessitate further repairs. I felt helpless and knew the only way to save my car was to act like the ignorant female and defer the problem to my husband. (Remember, car repair desk guy? I have a husband and HE will come down here and straighten you out, so don’t break the car.)

    He did not want to accept this so we went around several times with me being deferential and just taking it. I was so angry and dared not let it show. Finally he stomped out to the bay and got the actual mechanic to come in. The mechanic stood in the doorway from the bay to the waiting area and *yelled* at me.

    I hung onto my composure and just repeated my “I have to check with my husband” litany like a mantra, knowing that if I showed I was competent or pushed back in any way something bad would happen to my car. Finally they decided I wasn’t going to budge without checking with my husband and they gave me back my car and let me go. Without fixing the $50 problem.

    I went home and told my husband, “I don’t care if this car ever gets fixed. I’m never taking it in to be repaired again.” This was not the first bad experience I’d had, but it was the worst to date. He took the car in, got the repairs with no nonsense (no lying and certainly no yelling) and came home. I don’t know what he said to them, if anything, but we never went there for repairs again. We switched car repair places.

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