A Lesson on Gender Relations at the DMV

On Monday, I wandered on down to the local DMV to get my ID renewed. According to my dyslexic brain, I wasn’t due for a renewal until today, which meant it actually expired back on the third. Anyway, I filled out my paperwork, got my number and took a seat.

An old, rusted stearing wheel covered in cobwebs.
This squeaky wheel didn’t get what he wanted at all.
via flickr

The place is usually pretty peaceful. Sure, it’s a little on the loud side, since parents can’t always get their kids sitters and there’s always a backdrop of talking as people go about their business, but I’d never seen any aggression in that particular location.

That day was different. A man had decided he didn’t want to wait his turn and started an argument with the female attendant who handled greetings, handed out forms and gave instruction upon first arrival. After a few quiet sentences, he started yelling at her. He pulled himself to his full height, towered over her and shouted his demands like an overgrown schoolboy bullying the resident misfit.

This lady, however, wasn’t going to put up with it. She raised her voice and stopped him in his self-righteous tracks. She didn’t yell, but I could hear her clearly from halfway across the huge room, and when I looked over, she had him pinned with one of the most impressive glares I’d ever seen. She didn’t even need to stand up.

“You think you’re going to shout ME down? I’ve been here thirteen years! You will sit down and wait like everyone else.”

I don’t think he was expecting that sort of push back. He froze in place for a second, then muttered under his breath before sitting quietly until his number was called.

The lady paid no more attention to him once he sat down. Instead, she chatted with a young girl between giving instruction to newcomers.

As I went through the rest of my Monday and Tuesday, that confrontation stuck with me.

Today, I read about the charge against Bill Cosby, and thought of all the other male celebrities who had assaulted women, then used their status to try getting away with it. I thought of all the instances where male strangers, former friends and acquaintances did their best to manipulate me into doing something they wanted, usually because they were men and because I’m a woman.

I thought of the stories I grew up with, where the female protagonists are almost always victims waiting for their male heroes to save them from some terrible fate. Where the female characters are only there as tools for the male characters to prove a point or grow as the story progressed.

There’s a very real pattern of men being treated as more important than women in this culture, and you don’t have to look far to find it. Just look at the fact men like Bill and the others feel safe in doing anything to take what they want from their victims.

Or, just look at the complete lack of media coverage of whatever protests in support of rape victims there are. If they’re happening in the US, I’ve heard nothing of them. The only reason I found out about the ones in Canada is because I came across them while looking for images to use in this entry.

A woman standing outside a theater holding a sign that says "'Ignore these women' - Phylicia Rashad We've been ignored for LONG ENOUGH" There's another sign "RAPE IS NO JOKE" next to it.
via flickr

The way the lady at the DMV stood up for herself highlighted the push-back against the old way of doing things. The man’s stunned reaction, so much like many of the ones I get when I stand my ground against harassers, spoke of just how prevalent those old attitudes still are.

It’s long past the time for this to change. Slowly but surely, changes are happening. It’s still happening way too slowly for my tastes, though.

The thing is, whenever I write about these sorts of things, I get comments highlighting just how important it is we keep talking about and taking action against it. When I leave the house, I still need to be on high alert and pay close attention to my surroundings, even in supposedly safe areas.

When all women, be they cis- or trans-, of any race or ability level, can navigate the world with the same sort of security men have, the fight for equality will be able to come to a close.

Until then, we keep at it.

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