Common Courtesy Equity

Most insights arrive slowly.  Information accumulates until you think, “Hey, something’s happening here.”  That is how I felt mountain biking last week.  As I headed down Picture Rock Trail, I thought, “Something is not right when I yield to male uphill riders.”

Except for a handful of jerks, always male, pretty much everybody follows the rules on a mountain biking trail.  The people headed uphill have the right of way.  Those coming down pull over to the edge of the trail to let the uphill riders pass.  If I am headed uphill and someone pulls over for me, I always say, “Thank you very much.”  As I go past, I also say, “Just me.”  That way they know I am riding alone and there is no one coming close behind.

As I rode downhill last week I pulled over for a 30-something male who, as he passed by said, “Hi.” He did not say, “Thank you,” nor did he say, “Just me.”  Only, “Hi.”  About a mile later I pulled over for another male rider who said, “Hello.”  Next up was a woman who offered a quick, “Thank you so much.”  Next was a man who said absolutely nothing.  I’ve seen him on the trail before.  He is always a jerk.  At least he is consistent.

It was a busy day and I pulled over for another six male riders, five of whom said either, “Hi” or “Hello.”  The sixth said, “Thank you.”  And that is when the insight became clear.

When I was a male and pulled over, men invariably said, “Thank you.”  Now that I am a female, some show that same common courtesy, but a large number of male riders do not say, “Thank you.”  Instead they offer some version of, “Hi.”  Could it be they expect a woman to pull over for them, so they think nothing more than a quick hello is necessary?

With male privilege so deeply ingrained in our culture, subtle misogyny is not always easy to identify.  And, “Hello” is definitely better than, “Thanks sweetie.”  But if the same guys are saying, “Thank you” to the men on the trail and, “Hi” to the women, that’s misogyny nevertheless.

Last week I had to go into a bank and speak with a banker, something I try to avoid at all costs. I needed to change signers on a corporate bank account and I’d been waiting for 30 minutes when the business banker, who already had my name and knew I was next in line,  ignored me and took someone else who had just walked in the door.  You can guess the person’s gender.

I was livid. By the time I left, the branch manager was well aware that I speak nationally on gender discrimination and there was a good chance their bank would be mentioned in my next speech.  It is also possible that I showed the manager a picture of me speaking in front of 5,200 people at a TED talk.  After several years of gender discrimination, I don’t take it anymore.  I throw around what little weight I do have.

Later the same day I had to go to my own bank to withdraw cash to pay the contractor doing some work at my house.  The teller went out of her way to be helpful, so I asked to speak with her supervisor. I praised the teller and then had another, “Hey, wait a minute,” moment.  The supervisor responded with a perfunctory, “Thanks.  I appreciate that.”

As a male, I often asked to speak with a supervisory to compliment the work of an employee.  The supervisor was always incredibly appreciative.  It was not unusual to get a note from the employee thanking me for my words of affirmation.

Another moment of insight.  My compliments do not carry the weight they once did.  They are not exactly dismissed, but they also are not received with the enthusiasm that accompanied a compliment from Paul.  I guess people just expect women to be more complimentary than men.

These insights are fascinating.  They are also maddening.  I cannot speak for the experience of any other transgender person, but to me there is nothing more aggravating than being summarily dismissed just because I am a woman.  It is another one of those things men just do not know, so it is frustrating on two counts.  First, it’s frustrating to be dismissed because of your gender.  Second, it’s equally frustrating to realize there’s not a man in the world who gets it.

The experts say it will be 100 years before we have gender pay equity in the United States.  I wonder how many years it will be before we have common courtesy equity?