Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Benevolent Sexism of the Road

I've been trying for a while now to figure out how to react/respond/think about what I have come to call Benevolent Sexism of the Road, this well-meaning attitude of some (mostly older) men as they encounter a solo woman towing a camper.  This is why it's benevolent--I don't think any of these men would see their behavior as insulting or sexist; they'd more likely see it as gentlemanly and kind, which is why I don't exactly know how to talk about it.

I'll give you an example:  today, I pull into my campground and as I'm getting set up to back into my campsite, a man who I assume is married to the woman who checked me in comes tootling down the path in his campsite. He's probably in his late sixties, short, portly, and has a kind face.  I don't know what he's doing or why he's getting in my way, so I just wait.  And he sets himself up behind my camper to help me back in.  It's a very nice gesture, but I don't need help.  I'm actually really, really good at backing up the Scamp.  But it's going to hurt his feelings if I say something snarky, so I let him stand there and wave me back.  When I'm mostly in the spot, I hop out to check the general level-ness of things and I need to put a block underneath the left wheel, so I pull on my gloves and get to work.  He says to me, not unkindly, "Before long, you'll be able to do this with your eyes closed" in a tone of voice that really sounded to me like "Keep practicing, you'll eventually get it."

I know he didn't mean anything by it, just like the owner of the place I stayed outside Quebec City didn't mean anything by it.  But it bugs me, just because I know they'd never offer to back in a trailer towed by a man.  When was the last time my dad had somebody offer to back in his 33-ft 5th wheel for him (like the guy in Quebec did for me)? And, to quote the guys at the Scamp factory a few years ago, "We get guys in here, forty-fifty-sixty years old who can't back in as well as you."  I once got settled at William O'Brien State Park in MN and as I got out of the car, the older man from the couple across from me hollered that he'd never seen anybody back up so well. If I let my ego loose for a minute, not only am I really good at backing up the Scamp, I'm actually really, really good at getting the hitch and receiver lined up on the first try.  Okay, ego off.

It's not that it's not nice for somebody to offer to help back you up or some other task of towing that isn't easy to do by yourself.  It's nice when I'm home and my dad offers to help me hook up or my mom helps me check the electrical.  But the reality is that I travel alone. I tow alone. In various parts of Ontario--and particularly in Montreal--that was a terrifying prospect.  If I traveled with a partner, I'd make him drive through Montreal next time.  But the point is that I can do it, because I have to. (And I have this rule, that if I'm afraid to do something, I make myself do it, because there's no other option.) If I don't do it, if I haven't figured out a way to make it work (and for crying out loud, my license plates are very clearly North Dakota, so it's not like I started camping yesterday), it doesn't get done.  Even the messy jobs that are disgusting, like the porta potty.  

I think where I run into problems with the Benevolent Sexism is that each time, the man implies that I cannot do it and that makes me mad, the part of me that's worked really hard at this and that implication, whether they intend it that way or not (I suspect they don't, which is why I call it Benevolent Sexism) takes away from that accomplishment I've worked so hard for.

I don't know.  I'm still working on what I'm thinking here and how I'm thinking about it.


  1. Fascinating perspective. One wonders if they would ever do this for a solo male. I think the answer is "maybe, but probably not." I know you've also received sexist advice from women -- I've even expressed admiration at your willingness to travel alone as a woman (something I love to do but that many woman are terrified to try -- heck, I know women who won't go to a restaurant alone!). Anyhow, I love hearing about your adventures. Hope you're having fun!

  2. Oh, definitely having fun!

    I know what you mean about it coming from both sides--and I still don't know what or how to think about it. Maybe I'm just overly sensitive about it.

  3. Hi Karen, I agree with what you talked about with being a solo female camper and it is a sensitive subject. Womans roles have changed so much over the years, I mean, we have females in the military doing pretty much the same thing as their male soldiers! we also have many other examples of women taking on male roles. Anyway your post reminded me of our neighbors, they ended up having 4 girls who are now all adults, all throughout their childhood those 4 females were hard workers and they learned many things men would do from their dad. They learned how to maintain vehicles, lawn equipment and numerous other manly things and they all have succeeded in life very well (& I can bet they would feel the same way as you if they were backing up a trailer or camper!) Anyway... not sure what the answer is. Kim & Jeff from MN