It’s hard to believe that in the year 2017, we still have to talk about this. Well…given current events, maybe not so much.
The less cynical way to look at it is that humans (all of us) are hard-wired for prejudice—which is defined by social psychologists as an attitude based on a person’s group membership. In this case, our basic group membership is female, but of course it’s made even more complex when our skin color, how we’re dressed and even what we rode (or drove) into the dealership’s parking lot are taken into account. All of those things combine to place us into a “group,” and the salesperson, service manager or parts counter worker’s brains all react in a few milliseconds to determine how to respond to you, something that’s called a “reactionary implicit bias.”
And guess what? Your brain is doing the exact same thing when you walk through the door. It’s just how we’re wired, although it is true that women are more empathetic than men and therefore we’re better at controlling our reactionary implicit bias. It’s also true that some guys are better at empathizing than others, and the same studies I cited above have shown that the more we’re exposed to diversity—members of “out-groups”—the better we are at tamping down our reactionary implicit bias. To put it simply, we can learn (or un-learn) prejudice.
So what does all this have to do with dealing with the reality of the sexism and prejudice we experience in the motorcycling world, and specifically at dealerships? Well, I believe that to best handle situations we must first be armed with as much knowledge about what we’re dealing with as possible. Understanding why people act the way they do is the first step toward dealing with them.
The second step is realizing that the only thing we can control in this situation is ourselves: our reactions, our behavior, our attitudes. Getting angry and letting it ruin your day just gives up control over you to someone else. And that leads to our first tip:
Don’t walk in looking for trouble.
I know it can get frustrating, dealing with what feel like ancient sexist attitudes that society should have left behind long ago. But remember that the dude behind the parts counter and the middle-aged sales guy aren’t trying to be jerks. In fact, they’d really rather sell you something than not. It’s just that they spend most of their time doing business and talking shop with other guys. You’re an oddity—although we’re changing that year by year!
Also, by falling victim to your own reactionary bias, you’re doing the same thing you’re mentally accusing them of. So instead…
Make eye contact, smile and channel your inner confidence.
You belong in that shop just as much as anyone else. You’re a rider (or soon-to-be rider!). Engage the salesperson first; say hi. That is, unless you don’t see one, which is more of a failing on their part than anything else. One of my biggest pet peeves is when I’m there with a male companion, and despite the fact that I’m the one there to buy something and I’m the one doing the talking, the salesperson stubbornly keeps responding to my friend, who is just standing there silently.
Unfortunately, being ignored is only one side of the “a woman walks into a motorcycle dealership” coin. The other, equally—if not more—likely, is the dreaded “mansplaining.” Sigh…
Once he stops talking long enough for you to get a word in, my favorite way to attempt to hit “Stop” on the mansplaining is to show him you’ve done your homework. I know, it’s infuriating that you have to start from a position of proving yourself, but reacting with a snarl and a snappy comeback will only label you a “bitch” and further his belief that women are simple and emotional basket cases.
So I like to say something like, “Yeah, when I was researching bikes I liked the fact that this one has fully adjustable suspension and a removable subframe.” Or, “Yeah, the last time I changed the oil I noticed that the drain plug was really hard to loosen. I just slip a piece of metal tubing over the handle of the wrench so I get more leverage.”
If it persists, I just resign myself to the fact that he’s clueless and seek to end the interaction as quickly and painlessly as possible.
Sometimes it’s more subtle: despite the fact that you’ve walked over to a big bike, for some reason the sales guy seems to be guiding you over to the smaller ones. It’s true that a lot of women, due to smaller stature, are more comfortable on smaller bikes, but to assume so is wrong. A gentle redirect is usually enough, but in the worst scenarios, he pushes, and this is where our temperatures really start to rise.
In the face of blatantly patronizing behavior, it’s usually best to just walk away. Most dealership owners and managers are interested primarily in one thing: making money. Alienating 50 percent of the population is not a great way to go about doing that, so if you’re dealing with a case of overt sexism, tracking down a manager and asking for their help is your action of last resort.
Ask the manager if there’s another sales/parts/service person who could help you, and if not, the manager him/herself can do it. I worked at a dealership for a summer, selling BMWs, Triumphs, Ducatis and Can-Am Spyders, and I can tell you that our GM wouldn’t hesitate to help customers himself—something that happened often on busy Saturdays.
Lastly, don’t take it personally. Prejudice, whether it’s based on race, gender, religion, or any other way to classify someone, is by definition a generalization. It’s the exact opposite of seeing someone as an individual person and treating them accordingly. So the clueless guy isn’t being a jerk because you aren’t worth his time, or because you are stupid. It’s because he’s human.
Just remember that in any difficult situation, the one thing you know you can control…is YOU. Rise above, walk away with grace and respect, and commiserate with your friends about it later. You’ll realize that you’re not alone.
Have you had a negative experience at a dealership? Share how you dealt with it in the comments section below.