In praise of female-friendly mechanics – a tale of everyday sexism

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I hate getting my car fixed. New tyres, MOTs, dodgy exhausts – whenever something needs doing it fills me with dread.

It’s not the cost. It’s the whole experience of going to a car mechanic that I hate.

I find the obligatory tits n’ tyres calendar hanging on the wall offensive. I dislike the suspicion with which I’m eyed by overalled men on my way in. I hate how nervous I feel when I try to explain whatever problem I’ve got to the man on the desk – sure that I’m going to slip up and say the wrong thing, watching for the inevitable snigger as he listens, eyebrow raised, here-we-go-again look in his eye.

So when I tried to book my car into a local garage the other day, I was prepared for the usual discomfort. But I wasn’t prepared for the absolute bloody rudeness which I (and my five-year-old daughter) had to endure.

We had survived the walk of shame past a couple of mechanics and had taken our seats in the reception.

In he strode, staring at us. Towering above us as we sat. The guvnor. An Alpha in filthy overalls.

“Hello,” I started. “I’ve got the Nissan outside. The exhaust is making a horrible noise. It sounds like it’s…”

He turned his back on us. Walked off into the adjoining room. Left my words hanging in the air like worthless, shabby feathers.

A few minutes later he came back in. Raised an eyebrow as if to say: Spit it out then.

“Sorry. It’s my exhaust. I think I need a new…”

He held up his hand to shut me up. Picked up the telephone receiver. Listened into it. Said not a word. Put it back down.

“Yes?” He growled.

“Hello. Yes. It’s my exhaust. I’ve got the Nissan out front. It’s making a horrible noise. It sounds like it’s going to fall off. I think I need a new one,” I stammered, flushing red in the face.

“Your point being?” he smirked at me.

“Well, can I book it in?” My heart was pounding. I felt enraged but totally powerless.

“Can’t do it for at least a month.” He started flipping through the pages of his tatty diary.

“I’ll leave it.” I blurted out, ushering Nell out of the room and the oppressive situation. Trying to shield her from her first blatant experience of misogyny.

I drove home furious. Car exhaust rattling and growling. Sick to my stomach that I’d been treated this way. Again.

What was it about my presence in that male environment that caused so much offense? I should have been welcomed as a new customer – and potentially a regular one at that, with my old banger.

I know I hadn’t been rude. I hadn’t DONE anything to offend. I had simply been a woman, a mother, trying to get her car fixed. In a male space.

This isn’t a class thing. Or something that can be put down to a lack of education.

It’s not just sexist workmen I’ve had to put up with over the years. I’ve had the misfortune to deal with misogynist university professors and corporate bosses – even a woman-hating obstetrician!

The common denominator with each of these men (aside from congenital a-hole-ishness) was a position of power and a caveman-like desperation to assert the maleness of their physical space against my female presence.

Because, whether the offending misog has his hand up your trilby or up your exhaust, he’s the one ‘fixing’ you, as you sit (or worse luck, lie) in his domain.

I hope you’re shocked and surprised by this tale of everyday sexism. I hope you don’t recognise anything in it at all. I hope you say to yourselves – Oh, it’s not like that for us.

But I fear you know this story by heart. Because it will have happened to you. Plenty of times. And it will happen again. And again.

And again.

Today, my exhaust no longer rattles. I have since found a woman-friendly mechanic.  A garage where female receptionists make you feel welcome and male mechanics treat you with the respect customers of all genders deserve. There are no sleazy pin-ups on the wall. There’s a coffee machine, colouring-in books and pencils for kids, and free Wi-Fi. They do a good job and their prices are fair.

In this sweet (and rare) haven you’ll get an ungendered, civilised customer experience.

But what to do about the other lot?

My husband was furious and wanted to have it out with the rude mechanic. But I don’t want to pick a fight, and that old dog is way past learning any new tricks.

Instead, I’ve left a positive online review for the good garage. One that makes it clear women can expect to be treated with respect and consideration there.

And I’ve written this post.

It’s a start.

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