On Internalized Sexism: Trying to Buy Nails at Home Depot
My husband and I were discussing hanging up some framed photos on Sunday night, and we had this (approximate) conversation:
him: I’ll have to check and make sure I have the right hardware. I have a few different kinds of hooks, but these frames need nails, and I don’t know if I have the right kind.
me: well that’s fine, you can check the storage unit tomorrow, and if we don’t have what we need, I can stop by Home Depot on Tuesday. I need to be down in that neighborhood anyway, and I can pick up a box of the right size nails.
him: oh you don’t have to get a whole box; they have them in little bins and they’ll just be cents each. We only need five.
me: oh really? I didn’t realize they had them separate.
him: yep, they do.
me: huh… I really thought last time I bought nails was at Home Depot, and they didn’t have those types of nails for sale individually… but I guess maybe I was buying them at Fred Meyer (general home/grocery store)
him: oh yeah, probably. They wouldn’t have them for sale separately at Fred Meyer.
So that was that. Last night he checked, found that we didn’t have what we need, and today I headed over to Home Depot.
And? They didn’t have nails you could buy individually. They had boxes. Gigantic boxes, with thousands of nails. Medium boxes with 500 nails. The smallest boxes had about 200 nails. So I didn’t buy any. On the way home, I stopped at Fred Meyer for a few last minute Thanksgiving things, and bought a box of 50 nails.
On the way home I reflected on this little story, and my own internalized sexism it betrayed. When we had our conversation on Sunday night, I just assumed that I was wrong about Home Depot carrying individual nails. Logically speaking, I shouldn’t have assumed I was wrong. We’d both had experience buying nails and hanging frames on walls. We disagreed about the likelihood that Home Depot would have nails for sale individually, and we should have remained agnostic about who was right and who was wrong about that fact.
What I am NOT saying: I’m not saying “oooh look! I’m a girl who knows boy stuff! That makes me cool!” I am not saying that, because that perpetuates the sexism that claims there is “boy stuff” in the first place.
What I AM saying: I am saying that I assumed that he was right about a topic involving hardware and pounding things into walls for no other reason than because he was a he and because society has labeled hardware and pounding things into walls as “he things.” That, folks, was my internalized sexism. And even if he had been right, it still would have been a sexist assumption for me to make initially.
It seems like a “small thing,” but I am not really convinced that that means it’s unimportant. After all, it’s in the small ways that we show our love for one another (e.g. do we argue over the remote or find things on TV we both like? Do we call each other if plans change or we’re running late or do we leave someone waiting or worried? Do we try to be quiet while the other is asleep or make as much noise as we feel like?). The “small things” are our daily reality. They make up the glue that binds us together. This is true in marriage and in any other human relationship. It is relatively easy to feel loving and generous at the big times; holidays, weddings, births of children. But it is in those day-in-and-day-out interactions that we truly live out our love (or, sadly, lack of love in some cases).
So where to go from here? Obviously I can’t just promise myself that my internalized sexism will never rear her head again, but I think being able to notice it, and be aware of it, is a gigantic first step. Because maybe next time, even if I make the assumption, I’ll notice it a little earlier than I did this time.