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November 24, 2009 / Katie

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.

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15 Comments

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  1. Female Person / Nov 24 2009 5:47 pm

    Try Ace or True Value for individual nails (or any locally-owned store). It’s an old-timer thing.

    • Katie / Nov 24 2009 6:11 pm

      Yeah, I figured that was the case :) I live in a pretty urban area and all the little mom and pop hardware stores have been pretty much shoved out by Lowes and Home Depot :( So buying a $1.49 pack of nails at a store I was already at was cheaper/easier than trying to track down individual nails. The closest Ace/True Value type stores I know of are a ways away.

  2. tom brokaw / Nov 24 2009 6:02 pm

    And your point? Should we not use well founded generalizations as shortcuts?

    If I really needed information about fantasy football, I limit my target to men, as they are obviously more likely to have the information I need.

    If you needed information about fantasy football I suppose you would ask an equal number of men and women and waste a shitload of time. That would be idiotic of course, but that is what you would do isn’t it?

    • Katie / Nov 24 2009 6:09 pm

      If I needed information about fantasy football I would ask someone I know who is into that. As of now I have exactly two friends who are into it, and one is a woman and one is a man. I don’t know why anyone would waste their time worrying about gender in such a situation.

    • goodbyemyboy / Nov 24 2009 6:39 pm

      Except that’s not the same situation at all, because Katie didn’t take some kind of general survey of people who might happen to know about nails.

      To use the fantasy football comparison, this situation is more like Katie having a question about fantasy football, asking her husband (who also doesn’t play fantasy football), neither of them knowing the answer for sure, but her assuming that he must be right because guys somehow intuitively know about fantasy football.

      • Katie / Nov 24 2009 8:24 pm

        yeah, and it also doesn’t work because we both thought we knew… so it wasn’t like me saying, “I don’t know, I should ask my husband” but rather, I questioned my own memory/belief that I was correct.

        Mr. Brokaw here has a habit of misreading my posts and then posting oh-so-snappy replies as if to catch me out on my ridiculousness. I delete the ones in which he insults me personally or calls me names, because I have a rule about that. What I don’t have a rule about is sounding like a petulant jerk who feels entitled to comment on a post he hasn’t taken 3 extra minutes to really try to understand first. Unfortunately. Maybe I should make a rule about that.

        • goodbyemyboy / Nov 24 2009 9:42 pm

          It’s your space, you get to decide whose views are given merit. Personally I think that when someone is trying to derail conversation so constantly and obviously, it’s best to keep them out of the discussion altogether.

        • tolonda / Nov 25 2009 8:30 am

          or maybe you should ban him from commenting. persistent abusive behavior certainly warrants the boot, eh?

    • tolonda / Nov 25 2009 10:01 am

      her point is that this particular generalization isn’t necessarily well founded.

      no one is forcing you to read this blog, you know.

  3. the fat nutritionist / Nov 24 2009 8:14 pm

    This kind of stuff happens to me quite often. The only person I’m really assertive (you might even say “bossy”) with is my husband, because I know he’ll put up with it. But when it comes to any other argument or disagreement, I almost always back down. And oftentimes, later, I will find out somehow that I was actually right.

    When I ask myself, “Why did I think I was wrong?” a lot of the times the answer turns out to be, “Because I was talking with a guy, and I just assumed he knew more than me.”

  4. Godless Heathen / Nov 24 2009 8:21 pm

    As an aside, you both might be thinking of Ace hardware. The one near me has individual nails in little bins. They’re not cheap enough compared to buying a package of nails. It’s not like they go bad if you don’t use them right away.

  5. Sal / Nov 24 2009 9:11 pm

    I agree on the Ace Hardware bit. And even my spouse knows that Home Depot does not sell individual nails.

    But this is my second spouse, who is much nicer than my first!

  6. Trabb's Boy / Nov 25 2009 7:44 am

    This is a really interesting post, and I have noticed similar things in my own marriage. I will defer to my husband on car things and computer things even though, in the past when he’s been proven wrong he’s admitted that he will sometimes bullshit rather than admit ignorance.

    In the particular case you mention, it may also have been as simple as your husband saying he saw something and you saying you didn’t. In that situation, it makes some sense for you to think he’s right, and that the loose nails were somewhere you didn’t happen to look in the past.

  7. Twistie / Nov 25 2009 1:22 pm

    I remember once back in my bookselling days when a (male) customer asked me and a woman co-worker if we had read The Hunt for Red October. When we both replied we hadn’t, he sniffed and said of course we hadn’t because we were women, and therefore only read romance novels.

    He didn’t look quite as smug when I informed him that at that moment I was reading the Complete Sherlock Holmes, and that my mother was the first Tom Clancy fan I’d ever known. Her friend Cynthia had recommended Hunt for Red October, because she’d just read it and loved it.

    OTOH, I tend to defer utterly to Mr. Twistie on matters of building things, advanced computer technique, and questions of electronics. Why? Because he knows these things a lot better than I do. It isn’t because of what he zips into his pants, but because of his interests and the skills he’s found it useful to build over the years. He actually does know more than I do about what supplies are available at what hardware store in the area. If there’s a question, though, he has a refreshing habit of not assuming his penis knows the answer.

    Oh, and when he needed to set up a WordPress blog recently, he came to me for help and advice since I work with WP every day and he hadn’t…just as I go to him for advice about Photoshop, which he works with every day.

    Catching yourself in little moments like this one are important. Assumption in minutia is one of the reasons that people think major injustices and inequities cannot be resolved. Keep questioning.

  8. cosmatology / Jul 29 2010 11:57 am

    Fascinating stuff you talk about here. Virtually a 1 sided argument don’t you think?

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