The Little Lady Syndrome
Just about the time you think you’re safe, here it comes to beat you over the head one more time. That would be the “little lady” syndrome, which generally involves some combination of a female-operated motor vehicle and a condescending male mechanic.
The first time I ever thought to give it a name was on a busy thoroughfare in Tallahassee, Fla., when the aging car I was driving simply slowed down and stopped, as though it had run out of gas. But there was plenty of gas in the tank. Apparently, there was something blocking the process of getting gasoline from the tank to the places it needed to go to make the accelerator respond.
Of course it was raining and of course I was wearing uncomfortable shoes, but after I managed to maneuver the car onto the shoulder, I set out for a service station a few blocks down the road. I explained my plight to the attendant who inquired first of all whether I might be “riding the clutch.” (Always a favorite guy-question when the little-lady card is being played.) No, I explained as sweetly as my squishy shoes and basic temperament would permit, the vehicle in question was an automatic. The problem was that something seemed to be blocking the fuel line. It wasn’t getting any gas.
But at least the guy was willing to accompany me to my car. He spent several minutes looking under the hood, fiddling with the accelerator pedal and shaking his head before he finally announced, triumphantly, “I’ll tell you what’s wrong with your car. It’s just not getting any gas.”
My husband once followed me to a neighborhood filling station so he could drive me to work after I left my car to be serviced. The mechanic took the keys from me without making eye contact, then looked right at my husband and asked what the car needed. I spoke up. “Would you change the oil, check the filter and rotate the tires?” He continued looking past me and said, “You want us to change the oil and check the filter?”
“Yes,” I said a little bit louder, in the most officious tone I could muster, “and please rotate the tires, too.”
The mechanic again addressed himself to my husband – who was enjoying the whole spectacle immensely. “OK to rotate the tires?” the guy asked.
“Yes,” we said in unison.
It dies hard, that age-old presumption that any male, on any given day, knows more about automotive things than any female. (Lord knows, the little lady’s brain must be overloaded with soccer schedules, oatmeal-cookie recipes and names of hair-care products.) I’ve actually wondered whether there might be some scientific explanation. Perhaps the mere sound of a woman’s voice triggers some internal mechanism in car-men that compels them to suspend all thought processes that don’t involve condescension.
Example: A friend called the service department at the dealership from which she had purchased, just days before, a brand-new car, to report that the car would not start. No problem, said the head service guy. “Just bring her on over and we’ll take a look.”
But in the interest of full disclosure, I am obligated to report that sometimes the radar malfunctions and you find yourself seeing little-lady hobgoblins where none actually exist. I once pulled into a service station and asked the attendant to check the left rear tire, which seemed to be low. He took a look, then leaned into the window and growled, “Tarzrurnt.”
OK, he was obviously speaking some kind of guy car-jargon invented expressly for the purpose of making me feel stupid. It was working.
“I’m sorry, but I don’t understand what you’re saying,” I said calmly.
With a look of complete disgust, the man motioned me out of the car and had me take three steps to the general vicinity of the left rear wheel. He pointed to an ominous-looking bulge on the tire. “The tar is rurnt. It’s no good. You need a new one.”
Oh, rurnt – ruined – sure. The tar – tire – is no good. Well, anybody could see that. “Yes, I believe you’re right,” I said.
If I’d had any real sense of fairness, I would have called my husband in the man’s presence to ask what kind of tire to buy; but I didn’t.
Susan Percy is executive editor of Georgia Trend.