“Blatant sexism?”

An actual e-mail from an actual (former) customer

no, what i was enquiring about in your shop today was not ‘for my wife’. i have never come across such blatant patronising sexism. i have been working with wool and canvas for over 30 years and wanted to know the price of mono 14 count canvas. i will never shop in your premises again and i will relish in regaling my sordid tale and actively encouraging everyone i know stitchers and knitters alike to avoid your store at all costs

I’m still shaking my head over this. I sent him an apology, of course, but here’s what I WISH I had written:

Dear Polly Prissy Pants,
Give me a break. Ninety-nine percent of the men who come in our shop are only there to pick something up for a female family member, and most of them get so defensive about the fact that they’re in a “craft store” that you’d think we were giving free castrations out the back. So if a member of staff accidentally implies that you might not be shopping for yourself, that’s not sexism… IT’S STATISTICS. We’re all about guys who stitch. Seriously. Ask any of the (admittedly few) guys who come to the shop SnB. They’re treated like rock stars. Needlecraft has been belittled as “women’s work” for so long that when anybody with a Y chromosome takes an interest, we fall all over ourselves trying to help them out. We think it’s sexy. (See: “Russell Crowe knitting”.) So maybe you could, like, GET OVER YOURSELF, okay? I deal with “blatant patronising sexism” every day of the week, so forgive me for dismissing your cries of “Help, help; I’m being repressed!” Call me when you’re getting harrassed on the street and earning seventy-five cents on the dollar. Seriously. I’ll teach you to knit.

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9 Comments

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  1. Wow, you’re actually a girl on the internet?

  2. Kris, it is true what you say about men who knit being treated like rockstars. It’s almost embarrassing actually, they practially want to see your portfolio. But it feels so good… 🙂

  3. Someone has far too much time on his hands.

  4. Womens like mens who are knitting? Now
    i must start learnig to knit, what is
    the best way to start. Knitting only?
    Is crocheting or naalbinding do the
    same?

    PS. Are you sure? Really! I don’t like
    to start learning something like that
    without any good reason :->

  5. All jokes aside, Mary-Helen just e-mailed me about another male customer who felt he was ignored. I hope she doesn’t mind, but I’m reposting my reply to her here because it helped me spell out the issues involved a little better in my mind:

    —————–
    I get depressed when I hear stuff like this. On one hand I’m sorry that he felt he was mistreated, but on the other hand, how are we supposed to deal with the problem if he doesn’t let us know? I was discussing the e-mail I posted on my site last night with the Snook, and I likened it to the treatment I often get in stores traditionally thought of as male: computer stores, the Games Workshop, Galaxy Books. But when a salesman asks me if I’m looking for something for my boyfriend, I don’t get in a huff and vow to the stars never to return. I see it as an opportunity to educate. “No, actually I’m looking for something by Neil Gaiman. I really enjoyed “American Gods” and I’d like to get one of his graphic novels…” And then maybe they won’t treat the next person the same way.

    And unfortunately, a lot of it may well just be assumptions based on the situation. When I see a man in the store, I immediately expect him to wordlessly hand me a list that someone has scrawled for him, as if he’ll be tainted simply by looking around. There are exceptions of course, and they’re not all hunky young guys, but the vast majority of men seem to conform to the stereotype. I also think our shop tends to suffer from the *reverse* of the “invisible middle-aged women” complaint – a lot of them get very pushy and demanding, and as a staff member you get used to looking out for the trying ones. (Same thing happens at the craft show, where I get shoved to the side by Grannies with a Sense of Entitlement.) A polite customer could end up waiting or seemingly being ignored because we’re too busy dealing with Eastern Suburbs Harpies. (Especially during the Sale, when everything gets a bit crazy…)

    At the root of it, I don’t think it’s necessarily a gender issue… I think it’s an experience issue. For the first year after I started knitting, I felt incredibly patronized by much of the older Sydney knitting community. Linley is probably the most obvious example, but there were others. I remember what’s-her-name at Champion would ignore me in favor of older customers until the point where I brought in a sweater so she could see that I actually knew what the hell I was talking about. (That’s why I stopped shopping there.) And [name removed because I’m still scared of her] treated me like waitstaff until she evidently decided I had earned enough knitting cred for her to treat me like a human being. Friends who’ve had dealings with some of the suburban Guild chapters report similar treatment (although I have to say the Executive Committee ladies are lovely). Quite frankly, this is why I’m GLAD we have a mostly younger staff. The demographics of needlecraft are skewing older and unless we want it to die out completely, we need to make younger people feel welcome. I guess the impulse will always be there, though, for stitchers to see ourselves as some sort of exclusive club and only give the secret handshake to the worthy. Those who are less obvious about their credentials may find themselves being ignored.

    This is such an interesting issue. I’ll definitely be talking to the staff about it. It’s still almost a little hard for me to fathom, though, because I tend to imagine my attitude in the shop is shared by everyone. I try not to be too jaded and to actively seek out the people that need help, whether they’re old or young or male or tourists. Maybe some of the younger girls need to be reminded to be a bit more inclusive.

  6. That’s fine – it’s your email after all! I think that two of the secrets of customer service is Never Assume Anything and Never Be Surprised at Anything. 🙂 I try to follow that principle on the helpdesk, where we get all kinds of really weird ‘customers’ (eg trying to email using Internet Explorer by writing the email address in the URL bar and getting upset when it won’t go…)

  7. Sorry, get the complaint. I agree your
    comment, most womens are underpaid and
    owerload at work, especially nurse and
    other who work at that area. Politics
    remember they before election, but after
    that there is never enough money. I
    think it’s same all occupation where
    womens are majority (if there is mens in
    same work they get more pay, this is
    “blatant patronising sexism”). Same
    money from same work sounds good, but i
    think better is; same money from same
    result (and result is _not_ money only).
    Why money is only thing we admire? In
    work your knowhow checks 4 times a year
    (how much money you make, nothing else
    matter). I really coward when i need to
    go hospital (accident, going old…)and
    nurses are burnout.

  8. I’m glad that you’re giving this more thought. I was a little concerned about your initial “statistics” comment; that’s an easy way to justify racism, sexism, ageism, etc. “Well, Oprah, statistically, most of the black women who come into our Parisian couture shop are North Africans trying to cause trouble, not one of the richest women in the world who loves nice clothes, so please forgive me if I assumed you were of the former category….”

    I don’t think that your staff is sexist or agist, and that customer really over reacted, by the way, so I hope you don’t take offense by my comment. It is a really interesting issue (I can get a little hypersenstitive about this kind of thing, too.)

  9. It’s funny, Tricia, because I totally didn’t even think of it in that way. But you’re completely right, and that’s a brilliant comparison to make. I wasn’t trying to justify discriminatory behaviour, but maybe guess at some of the reasons it happens. And it’s weird how in my head I keep trying to make excuses for why this particular case isn’t a big deal, mostly because I’m annoyed that – boo hoo, men feel they’re being ignored, like because they’ve been the power group for so long that maybe it’s okay to dish out a little reverse discrimination? And I don’t like thinking that.

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