SBS 301 Cultural Diversity/Prof. Koptiuch         Fall 2005        Personal Memory Ethnographies

Melanie Hoffman

Discrimination against women in the work force

As a female working in a predominantly male atmosphere has been an eye opening experience.  I am the parts manager working for VMC Enterprises in Buckeye, Arizona.  My father started the business for the repair of farm and construction machinery about fifteen years ago.  The majority of our customers are construction workers or farmers.  The parts department consists of five people, Manny who is my assistant and three helpers and I.   

Through the years of working in the parts department I have noticed a common trend with the male customers, which are both walk-in and call-in customers.  Many of the male customers do not want to deal with me simply because I am a female.  They must feel that I will not be able to help them because a woman couldn’t possibly know this business well. When these customers come in they go straight to Manny even though I have twice the experience that he has, although Manny being twice my age may give customers a feeling that he has more experience than I do. 

A good friend of my father’s and a long time customer named Bob is one of the customers that really upset me.  A while back, Bob came in needing engine parts for one of his Case tractors.  When Bob came in he headed directly for Manny who was on the phone and very busy at the time.  I began a conversation with Bob to see what he needed.  Rather than Bob giving me some information and letting me help he politely refused.  He wanted nothing to do with me. 

An everyday occurrence at VMC Enterprises is customers and phone calls being routed to me by people seeking my mature male wisdom. Melanie has much more experience dealing with tractors and machinery than I but nobody else seems to see it that way.  A perfect example of the way Melanie gets overlooked involved a local farmer and friend of the company who had known Melanie much longer than he had known me.  But every time he came to the store he bypassed Melanie and came to see me for help. 

By the time Manny was done making several phone calls locating a part and ready to help Bob, nearly an hour had passed.  In that hour of time I could have had Bob’s parts that he needed looked up, billed and had Bob taken care of.  I moved on to other things that needed attention while Manny and Bob where trying to look up parts.  After nearly twenty minutes of looking up the wrong parts, Manny was getting frustrated and Bob was getting upset.  I ended up having to go over and help Manny look up the correct parts.  When it was all said and done, I was ultimately the one that took care of Bob that day. 

The situation made me feel good about myself yet it made me think too. I wondered if Bob’s experience might have opened up his eyes to me as a knowledgeable employee and for future encounters.  Through all of the years of working at the shop I had never stopped and thought about my position there.  I was a woman surrounded by men.  What was it like for the men that came into the shop to pick up parts or drop off a tractor?  This experience was probably similar to a visit to the doctor’s office for me.  Every time I remember going to see a doctor, the doctor was a man.  The women that worked in the doctor’s office were either the secretaries or the nurses.

What makes men feel and act this way? Do women do the same thing?  When I am at a store and need help, do I ask the first person I see or do I wait until I find a woman and ask for help?  Is it simply because we are more comfortable asking a question or asking for help from a person of the same sex?  Growing up, I feel that it was always easier talking to my mother about my problems that dealing with my father. 

At the time of the incident, I felt that Bob did not want my help simply because I am a woman. Or does age have something to do with the way that Bob acted?  Did Bob feel that because I am still young that I may be inexperienced?  Is it the fact that I am a women working in a field that involves farming and machinery?  Women have been working in the farming industry for many years.  Many years ago, women did most of the farming; they also cooked, cleaned, and raised the children.  Does Bob feel that a women’s place is in the home?  Bob had been married and divorced twice.  Both of Bob’s wives did not work; they were both very pretty and he acted as if they were his show toys or a catch that he could display.

Maybe Bob has not caught up to the society of today.  Maybe he has not taken the time to realize that women are fulfilling the jobs that used to be dominated by men.  At the time of the incident, women had moved into all kinds of employment, were being taken seriously and demanding the respect that they rightfully deserved.  

As for my assistant Manny, he noticed this incident taking place but did not realize how it made me feel because he may not have known about the history between my family and Bob.  Manny is the type of guy that is always telling jokes, laughing and having a good time; therefore, he may feel that certain customers come to him rather than me because of his jovial attitude.

After the whole incident was said and done, both Melanie and I ended up having to help Bob with the parts that he needed.  If Bob was not so stubborn, he could have had Melanie help him.  He would have been in and out of the store faster and all three of us would not have been upset. 

The whole incident with Bob was a meaningful event because someone that I had known and looked up to for a long time had discriminated against me because of my gender. The incident made me feel that Bob still saw me as a little girl and did not recognize me as a leader and an established parts manager who over the years had gained lots of experience and had a successful career working in a male profession.  To this day, I feel that I have lost my former respect for Bob and for men like him who just can’t seem to cross the gendered borderland of difference.

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