Last week I had an encounter over a parking spot that reminded me of the pernicious impact of entitlement.
The ad trades, national press, and social media are full of stories about women at work and the challenges they face – in creative leadership, in technology, in society. These stories are no surprise, at least not to women who have ever worked in advertising and technology. We all have stories of men thinking they are entitled; to credit for our work, to control of our bodies, to dominate the conversation, to take what they want regardless of the consequences for others.
I’m doing a training on Negotiation Skills for Women and Minorities next week at Tech Inclusion Seattle (https://seattle17.techinclusion.co/home) with Jessica Eggert of IncludeSeattle (@IncludeSeattle) and as we worked on our presentation yesterday we talked about not only the skills we want to teach people, but how to acknowledge what they are up against.
The point of this training, which I’ve given in other forms before, is to teach skills to help people who are traditionally underpaid understand what they are worth and get it: talking about money, asking for what you are worth, dealing with objections that may be based on your gender, race or sexual identity, etc.
There is a narrative, in liberal Seattle, that people in business have good intentions and aren’t overtly racist or sexist. They mean well. Which may be true – for some. But I think that we do ourselves a disservice if we don’t acknowledge that most of us are probably right when we sense an underlying misogyny or racism or prejudice. Let’s assume that we are and develop the skills to tackle that situation professionally, appropriately, and for our ultimate benefit.
Which brings me back to the parking spot.
I was parking in downtown Seattle at 10:00 on a weekday morning, which is always a challenge. Add to that the fact that I am recovering from hip surgery and can’t walk very far. My handicap placard doesn’t help much in a city with very few handicap spots, so I was delighted to find an open spot half a block from my destination. I had added an additional 20 minutes to my commute to find suitable parking, and I was looking forward to getting to the meeting early and gathering my thoughts.
Then a man knocked on my window. He was white, in his late 30s, with a shaved head and the carefully curated casual-but-pricey clothing that I associate with people in advertising. I assumed he was someone I knew through work. He seemed pleasant enough and I opened my door to see what he had to say. With a nice smile he said, “I need this parking spot.”
I looked around. There were no cones or markers or indications that the spot was taken. He wasn’t affiliated with the city or any public works. He hadn’t even been doing that irritating standing-in-a-spot-to-save-it thing. He just wanted to move a truck that was parked in a space farther down the block into this space, and he needed me to leave to accommodate him.
I held up my handicap placard, told him I was recovering from surgery, couldn’t walk far and it was tough to find parking in the city and I was staying where I was.
He looked at me without comprehension. He didn’t understand what I was saying. His sense of entitlement was so complete that he could not process that a gray-haired woman wasn’t doing what he wanted.
He explained again that he wanted me to move, with the aggrieved tone of one used to getting what he wants. Like someone speaking louder to another who doesn’t understand their language, he clearly believed that if I understood that he wanted what I had I would give it to him.
I realized he was doing the looming thing – where a man stands over you in a way that makes his size and height into an implied threat.
“I’m not moving,” I said.
“This spot is taken,” he said, with increasing ire. He was red faced with rage, leaning over me in my car, one arm over the door frame.
“Yes, it is. By me, ” I said.
I stood up. I’m almost 6 feet tall, so the looming thing only works with men who are much taller than me, which he wasn’t. I locked my car and limped away. He shrieked after me as I walked down the street, yelling about how my karma was going to be messed up – a particularly Seattle form of heckling.
I assumed best intention. I gave him information that wasn’t required – about my physical limitations – out of reflexive consideration. I later regretted my instinctual response to assuage his shock at being told no with a reason, a rationale for something that needed no excuse.
But fundamentally I was ready. I got the No across, I dealt with the looming, and I was ready to call 911 had he continued with his intimidation and screaming. I was ready because I have ample experience dealing with male expectations that they get to be in charge of me because I am female. It did not surprise me.
The challenge is to be ready while still assuming best intention, to be aware without carrying around a blast of my own negative energy in response, and to notice and address microaggressions while not becoming so attuned to them that I can’t travel comfortably through the world.
I don’t have an easy answer for how to do all that. If I come up with one, I’ll let you know.