One morning some years ago, I was running late for work and almost out of gas. I was driving an older car at the time, which had its occasional quirky and mostly annoying malfunctions; naturally and especially when I was running late.
I pulled into the nearest gas station to fill up. I got out of the car in my cute little dress, and while attempting to twist the gas cap off, I noticed that the cap must’ve been cemented, super glued, or twisted closed by Hercules himself. It seemed my entire body convulsed in my attempt to remove the gas cap, and to no avail.
As I just mentioned, I struggled for a few minutes and in that time, a lot of people filled up their tanks and left; both women and men. I glimpsed at least three strong men who filled their tanks, went inside, got their morning coffee and came out unfazed by the petite young lady unable to perform a simple task. One of them smiled at me even, and I smiled back, but mostly grimaced as I kept trying to loosen the cap. At one point, I stopped trying and just stared at one man, hoping to catch his attention, but he was too concerned with not spilling his coffee to notice my troubles.
After a while I was too annoyed, frustrated and way too late for work. I got back in the car and drove away, hoping I wouldn't run out of gas these last few miles. With my prayers of "Please God, don’t let me stall. Let me get to work first," I was beginning to get angry.
"God-damned feminism," I muttered.
I still get worked up thinking about that morning, standing there; the proverbial “damsel in distress”, waiting for someone to take notice of my peril. So many things go through my mind to try to explain why I did not get helped by anyone that morning.
Though I had a touch of makeup on, and I was wearing a dress; was I just not good-looking enough for the guys? Or was I too good-looking for the women to want to help? I wasn't hot, but I wasn’t hideous, either. I’d say I was at least averagely attractive that day. Or was it simply the effect of feminism on those men... they think that all women hate men?
I don't know why I thought of feminism-- the originally great idea that women did in fact have feelings and brains, that they should have a say in government and the right to vote, get paid as much as men for the same jobs, and go to school-- as one of the causes for my bad morning.
Every woman believes in some form of feminism, and if you look up the term on Wikipedia, you will find many ideologies attached to it. The entry is long and tedious to read. The form of feminism I subscribe to is very basic, and does not involve hating men, or erasing the opposite sex in society.
That morning some years ago, I wanted to get gas and it was a challenge… it would’ve been nice if a strong person could’ve taken two seconds to help me out with the stubborn gas cap. The strongest people I saw happened to be the men.
I still believe that although lack of hospitality, if you will, by not only the men who pumped gas that morning was a result of self-absorption and perhaps just being in a hurry themselves; concerning the men not coming forth to help me out, another part of the problem, I feel, is the misunderstanding of what women like me really want from men in today’s society.
The society I’m speaking of is one where men practically smack you with doors; they can’t take a second to hold the door for you. And sometimes if you hold the door open for them, they don’t think it’s necessary to say thank you. Is it feminism that’s done this, or just bad upbringing? I don’t know, but for the sake of my point, I'm gonna focus on the misunderstanding of feminism by men and women.
Unless in an artificial setting-- like an office, for instance-- to me, comparing a man and a woman is like comparing apples and oranges; those are not equal. That doesn’t mean that one is better than the other, it just means that there’s no base for comparison. About the only thing an apple and an orange share is the fact they are fruits that grow on trees, from seeds. Humans are a bit more versatile than fruit, of course, but like some fruit, men and women share the same basic things. Like the fact that we’re mammals, conceived and delivered in the same way, and share a lot of the same organs, with the exception of the obvious, of course.
But the obvious and given similarities between the sexes pretty much end right there.
Men and women think differently, speak differently, see things differently and go about achieving their goals in life in different ways most of the time. Neither one is better than the other, just different. It's just the way it is.
All I see is that some men might have more bodily strength than some women, and those women need these men to help them out every once in a while. They’re not giving up their identities or strengths as women when they ask and receive help. More importantly, the men aren’t insulting the women if they, in earnest, offer to help.
I'd like to say to the hardcore feminists out there, and the men hearing them (and hearing me for that matter): What I want from men is for them to notice when I might really need help as a petite person, who happens to be a woman.
It’s just the polite thing to do, and hardly an insult to the woman's rights cause.
Reem lives and writes about it. She thinks that's what writers do, anyway. If it's not, then she also has a degree in journalism under her belt, along with the titles of reporter, editor (in chief, even) and, of course, opinion columnist.
ABOUT REEM AL-OMARI
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5.17.07 @ 11:02p
I live in New Jersey. We don't have self-serve. I don't believe in self-serve. If I had to self-serve I'd be much more upset over the price of gas.
I think all states should do away with self-serve.
5.18.07 @ 9:02a
I'm an independent-minded woman who would prefer to do things for myself, but in that instance I think I'd have given in and just asked someone to give me a hand instead of tacitly expecting a man to wander over to help help me just because I'm a "helpless" woman and he's the big strong he-male.
One thing I learned in college was that if you want help, ask for it--that's the only way to get it. You didn't ask anyone, and then got mad because no one helped you.
Robert, you pay extra for full-service gas. In stations (which are very few and far between now in my neck of the woods) where both are offered, full-service gas costs at least 5 cents more a gallon. For those people who are struggling to make ends meet in a time when gas prices might jump 10 cents overnight, that additional 5 cent/gallon cost is tough to swallow when there are bills to pay and groceries to buy. It especially doesn't make sense to pay that money for full-service when nowadays all that seems to mean is that someone else opens the tank and starts the pump. In addition, you have an entire state's population that doesn't learn to do something for themselves that they need to be able to do if they venture beyond the NJ state line.
5.18.07 @ 3:44p
Instead of it being a man-woman issue, I think it's rudeness in general. I'd say it's kids these days, except there are an awful lot of rude people my age and older. So maybe it's not so much the "kids" as it is "these days." Maybe it's the times we live in. And, as for everything else, I blame George Bush.
Reem, I think you were given an opportunity to ask for help when the guy smiled at you. When we don't know what to do that's the basic safe opening.
5.18.07 @ 4:41p
Well, he smiled at me early in the game... so I didn't think to ask him right away, because I kept trying, as I'm generally stubborn like that. As for what Lisa was saying about the helpless woman deal... again, you misunderstood my meaning. I didn't EXPECT to be helped JUST because I'm a woman. I expected gentlemanly behavior, because I needed help, and I just happened to be a woman.
It's more like Ken put it.. it's more of a general rudeness, but you can't deny that men forget how to be gentlemen because of the presence of extreme feminism. And there are some instances when you shouldn't have to scream for help, and decent people would know what to do and when to do it when they see someone having even the mildest trouble... it's just plain polite and human. At least that's how my parents raised me.
5.18.07 @ 7:12p
If you need help, you ask. Period. All it demands is a couple of words and the briefest flush of humility. Doesn't matter if you're a man or woman.
Sometimes it's not easy to tell that someone is having a problem. And some people etake umbrage if you suggest that they might need a hand. Stupid? Sure. But it's the truth.
5.18.07 @ 7:59p
It also takes a couple seconds to help someone. If someone gets offended by that... they can go ahead and get offended, and try explaining that to the judge when they sue me...
5.18.07 @ 8:45p
What I want from men is for them to notice when I might really need help as a petite person, who happens to be a woman.
This is what led to my previous comment. You can't, and shouldn't, wait for or expect someone to just notice that you need help. You have to ask for assistance, not just feel entitled to it because you are a woman, petite, or lacking in strength. I interpreted your essay to mean that you expected some man to come to your rescue without making any overt attempt to demonstrate that you actually needed help. That no one came to your aid is not a sign of rudeness, lack of chivalry, or confusion about what women want in the face of rampant feminism. It's simply a sign that you needed help and didn't do anything to make that need clear to those men. Thus, the men shouldn't be faulted for failing to come to your rescue.
5.18.07 @ 11:06p
Lisa, I went through total culture shock the first time I left NJ. I also pretty much coated the side of my car in gas. These were old pumps back then, not the new stuff where you put the hose in and press a button. I found it annoying to a degree to pump my own gas. If I'm pumping my own gas I want more than a 5 or 10 cent drop in price. It's like cooking for myself. If I'm doing it and supplying my own ingredients, I want it to cost half of what it would cost in a restaurant. The same with pumping gas. So instead of the $2.79 I paid the last time I got gas, I want it to be about $1.25.
Part of the problem with any kind of service is that the general public expects less and less. The last time I got gas the attendant did something that hasn't been done for me in several years. He washed my windows. One used to get that automatically when they pulled into a station. We just began to accept less service for the same prices and higher prices.
It's the same in grocery stores and everywhere else. We pay more for less service. Now that is something that everyone, male and female, have accepted across the board.
I agree that you have to ask for help if you need it, and again this applies to men and women. There are many men equally as in need of assistance in situations and they don't ask.
I find it interesting, Reem, that you didn't ask for help. That is usually more associated with the male mentality, although you were trying to ask for help through attempts at eye contact, so you wanted the men to offer the help without your actually asking for it.
In another time, the 50s or even the 60s and part of the 70s, men would've more than likely offered help without having to be asked, but as you point out, we are equal in today's society.
5.19.07 @ 5:35a
I'm a 5'2" petite chick. When I need help, I ask for it. I usually do since I generally have no patience, but have also learned that if I wasn't just direct about it- whether with a waiter, bartender, gas station attendant, any kind of salesperson, library assistant, or drugstore clerk- I wouldn't get anything done. Especially when time's a-tickin'. (And when you ask for help politely with a smile, people are usually happy to help- especially for dignifying their time with a little grace).
If a guy doesn't offer help when I'm walking home with three bags of groceries, or lugging a gigantic laundry bag over my shoulder while trying not to drop my DVDs, he isn't guilty of lacking chivalry, nor is he rude. As far as he knows, I seem groovy because I'm not asking- even when I've hauled in an air-conditioning unit (an instance where I tried doing it myself, thought "Uh-oh this is really heavy", so asked a cab driver to help).
When help is offered, I'm just grateful someone was kind enough to ask.
5.19.07 @ 6:51a
Robert, I agree with you about wanting a greater drop in price if I'm doing something for myself rather than paying someone else to do it. But even 5 cents more is too much if the person does nothing more, or even less (if I wash my windshield and check my oil at the same time) than I do for myself.
As for the grocery store and restaurant situations, amen to that. It especially galls me to pay someone for a meal that turns out to be less enjoyable than something I could cook for myself. Which is why I rarely eat out any longer. Plus, I can eat in my own home and not have to listen to the overly loud cell phone conversation at the next table or put up with music so loud I can't hear myself think or carry on a conversation with my companions.
I don't mind scanning my own groceries at the store. But I hate getting stuck behind someone who can't follow simple (and overly repetitious) instructions and holds up a line of people with less than 5 items each to scan a whole basket of groceries.
5.19.07 @ 9:12a
Robert, you're paying 2.79 for full-serve? Around here we pay 2.99 for pump-it-yourself-sucker!
It sounds to me like we're putting the blame on Reem for not asking, but I think we've all been in that situation, uncertain about whether to ask or not, and getting frustrated that nobody's noticing our difficulty.
5.19.07 @ 4:46p
I don't blame her for not asking, Ken, but the truth of the matter is the world is not one of helping your fellow person. If you don't ask for help, you rarely receive it. And sometimes when you do ask you still don't get help.
Yes, we've all been in that situation where we need help and communicating through actions doesn't get the warranted response we want.
the 2.79 is today 2.85 and that's regular not super. Super is 3.19. My cars always get regular, and I still find that too expensive.
However, back to men v. women. Lisa made a point that by living in a state where self-serve is illegal we are not prepared for the confrontation with self-serve states. I didn't even know where my gas cap was on my first car. I didn't care. I was 18 and it was the attendant's job to know that, not mine. NJ spoils its people, but we pay for it through taxes and Sopranos jokes.
I admit I ignore my fellow man when I'm out somewhere. I probably wouldn't have even noticed a woman or man for that matter having trouble opening a gas cap. I used to work in an office with a woman who was extremely capable of doing everything for herself, when no one was around, but when people were in the office she seemed to require help with faxing, typing, copying, etc. She was a top sales agent in the office, and good at playing the helpless card whenever she could. Perhaps this is why today I ignore those in need. Too many people, women and men, cry wolf.
Now I'm not saying Reem didn't need help, or was using what were once referred to at feminine wiles, but merely pointing out some women do use them. Some men use different techniques, but the result is the same.
5.19.07 @ 5:51p
I'm really enjoying these discussions guys! I will say that I recognize that my lack of asking point blank "Can you help me out?" was a big factor in why I wans't helped, but like Robert pointed out in an earlier comment... I think I'm thinking of a time more like the 50s, 60s, or 70s. In fact, I think I'm even thinking of the 80s. I guess I just need to get used to the way things are today, which is having to wave people down and get them out of their zones to pay attention to you. Sucks, but it's the way the world works now. Even when I'm in a zone though, and I am in a zone, often, I still notice when someone is having trouble. I mean... I notice when an animal is running around without an owner and immediately look around for the owner and if I don't see one, I try to help the animal out, even though it looks happy enough and sniffing around and being social. I just notice when there's something abnormal going on.
5.20.07 @ 10:12a
Robert, I'm jealous. Over here in PA regular is $2.95 at the moment. But our gas taxes here are ridiculous, especially given the state of the roads and that the state police rarely do anything to control speeding because they're too busy inspecting trucks from NJ and NY on Hwy. 30. They also serve as our state version of the FBI, rather than having a separate one like most sane (ahem, Southern!) states. I've seen drag races on that road at rush hour with not a single cop in sight.
5.21.07 @ 2:41a
Something I forgot to comment about is that the "wait for someone to help" sentiments Reem writes about are familiar ones- my mom raised me with them. As a daughter with an old-school upbringing, I learned waiting politely for someone to offer me help was genteel, ladylike behavior. Nor was I encouraged to just ask- traditional Asian upbringings don't typically urge forthright behavior. I always envied other kids whose parents encouraged direct behavior, and sometimes had difficulty in asking for help, too.
Years ago, the needs of independent living as a young adult challenged that traditionally feminine perspective and enabled me to grow past it. These days- especially here in New York- I'm just so accustomed to asking for help right away that I've forgotten what it's like to hesitate for it. Rereading this piece reminded me that it wasn't always easy to ask. It would be nice if we lived in times where help was readily offered with a happy, natural "help your neighbor" POV. But, the times are the times, and my mom and I both know it. (Although, some things don't quite change- my mom is still really super cute and petite, so she can get someone to help her more readily than I can. She winks more).
5.21.07 @ 10:33p
Reem, dear, might I shamelessly promote myself and my thoughts on feminism?
I find that in general, people are just busy going about their business, so it is our responsibility to speak up if we need help. As Alex said, I have no problem walking up to someone, smiling, and stating, "Hi - I have a slight problem and hope you can help me." Very, very rarely am I refused. I believe in general, most people want to help each other, regardless of gender.
I hold the door open for the person coming in behind me, male or female. I open the passenger door for anyone getting into my car. I basically try to be polite to anyone crossing my path, and sincerely thank anyone who initiates or returns the motion in kind.
And I would no sooner seek out a man's help for "muscle-bound" stuff than I would a woman's help choosing a household cleanser in the grocery store. Like Ken said, reading someone's reaction is the best indicator.
A couple of months ago, I came upon a stranded motorist blocking traffic. People kept driving by, honking and cursing this poor woman out, but no one thought to stop to help. I eased up behind her, told her to put it in neutral and pushed the car off to the side. She had a cell and was waiting for someone, so all she really needed was a little push. The people sitting at the stoplight just stared at us. Was it because I was a woman? Or because they didn't think of how easy and quick - it took all of 5 minutes, max - helping someone could be?
My mother tried to be independent, but instead was quite reliant on the kindness of strangers. Kind of like Blanche DuBois, only less sober.
Additionally, gasoline in Iowa is at $3.30, and that's unleaded+ethanol, where the flippin' corn is grown, fercryinoutloud. Our super is at $3.50 in some places.
5.30.07 @ 1:20p
Living in the South I find folks to be much more offering of help before it's asked of them. It's not at all uncommon to hear "can I help you ma'am?" from a passerby in the grocery parking lot.
Call it stereotypical, but there is some truth to the phrase "Southern Hospitality".
By the same token, I'm not at all shy about asking for help if it's needed, and can't think of a time when the request has been refused.
I don't think you can expect someone to offer help. #1 - we're not mindreaders. As exasperated as we may get at our better halves for not being one, in reality, it's not a fair expectation. #2 - some people assume if someone needs help they'll ask, otherwise - no assistance required. #3 - some of the men who walked right by you very well may have seen your plight and didn't offer help for fear of your being some "fem-nazi" and didn't want to assume you needed help, or risk a confrontation arising from their simple act of kindness.
5.30.07 @ 6:16p
BINGO, Sloan! Your #2 point is what I was wanting to make clear through this column and I obviously failed. Thanks for making it clearer!
That's what ticked me off that day... was that some of the men that walked by me without offering help probably thought I was a fem-nazi, and that's why the thought of feminism crossed my mind.
6.1.07 @ 9:46a
Rush Limbaugh has labeled my kind of feminist a "femi-nazi" and I have sarcastically used the label at times in referring to myself. Let me just clear up a couple of things about allus femi-nazis: #1 Most of us don't hate men at all, we love men, we love to feed them, fuck them, make fun of them, help them out when they need it, get help from them when we need it. There are very few of us feminists of whatever ilk who hate men. # 2 All we really want is equality before the law, before the boss, before the everyfrackingbody. I got myself one of those mechanical jar opener things as well as a rubber one, and now I don't need help with the jars anymore, not because of these ingenious little inventions, but because I learned how to use the can opener to break the seal, but there are all kinds of things I need help with simply BECAUSE I'm a female with lesser upper body strength than my grandgeeks, or male friends and neighbors. My 50-year-old daughter who runs in marathons, lifts weights and works out has wonderful upper body strength for a female, but she even asks her sons to do things for her every now and then. If we could all just love and pay attention to one another the world would be a better place, I know, but until then I'll just ask when I need help and say please before and thank you after. I've noticed that when I try to offer money to people who've helped me and really deserve it, they always refuse. That's the beginning of "nice" I reckon.