Last year I was given a sewing machine. Well, most of a sewing machine. The electrical cord and plug and the foot pedal had disappeared at some earlier time. But I gamely took the machine, did a little research on it’s model and went to a quilting store to see if I could order the missing parts so I could sew myself to a blissful, hand-made nirvana.
This particular quilting store was run by a man who looked like the grandfather of the old man from Up. He was very old, white-haired, impeccably dressed, and practically ran around the spacious store finding fabrics and bobbins for similarly old ladies. When I presented him with my incomplete machine he made a couple of calls where he had to yell model numbers and part specifics into the phone to his assuredly just as old colleagues at the warehouse. The parts, he told me, were going to be over ninety dollars. That was too much for me to invest in a machine that was made by a European company better known for their toasters and electric kettles. Parts cost so much because few people this side of the pond had a machine from this company.
Anyway, seeing I was disappointed in the price he offered a compromise. He had just had a machine returned by a client who had become so enamored of sewing that a month after she bought her first machine she wanted to get a more expensive and fancy model. He was planning to sell her first machine, which was practically new, for a discount that brought the price to about a 120 dollars. It was, honestly, a good deal. But money was tight at the time and since I was planning on moving to a different state in a few weeks it didn’t seem very wise. I told the store-owner that I’d have to think about it.
He said, “I understand, you have to ask your husband first.”
“Ah, that’s not really what I meant,” I replied, pretty shocked.
The owner pushed a little harder, “If you give him a real nice smile I’m sure he’ll say ‘yes.'”
I felt like I had stumbled into some 50’s sitcom. I’m pretty sure that at that point I looked around me, to make sure that it was me he was addressing. Did I look like I was a retiring, submissive wife who would ask permission to buy a sewing machine? And I was going to get that permission by smiling? Because, you know, in all good marriages all affection and positivity is held hostage by one partner to wring material benefits from the other. That sounds fun.
What was I going to do? Argue with the oldest man in the tri-county area about mutuality and equality in relationships? Convince him that I was patronizing a shop supported entirely by gender-stereotype-conforming Mennonite ladies in prayer bonnets and newly married evangelical women but that my marriage didn’t work like that?
It was true, I would ask my husband before I dropped more than a hundred bucks on something other than groceries or car repair, but he would ask me before buying anything that expensive too. Because we have a modern, egalitarian relationship.
If I hadn’t been talking to the oldest man I’d ever had a cogent conversation with I would have had a few choice words about the insulting assumption that I wasn’t empowered to make wise monetary decisions without the helpful overseeing of my husband. I went into the store looking to buy an electrical cord and left wanting a powerpoint presentation on third wave feminism to share with this guy. Also, he never saw a cent of my money, with or without my husband’s permission.
The moral of this story: It’s a bad business model to assume your primary patrons aren’t allowed to spend their own money.