This summer I spent most of my days at the bike shop sitting at the front desk. When a person came in and I said hi and they walked right past me–well, sometimes I got mad.
But sometimes I was glad. Because the truth is there was always a fifty percent chance that I didn’t know the answer to their question and at least in that case they had saved me the awkwardness of having to relay their question to one of the men that work at the shop.
I’m not behind the front desk much anymore since my right arm works again. But I still have my good days and my bad days. And on the bad days I spin out all kinds of excuses about how I don’t really belong here. It’s not a gender thing. (Or is it a gender thing?) It’s just that I don’t geek out over gear ratios, I wasn’t raised with tools, I wasn’t taught to hit something hard to make it work, I’m too soft for this job.
I recently listened to a Hidden Brain podcast about gender in the workplace that mentioned stereotype threat. If you are told that your gender or race gives you a disadvantage in a certain field, that disadvantage is more likely to play itself out. It makes sense. You’re told you won’t be good at something, you get in your head about it, you get nervous, you questions your decisions, and then–you perform poorly. Annie Duke, a poker player, talks about getting in her head about her next move–ultimately it doesn’t matter what she does, if it goes badly someone somewhere will say it’s because she’s a woman. Still, she won the World Series of Poker Championship in 2004, the only woman at a table full of men.
While on a bike ride I stopped for a break at the top of the mountain. Two men were also resting nearby. We talked about bikes. I did not say I was a mechanic. One of the men said I should get a new bike–that was a joke. And new shoes–that was serious. I looked down at them, trying to figure out what was wrong. They were dirty… Oh yeah, I guess, maybe? He said it multiple times with so much confidence, he must be right. Right?
“What’s wrong with them?” I finally asked, letting him get closer. “Oh those are fine actually. I couldn’t tell those were mountain bike shoes from over here.”
They set off first on the trail and then me at least a few minutes behind. Soon enough I caught them. I would have passed except they were there right in the middle of the trail, facing away from me. I know they heard my bike’s surprised halt. But they didn’t turn to look who it was. They knew it was me. The girl with the wrong shoes right on their tail.