I believe it was my recent post Seeing Red Over Shades of Sexism which removed the rose-colored glasses I have worn for so many years. It’s not that I was unaware sexism existed, but I had always lived in a paradox. On one hand, I lay inside a cocoon, woven around me as early as middle and high school where I attended a preparatory girl’s school. I was taught that women are equals, in careers and life.
On the other hand, however, I was firmly positioned in the shadows of my generation (I’m at the end of the Baby Boomers) where the truth told something else: more women chose to marry, start families and/or hold traditional jobs such as nursing. There were far too few women taking on male-dominated jobs. I seemed content enough to carve out a life somewhere between the two.
My point is that through my recent experience, I have been re-awakened to pay better attention to ongoing gender inequality issues. Look no further than the U.S. Women’s Soccer team which finally settled a lawsuit just last week over equal pay. That was a fight.
And for the first time, my eyes are also opening to the parallel culture connected to that fight. I just saw a television clip where a well-known female television political anchor in her late 30’s, flipped the script and sent her husband roses for Valentine’s Day. The moment was captured on video and she literally says “F the Patriarchy.”
I was so surprised that I googled that phrase and a new world came tumbling out. The words “feminism” and “patriarchy” are inextricably linked in a dozen search results. “What is the difference between feminism and patriarchy?” “What is the aim of the feminist movement?” I was even more surprised to see “F the Patriarchy” t-shirts for sale; from Amazon to Etsy. Where the F have I been?
And so, I have thrown away those faded rose-colored glasses and plan to periodically share women’s stories here in an ongoing series. I hope to hear stories of the struggles and triumphs that cut across multiple generations (please help and submit experiences!) I also 100% encourage male readers to have conversations with the women in their lives and hear how they have faced either overt or covert examples of sexism. It might be eye-opening. This is not about pointing fingers, it’s about changing the lens through which our society sees women.
My inaugural conversation is with my friend Pam Thorpe. After reading her comment on my previous post, I asked her if she would like to share her experiences in buying a home as a single woman and she graciously agreed.
Here is her story:
In what year and how did you start the process? (i.e. finding a realtor, “shopping” for a bank with good rates etc.)
“I started the process in 1988. I was 29 and turning 30 that same year. I remember thinking I “should” do something big and mature since I wasn’t getting married or having kids. At the time, buying a house was a logical choice. I actually went through three realtors in my town. I firmly believe the first two dismissed me because I was single, female and wouldn’t bring enough money to the table to make it worthwhile.
My third realtor was extremely supportive. Ironically, she was getting divorced at the time and was probably supportive of my choice(s) to buy a home on my own. She led me to a lawyer, bank and all the “etc” required. I really liked her and used her twice again later in life.”
Please describe your experience of buying your home from initial meeting to closing in as much detail as possible.
“In those days in order to make an offer you and your realtor actually filled out a basic contract and presented it to the seller through their attorney. They then accepted the price or refused it and said what they would accept. You would then, literally, have to present another contract, and they (hopefully) would accept it. Then, you’d start the ball rolling.
I remember having Tom (the man she was dating who she would later marry) go with me to check out most of the houses through this process. Believe me, if a man was present, things were pointed out that normally wouldn’t have been if it was me alone; plumbing, roof, electrical and other “guy” stuff. But I have to say that my realtor was very good and stood up for me when it came to anyone trying to “pull the wool” over my eyes with any problems. Closing was a breeze after finally getting the damn loan. I understood very little of what was transpiring but my realtor had sent me to a very good attorney who was surprisingly supportive of a single female purchasing her first home.”
You previously referenced the experience as “agonizing.” How so?
“The agonizing part of this whole thing was definitely getting that loan. Single? Yep. And with that one question (and I truly believe because I was female as well) everything I did or owned was examined under a microscope.
Letters were sent to my bank, my employer, and even my previous landlord. Really??? I had my tax returns from previous years showing I had a history of being gainfully employed (In 1988, Pam worked for an international freight import company) but they still wanted actual copies of my pay stubs. Every detail of bank statements came under question-all presumably to make sure I wasn’t getting “help” with my down payment. It was all very frustrating and I remember thinking I absolutely cannot complain about this because they will deny me. I did finally get approved (probably took about 2 months) on my 30th birthday.”
Oh, it’s like they didn’t believe you with your financial information; and then you had to remain silent! (I would like to point out that it had only been 14 years since U.S. Federal laws struck down sex discrimination in lending and home buying.)
How long did it take to find the home you wanted?
“It took several months. A “starter” home in the town I wanted was more expensive (approximately $150,000) than surrounding towns which was more than my budget, but as I stated before-my realtor was good. She kept assuring me that I would eventually find something. She was patient and she was knowledgeable.”
Was there anything unique about the bidding process?
“It was a different climate then. There were not any bidding wars per se. Once an initial contract was presented it started the process. You went back and forth until a price was agreed upon or (as a buyer) you backed out.”
Is there anything else you would like to share here?
“Two things became apparent to me while I was remembering this whole episode of my young adult life. My realtor was definitely a godsend. She watched out for me and fought for me throughout the whole process. Tom reminded me of something else equally important. The elderly woman I bought the house from was also supportive of me. She told us she “wanted” me to buy her house as a single hard-working woman and was willing to wait for the whole pain in the a** loan part went through. Women supporting women. It’s a message that still resonates today.”
About Pam Thorpe
Pam was born in Washington D.C. but lived the majority of her life in the Chicago area. Although she recently moved to Florida, she will always consider herself a mid-westerner. Prior to retiring in 2015, she and her husband owned an international freight forwarding company dealing with the import end of the business. Basically, they interacted with U.S. Customs and all necessary governmental agencies with regards to any and all things commercially imported. As she states “it was definitely not a typical 8-5 office job and we enjoyed every aspect of it.”
Their daughter lives in North Carolina and is a Social Worker for the VA in Durham. Visiting her is at the top of Pam’s list of things she enjoys, along with reading and volunteering. She feels that her life here in Florida is blessed and making new friends has been the best part of it.
I echo Pam’s comment about women helping women, and that’s the message I want to support here. If you have a story, or want to hold a conversation, please let me know: email@example.com.
Photo Credit: Tima Miroshnichenko
Everyone has to realize sexism exists in our society, but your conversation with Pam enlightened me. I have accompanied female friends with negotiations on buying a car like Pam’s friend did when buying a house. The irony is I don’t know that much about the inner workings of autos (though some salespeople make that false assumption). However, I am good at negotiating and playing the car buying game.
What surprised me the most about reading Pam’s story was learning that single females face such hurdles when trying to get a loan. I assumed that someone’s income and past bill-paying history would be enough to secure a loan as money seems to be the great equalizer when it comes to making any sale.
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There continue to be headlines that remind us that sexism is still around, but we don’t always realize/remember that it is our neighbors, our friends, our sisters who face it in everyday situations. We don’t always talk about it. I like being able to put these “grass roots” stories out there to shine a light, remind, or as you say, enlighten. If I can help people see what’s going on, and do it over and over, then maybe the sum of the parts could affect the whole. That’s awesome that you help women negotiate car-buying and quite ironic that the dealers ASSUME you know a lot. That made me smile. Thanks so much Pete.
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When we go car-shopping, I’m the negotiator, not my husband, who is outspoken in other venues. ‘Tis a mystery.
I must say I faced a sorority of helpful women when I published my memoir. Most memoirists are women, and we help each other as mentors, beta readers, reviewers, promotors, the whole ball of wax. However, when my memoir came out some (men) objected to a testimonial from a woman who described my writing as “feminist.” Their chauvinistic viewpoint disappointed me, but I classify them as narrow-minded, judgmental–and focus on the overall positive reception to my book by Both sexes. Thank you, Pam. Thank you, Melanie! 😀
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I’ve often found it interesting what roles couples assume in a marriage. We’ve discussed some of these things, and others just mysteriously happen without any discussion. My wife is better at many things than I am, but I am the better negotiator (poker player). When we go car shopping together, I have to try and get her to tone down her enthusiasm for a vehicle in front of the salesperson. She inadvertently makes their job easier and my job (negotiator ) harder. 😊
I’m disappointed in the men who attach a negative stereotype to the word “feminist,” Marian. It’s too bad that some are so insecure in their manhood that they project this chauvinistic attitude.
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I felt so honored to have my story told by you Melanie. Thank you! Sexism like all the other “ism’s” today is still very prevalent. I always find it interesting that the term Feminist is still regarded as almost militaristic in definition. We are making progress but boy or boy (pun intended) is it slow. Thank you Melanie for your supportive voice for women through your writing. Your persistence with companies in the small battles of getting YOUR name on an account all adds to winning the war.
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Hi Pam. I can’t really thank you enough for helping me launch what I hope is a series of stories highlighting this issue we still see too often in our everyday lives. Your previous comment really inspired me and helped me re-focus on where we as women stand – and we’re not side-by-side yet (although I agree there is progress.) So the awareness campaign begins! We’ll see how far it goes. Thank you so much for your support. ♥♥
And thank you Marian! 🙂 That is really interesting about the majority of memoirists being women. I had no idea. And it’s wonderful to hear how much support women give each other throughout the entire publishing process. It is incredibly frustrating to me that as recently as 2019 (!!) when your book (Mennonite Daughter: The Story of a Plain Girl) came out that you would even be facing any type of chauvinistic attitude. Ugh. I’m sorry, but you were right that it was a few bad apples and chose to look at all the positive responses. It’s just the fact that you had to experience it at all. Another example! I sure hope to experience the publishing sisterhood one day! Thank you so much for sharing.
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