A few months ago, a friend and I were wandering through a popular New York destination: Duane Reade. We stopped at the “feminine care” aisle. For those unaware, this aisle typically includes condoms, pregnancy tests, tampons, pads, diapers for when you laugh uncontrollably, etc.
As we debated over prices of these “feminine care” products, an employee walked towards us. The following is our conversation:
Employee: Do you guys need help with anything?
Us: No, thanks, we’re fine.
E: Are you sure? Because I have a lot of experience with this stuff.
Ranisha: [laughs awkwardly] Oh, I think we have plenty of experience.
E: Oh yeah? [A beat.] How many years of experience?
R: [stares] Seriously? [Continues to stare until E walks away.]
Pause. What just happened?
This situation occurred months ago, and it continues to anger, frustrate, and confuse me. Is this now considered a normal way to talk to women, much less customers? Is this a form of sexual harassment? Is this a joke and do I just lack a sense of humor?
While a part of me wishes I caught the employee’s name, I know that it won’t help me understand this conversation. Since we were two women standing by ourselves, this man felt as if he could fulfill some invisible sense of entitlement that comes with carrying the Y-chromosome. Even though we were inside a presumably safe establishment, the microaggression followed us from the sidewalk and into Aisle Seven.
As I remain unaware about the significance of this event, it serves as a reminder of the reality most women face daily. Of course, the conversation with the Duane Reade employee was not physically threatening, but it left us angry and disgusted. I reacted with sass (naturally), but would I have done the same if I were alone and on the street? Would I have felt as confident if it were at night?
Sadly, I can’t answer these questions, though I have an inkling that I would be far more concerned about my safety and less worried about my sarcastic retort. I hope, however, that someone reading this can provide insight into what I now consider “The Weirdest Tampon Buying Experience Ever.” If this insight does not appear, I hope this allows you to think about the times you have witnessed/ignored/supported/fought microaggression and gender biases; I am sure that they happen far more often than inside Duane Reades in Manhattan.