I have written many times about labels and definitions given to people. I am constantly reminded of how pervasive and harmful these are in our politics, race and gender relations.
This is a story about Mary and my recent encounter with assumptions and labels. It’s a man’s world.
Four and a half years ago, I met a girl. Well, actually, she was a grown women with three grown children. She also had a 30 year long professional career using her advanced degree in the sciences, but to me, I notice that she was a nice girl. We had actually met many years before but we were simply members of competing bicycle racing teams. A short time before getting together, Mary had sold her house and bought a very nice condo in Lake St. Louis. She had been divorced for about 6 years or so prior to that. I was so smitten that I moved in with her. She did not kick me out. That was a good sign. We soon married in what feels like fairy tale love. I kept my house in Creve Coeur for no good reason other than not wanting to deal with it.
Mary’s condominium was an excellent home for us had it not been for the intersection of two facts. First, it was three floors, not one of which was ground floor. Second, I contracted ALS.
Out of necessity, and at the last possible moment, we bought a single level home together. Now we had three houses. Clearly, what was needed was for us to go on a selling spree, and that is exactly what we did. As luck would have it, we sold both places fairly quickly. The closing date for her home was about a week after mine.
I went into the closing of my house by myself, as expected, and sold the house that I had bought with my ex wife, many years ago, without incident. No questions asked and no questions expected. I had bought her half out long ago. Simple as that.
One week later. Mary closed on the condo that she had bought by herself, many years after her divorce was finalized. Mary had to hand over every single page of her divorce papers. Then, they required that she go to her ex husband and have him sign a notarized affidavit stating that, in his opinion, she had paid him everything she owed him in the terms of the divorce. Luckily, they were on good enough terms that he obliged. What if he had not? Would she have had to go to court to have a judge rule that she was allowed to sell her own property? Then, on closing day, they requested that I be there as we were married now. I expected to sign a paper, similar to what they required of her ex husband, stating that I had no ownership of the property she had purchased long before we had met. I was wrong. We signed every single document together in the joint names of David Robert Frei, and Mary Piper. It felt like it was my place and my wife had to come along to sign. As we left, I could tell that something was bothering Mary. She pointed out the stark differences between our two closings, the first of which, she was not even asked to be present for, or sign a single thing. I, being the occasionally insensitive dolt that I am, just grinned and said “It’s a man’s world”. We left in our separate cars as she came from her professional job and I stay at home now. She was heading to the bank to deposit the check into her bank account. I got a call from my poor, now sobbing wife. Apparently, the check was in both of our names and they would not let her deposit it. They were requiring that I be there. In a bit of frustration and anger, deserved in my opinion, she tried to explain that I was a handicapped person and could not come into the bank. Alarm bells went off in their minds. They saw right through that ‘fabrication’ and started to treat her like the criminal that they have witnessed and thwarted many times before in their banking careers. Heros to the banking industry they were. I, being the wonderful man that I am, later went up to the bank to straighten things out. I can’t see how Mary could have lived her life any more professionally than she had, yet the husband is the one to be in control of all matters large and real estate.
I make this sound glib, but these assumptions are still carried out on a daily basis. Much of the time, they go unnoticed. Some of the time, the assumptions are entirely correct. The problem is this. Assumptions, and variation of the application of rules, depending on gender, race, or other, causes real harm in this world, even if not noticed by the group assumed to be good and reliable.