I recently began the search for my first car. I have never been able to afford one before, have been happy taking public transport, and I’ve never really been one to notice cars. If you ask anyone who knows me, they’ll confirm that when people comment on cars the thing I notice most is the colour and shape.

I almost can never tell the brand. I am a real novice when it comes to them, and so before I started this quest I did some research. I equipped myself with all the knowledge I thought I’d need. But I was still surprised.

When I sadly discovered that they no longer made new Ford Ka’s (the only car I really ever noticed on the road) I had to begin looking for something I liked.

I discovered that there are a billion types of cars from which to choose from. I also discovered that the car sales industry needs to take a good look in those tiny mirrors in the visors, and reflect on their strategies to sell cars to women.

‘You’re lucky you brought this big guy with you to negotiate a better deal for you’, ‘women are soft, you need a man to negotiate with us car salesmen – otherwise we see a woman and we take advantage’, ‘this car has handles in the boot so that the ladies can pull it closed,’ ‘mind your nails when you adjust the steering wheel’, ‘you see you’ve got these mirrors here in the visors so you can do your makeup’.

These were all things I heard from car salesmen – somehow they thought that telling me I was unable to negotiate a deal, weak, and fragile was a good idea. It didn’t matter how I spoke with them, what questions I asked, or whether I corrected their assumptions about the gender roles in my relationship with my boyfriend, they only had one strategy to sell me a car – to stereotype me.

I thought it would end there, but when I finally chose the car I wanted, I had to get insurance too. I called up a range of places and answered all the questions about my place of residence, income and marital status.

One broker asked about my boyfriend, and when I said we were ‘co-habiting’ (now isn’t that a sexy word) he paused and then asked ‘has he paid lobola for you?’. I said ‘I’m not sure how that’s relevant’. He replied, ‘because if he has you’ll get a better rate.’

I was shocked, and their rate was really bad. But, after a few more phone calls and a quick twitter poll, a few things became evident about the insurance world: women get better rates than men, engaged is better than in a relationship, marrieds get better rates than singles, and divorcees get the worst of all.

I didn’t realise that in my quest to buy a car I would stumble upon a world that holds so tightly to such old fashioned ideas – that women are weak, can’t negotiate for themselves (despite the fact that they earn enough to buy a car), that married people are more stable or reliable than singles, and worse, that all these things should be accepted and obvious to all of us.

It made me realise how normal strange ideas about women are, and how much we have to do to change them.

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