“It’s clear to me that you’d rather not be here,” the guy at the boating supply store said to me. Over the years, since I became a boat owner and boat restorer in 1998, I’ve been in a lot of boating supply stores looking for a variety of very specific and obscure things that we needed for our various DIY boat projects. And this clerk’s comment on this day wasn’t unusual, sadly. Inaccurate, but not unusual. I was in there trying to find a stainless steel bolt that was 3/8” of an inch thick and six inches long. Kind of a weird size, I remember. I was searching through a myriad of little drawers comparing them to the one I brought as a sample. I learned by then not to just ask for something like that by measurements alone. When a woman walks into a hardware section asking for a bolt that his this long by that wide, surely she’s mistaken and ends up getting sold the wrong thing. It’s happened to me so many times.

I was crouching down opening the drawers toward the bottom, comparing the bolts to the one I had in my hand. Too short, next drawer. Too short, next drawer. Then the guy came to help me.

“I am not sure you have what I’m looking for. I need this bolt,” I hold up the one in my hand “In stainless steel.”

“Here you go,” he offers me one that is clearly too short.

“No, that’s not right, it’s too short,” I hold it up to the one I came in with, “See? It needs to be as long as this one. You have a drawer labeled 6 inches,” I reach to open it.

“No, that won’t be it,” he sighs.

“But the one I have is actually six inches,” I hold it up. He gives me another one that’s too short.

“No, really, I think I got it, I don’t need help. Thank you,” I say, trying to get him to leave me alone. I found what I was looking for, if only he’d let me look in the 6 inch drawer.

“Let me help,” he says.

“No, thank you really, I think I’ve got it,” I reach for the drawer again.

“It’s clear to me you’d rather not be here shopping for this,” he says.

“If that were the case then I wouldn’t be here. I am here because I need this bolt to finish this project on my boat.”

But what the hell did he even mean by that? These comments typically happen when Todd isn’t with me. They happen when I go alone. It’s a totally normal thing, he’s working on fixing something on a boat and I’ll run to the store to grab a part he needs. I walk in, walk through the displays of drink coolers, clothes, life preservers—the things that women would care more about—and head to the aisles where the stainless steel nuts and bolts are, the solvents, the oils, the tanks, the hardware.

I am sure this happens to other boaty women too. This assumption that because we enjoy a hobby that is male dominated that we won’t understand what we’re looking for when we go to buy parts. There have been times where I’ve been sold the wrong thing on the sales person’s recommendation and Todd asks me “Why did you buy this? We don’t need this. Did you forget what I asked for?” Then I have to explain that they didn’t have it and the sales person instead sold me what he thought my lady brain was looking for instead of the actual thing I needed.

There was another time I was scanning the shelves when a sales clerk saw me in the aisle with the chemicals—one of the aisles that he perceived that I wouldn’t understand.

“Can I help you find something?” he asked.

“Yes, I am looking for 3M adhesive cleaner.”

“3M doesn’t make that,” he replied. “Would this be it?” For years I’ve bought a metal bottle with a white label and red text on it. The only thing the text said was, literally, ‘3M Adhesive Cleaner’. The other bottle he held up didn’t say anything about adhesive cleaner on it. It was not at all what I was looking for.

“No, that’s not it. I am sure of what I am looking for. I have bought that product before several times,” I explained.

“But it’s not a 3M product,” he interrupted me.

“Yes it is. Like I said, I’ve bought it before, I’ve used it many times,” I began.

“I think you’re mistaken, 3M doesn’t make that.”

“3M is a pretty big company, they make a lot of things,” I joked, trying to make light and drive the point home that perhaps he is mistaken. “It has a white label with red lettering on it…”

“If you’ve bought it before, maybe you can show me a picture of it?” he asked. Is he serious? Should I also provide a picture of the gallon of milk I bought too? Though I am certain 3M doesn’t manufacture milk. It’s astounding that I need to provide evidence of what I am looking for when I’ve just told him exactly what I was looking for.

“No, I don’t have a picture of it,” I turn my attention to the shelves. “Maybe you guys just don’t have it today.” He keeps taking down various bottles of things I don’t want and suggests that they are really what I’m looking for. As he’s doing that I’m googling.

“Here,” in point to my phone. On it is a picture of a metal bottle with a while label that says ‘3M Adhesive Cleaner’ on it in red. “This is what I’m looking for. It literally says 3M Adhesive cleaner on it, just like I asked for in the beginning.” He looks at the phone and scratches his head apparently dumbfounded that some bimbo came into the store actually knowing what she’s looking for in the aisle where women tend not to shop.

“I guess we don’t have that,” he replies while scanning the shelf. Gee, you think? “We have never carried that.” I don’t bother to argue, as I have purchased this product in that store many times before. I had been going to that same store a good decade longer than he’s worked there. I thank him and walk away.

This probably isn’t going to change either. When I get back from one of my oddly sexist shopping trips and tell Todd what happened he gets annoyed too. “Sorry that happens to you, honey.” I am too! Shopping would be so much easier if the people working in the store believe you when you say that you’re looking for a specific thing. When I’ve shopped in these stores with Todd he never gets the same treatment as I would. He never gets told that it’s clear he’d rather not be there shopping for that (even when he’s shopping for shoes for me). They listen to him describe the item and they take his word for it and help him find what he’s actually shopping for. Why don’t I get the same treatment?

But there was this one experience that completely negates most of the oddly sexist experiences I’ve had while shopping in these stores. I went in to the local marine supply story to buy some hose. They have large reels of it on the shelf that they sell by the foot. You measure out what you need and cut it from the reel. The sales guy came up to help. He measured out the hose and began to saw at it with the knife on the shelf.

“Here, let me show you,” I take the knife from his hand. “If you bend the hose you can just touch the blade to it and it’ll cut easier.” I demonstrate and his eyes go wide.

“That’s cool,” he says and nods.

I told Todd about it when I got home that day, how I’d shown the guy in the marine store how to cut hose. I was proud that my gender could offer something of value in the men only aisle. The next day Todd went in there to shop and he was in the aisle with the hose reels.

“No, that’s not how you cut it,” one sales guy said to the other. “Some lady came in yesterday and showed me. Bend the hose, and then touch the blade to it and it’s so much easier to cut it.”

“I see you’ve met my wife,” Todd laughed.

BJ Knapp is the author of Beside the Music, available for purchase here. Please sign up for the Backstage with BJ Knapp mailing list to get updates on events, signings, dog pictures and so much more.

BJ Knapp is the author of Beside the Music, available for purchase here. Please sign up for the Backstage with BJ Knapp mailing list to get updates on events, signings, dog pictures and so much more.