My new house has old termite damage. We brought in a contractor because I haven’t closed yet on the house, and the current owners are responsible for fixing any issues. But the contractor didn’t bring flashlight even though he knew he was there to inspect a dimly lit basement’s subfloors and joists. On top of that, he seemed to believe that I should just move into a house with termite damage without asking the current owners to fix it at all.
He smirked. He interrupted me. He made some bad jokes, making light of the situation.
I did not laugh.
First his jokes were not funny.
Second his jokes were making light of my very legitimate concerns about (1) damage and (2) safety and (3) reselling the house someday and having to declare termite damage.
It was quite possibly the first time in my life that I didn’t laugh at a man’s bad jokes.
He didn’t take it well. Possibly a tough young feminist wouldn’t have bothered to watch him afterwards – to observe his eyes harden in a very unpleasant and mean way.
But I did. I saw it all. And I wasn’t afraid. In fact, he shriveled in front of my eyes – he was instantly revealed as a fat bully, both incompetent and untrustworthy. I found myself wondering why this man would even think for a second that someone like me would laugh along with him. And then I realized that most women would do it. Just to be nice. Just to be pleasant. Just to avoid conflict. I have done this my entire life, and it has never ended well. I think of the mailroom bully in my first job thirty years ago, and I think of the nonprofit misogynist colleague fifteen years ago who used an Australian accent to hide his hostility and incompetence.
The contractor knows that I am the kind of woman who will laugh. He learned it a long time ago, making fun of other women who don’t know if they have wood or vinyl windows, or where their water shut-off valve is located, or how many gallons of water are contained in their water heater. Using humor to demean them.
But now he’s wrong about me. And unwittingly he gave me a new gift and a new mantra: if you’re the kind of man who makes idiotic jokes at someone else’s expense, I will no longer laugh.
I will let the silence sit out there. I am comfortable with this for the first time in my life. You have a choice at this point to man up or to shrivel up.
Oh, and when my trustworthy handyman showed up later to offer a second opinion, he identified the damage immediately without me having to point it out to him. He suggested either pulling up a whole section of flooring or simply adding substantial supports to the joists. I smiled when he told me. I’m not sure yet if I need to blow up my entire nice-girl belief system or just start bolstering myself up more.
Like in that basement, my damage is visible on the surface, and I’m not certain how deep and hidden it goes. I have a feeling that a few things might need to blow up before the rebuilding really begins.