I’m speaking in hyperbole, but maybe not.
As I’ve grown older I’ve experienced, or have been more keenly aware of, all the misogyny that one faces during the course of her life. I’ve been in offices where women sabotage other women, I’ve been in interviews where I’ve had to justify publishing woman writers as not a form of affirmative action but common sense, I’ve answered IRS queries to NANO Fiction where I’ve had to explain that a woman’s body is not inherently pornographic, I’ve been in classrooms where the instructor never taught women’s work, been equals to men who never saw me so, and been a supervisor to men who never saw me as that either–this is just a sampling of instances that doesn’t include the subversive kind of sexism that happens every day. Male chauvinism is an inescapable smog that one has to walk through on a daily basis. Sometimes it’s light and misty, and other times–thick and foggy and leaves a sort of residue you want to wash off, only to have to go outside and walk in it again. It’s everywhere and most of the time I can easily brush things off.
But sloppy metaphors aside, being a woman generally sucks, a lot. You often feel less than or inadequate or dumb or as though you DON’T EXIST AT ALL, and during the course of purchasing our first home, I’ve felt all of those things.
Our story of home ownership is simple enough. K and I have been thinking about purchasing a home for some time, and when he got back from deployment we went to see a loan specialist at USAA. We knew we had some planning to do since I had a new job and K was about to phase out of active duty and into underemployment. I felt good, if not pretty fancy, being the primary income earner and had basic knowledge of where we wanted to buy a home–how much taxes ran, the approximate cost of the type of home and area I knew we could afford–however during the course of speaking with the specialist he directed most of his attention to my husband. He would ask a question, my husband wouldn’t know the answer, I would answer, then the loan officer would continue speaking to my husband.
At first it felt weird. I was confused. We were both customers, we both had amazing credit scores, and I presented an income well beyond that of my husband. Why wouldn’t someone want to speak to me? The situation became uncomfortable for both me and K, and we left knowing we didn’t want to get a loan from them.
Time moved on. We began our VA Loan process with another company and learned that K had to be the primary borrower due to his military history, but they could not use his part-time post-military employment. He would be on the application as income-less. This was understandable and I felt good signing as “co-borrower.” It was just how the VA system worked. Plus, K and I are partners, that’s why we put rings on it. However, as we moved through the process people from the new company frequently called me by my husband’s last name, and at several points they would respond to my emailed questions by calling my husband, or called him to ask questions about my work history or graduate degree. K always sent them my way, but once again it felt wrong. I was perpetually upset.
I was providing all of my financial history, my tax records, and was pre-approved for a mortgage, yet they couldn’t call me, or reply to an email I sent. Hell, they couldn’t even get my name right.
Further more, after having all of my info, they wanted to know details about my life that they didn’t need from my husband. After asking K and me repeatedly about my schooling, they finally requested that I write a letter to the underwriters explaining how my graduate degree helped me get my current job (it didn’t, I got an art degree). They claimed it was to explain the gap in my employment, but I had been fully employed during the course of my schooling. Nothing was asked of my husband about why he had left the military, or what his plans were for the future, despite him being the primary borrower and only working part-time. I realize the lender was assessing their risk, but it seemed unnecessary and one sided.
This sort of treatment didn’t come from just our lender though.
We had selected a sweet older woman for our realtor. She showed us around to several houses and bent over backwards to make sure the homeowner of the house we eventually were under contract for did everything we wanted. When we had questions, she would respond with, “That’s a great question. I’ll find that out for you” and when we wanted certain things inspected by tradesmen after the inspector gave us his report, she was on it with a, “And you have every right to have that looked at.” She was positive and affirming. She provided the reassurance that a first time home buyer needed through a purchase of a much older home.
Her broker, however, was not like that. Like our lender, he would call my husband to explain things that I had questions about. He would reply to my emails requesting details on the home’s upgrades and repairs with, “You have to understand” and “You need to realize.” He’d reply to my requests for an evaluation of the wiring and a hydro-static test to make sure the 60-year-old pipes didn’t have leaks with, “Now you need to realize this isn’t a new house.” He became so condescending (obliviously so) that I made my husband deal with him exclusively.
K and I knew what we were getting to when we made an offer on an older home (we’ve all seen those house flipping shows to know there is a leaking pipe behind every wall), yet every time I requested more information about the home’s systems or repairs I was chided to, as if I was asking too much from the seller (who happened to be a contractor, who happened to be flipping the home), that my requests were annoying, or out of line. In one instance the broker told me that with an older home you get what you get and that we were lucky to even be getting into the hot neighborhood that the house was in.
Yet with my husband he was humble. He was respectful. Suddenly my husband’s requests (which were my requests) were reasonable.
I realize that I am in privileged position, that I am lucky to be able to purchase a home at all, but at the same time–I have worked extremely hard to get here. I expected to have to provide proof of income and have my credit history thoroughly inspected, but I also expected level of respect that doesn’t seem that difficult achieve–to be called by my name, to have my questions responded to as though I were an adult, and to have my first home purchase be an unyieldingly exciting, if not joyous, occasion. Instead, it felt sort of like that scene in Pretty Woman where Julia Robert’s wasn’t allowed to shop even though she had a wad of money and a hot body, like I had to yell, “Look at me, I exist!” through the whole process.
Though many people were jerks, once we got the keys, the whole walking though threshold of your own home experience was still pretty great, and I find myself giddy each time I do it. It was worth treading through all the scuzz, I just wish the the scuzz didn’t have to exist in the first place.