At first, I wanted to begin this piece by saying that my feminism is hurting today, but I've decided that rather than feminism, it is my strong independent womanhood that's been hurt. My SIW, if you will.
So today I got a flat tire. Well, almost. I didn't drive over a nail or anything. Rather, there is a very slow leak in my front tire on my car, and rather than spending the money on fixing it or buying a new tire, I just ignore the problem and hope it goes away. Because, you know, that's an effective method of problem-solving. But hey, that's how I adult.
Three months ago, my ex-boyfriend filled the tire with air for me, and it has been fine ever since. But when I got in the car to drive to school, I realized almost immediately after getting on the highway, that my tire was almost flat. Thankfully, there was a gas station right off the next turn, so I pulled in and pulled up to the air machine. I got out of my car, looked at the machine, and it was at this moment I realized I had no idea how to put air in my tires.
I am embarrassed to admit this, it's something self-explanatory that I should totally know how to do as a car owner. But, I looked at the cord I was supposed to attach to my tire, and I looked at the sad tire, and no mental connection could be made between the two. I was lost.
But my identity as a strong independent woman isn't hurt because I didn't know how to put air in my tire, since I had always had a man do it for me. My SIW hurt because, upon realizing my situation, I looked around the gas station parking lot for a man to help me. And my prayers were answered.
It didn't take 10 minutes for an older gentleman to come to my rescue. Maybe this has to do with the fact that we are in the South, where kindness and hospitality are valued much more than in the North, where I originate. Maybe it has to do with the fact that I am an average looking college student, and I was wearing a cute outfit, and I probably looked very much in need of help.
In that moment, I became, despite my resignations, a damsel in distress.
He approached me and asked if I needed help, which is one of the few things I hate to admit. I said yes, and he kindly explained how to remove the thingy-ma-bob from the tire to which the air pump needs to be attached. Once this was accomplished, he told me to run my credit card on the machine in order to pay for the air. We had a brief conversation about the high price, which was $1.25, and after swiping my card multiple times we came to the conclusion that the card reader wasn't working.
"Do you have any coins?" he asked me. I did not, and neither did he.
"I'll go inside and ask," I said, at this point seeming like a leech. I gathered up my phone, my wallet, and my keys from the hood of my car and headed towards the store.
"I'll watch your car," he said. It must have been written all over my face.
"Thank you!" I said.
As I entered the store, the first thing I heard was "welcome to Circle K!" from the cashier. I immediately approached him and explained my situation.
"Look," I started. "I'm trying to use your air machine and it is not reading my credit card."
"Yeah I'm pretty sure it's broken," he responded.
"Yeah well I don't have any coins," I said as sweetly as I could manage, given the fact that I was sweating and likely late for class at this point. Not only did a man have to come to my rescue and show me how to even attach the darn air pump, now I needed a man to pay for me to use the machine.
He looked dumbfounded as to what to do.
His manager, who was standing at the next register, couldn't help but overhear the exchange. He reached into his pocket and pulled out his wallet, and removed a $20 bill.
"Here," he said, handing it to the cashier I had attached my problems to. "Break this and give her $1.50 in coins."
The cashier opened up the cash register and did as he was told. He placed six quarters in my hand. I thanked them both profusely and headed outside to my knight in shining armor.
Thankfully the nice man was still standing watch by my car. I inserted the quarters into the machine, and he began to fill my tire for me. He explained that most tires should be at a level 25, and mine was at level 13. It took less than a minute to get my tire back up to level 25, then he removed the air pump and wished me well. I thanked him several times as we got into our cars and drove off into our lives.
As I drove away, I reflected on what had just happened. I had just been on the receiving end of two acts of kindness from two men whom I'd never met. Although their helpful nature warmed my heart, I couldn't shake the feeling of disgust – not in them, but in myself. I've always prided myself on being an independent woman, and yet I got myself stuck into a situation that I could only get out of with help of two complete strangers. I definitely took a hit to the self-esteem as consequence.
But having lived on my own for a year, I've learned a few things, one of which is, no matter how badly you want to do everything yourself, sometimes you just can't. Even if you are financially supporting yourself and running your own household, you can't live without some sort of human touch and interaction, whether it's just a conversation with a co-worker or a hug from a friend. But the United States is an individualistic culture, in which we value independence. And thanks to the growth of feminism, many women also value their own personal SIW. But relying on others isn't a bad thing, it's just risky in times of emergency, like me being unable to perform the simple act of filling my tire with air.
Regardless of how hard we try to be independent, no one can escape human nature. No one is made to be alone, and no one is made to be lonely. So while being a SIW is awesome, just as men are strong and independent already on their own (it's a given social construct), maybe we should focus a little less on the independence and a little more of the togetherness. The man at the gas station never would have stopped to help me if he didn't have any sense of empathy or the human need to connect with and help one another. So I say we all take a lesson from this man, but from me too, mine being: learn how to put air in your tire, and save yourself the trouble. But in all seriousness, maybe it's not so bad to ask for help from time to time. The helpfulness of your fellow humans may just surprise you.