Ah, the sweet smell of everyday sexism

// 22 March 2012

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energy saving light bulb.jpgLast week, I called our gas and electricity supplier, EDF, to reduce our direct debit payments, because we’ve been paying too much (result!). I also asked them to change my title from “Miss” to “Ms”. I couldn’t remember whether I’d specified my title when we moved in to our new house, so I didn’t make a big thing of it.

A couple of days later, a letter comes through our door addressed to “Mr My Partner’s Name and Miss Laura My Surname”, confirming the reduction, but stating the incorrect amount. The salutation reads: “Dear Mr My Partner’s Name”.

Pissed off that they had not only ignored my request and got the amount we wanted to pay wrong, but addressed the letter only to my partner – despite the fact that I was the one who called them and the account is in both our names – I called them again on Monday. I spoke to a different person, and politely pointed out the errors and said I’d appreciate it if any further correspondence could be addressed to both me and my partner. The guy apologised and said he’d fix it.

And guess what I just received through the post? Yep, I’m “Miss” in the address and totally absent from the letter itself. I was willing to write the first occasion off as an admin error, but twice constitutes a dismal failure to offer me even the most basic courtesy. Maybe they just wanted to save me from having to worry my pretty little head about financial matters.

If my poor feminine brain could cope with the figures, I’d be straight onto a comparison website and looking for a new supplier. But instead I’d better go finish the housework so I have time to doll myself up before my husband comes home and gives me my pin money…

Photo by torres21, shared under a Creative Commons Licence.

Comments From You

sjt // Posted 22 March 2012 at 2:15 pm

Cock up, not conspiracy, I suspect. They probably have three different databases of customers, one of which is a filing cabinet. Infuriating nonetheless.

Peter // Posted 22 March 2012 at 4:00 pm

Irritating I’m sure, but I have to say that having worked on the systems for call centres and databases, you’d be surprised at how difficult titles and forms of address can be. Quite of lot of people, particularly in the Asian community, have very different rules when it comes to name order (usually family-name, given-name, title – this is known as ‘Eastern Order’) also the title ‘Ms’ doesn’t exist in many continental countries so you’ve got a whole issue with free-form fields in the database – it really depends on the operator knowing what they’re doing.

Mind, I remember receiving a call from an irate customer once. He said he was offended by how he’d been named on a bill. I apologised and said I was sure it was just a mistake. “Really,” he said; “It’s a mistake that the bill is addressed to: ‘Mr Annoying Australian Bastard” is it? Apparently he’d been a serial complainer to the call centre. Very difficult to put that one down to human error.

sohcahtoa // Posted 23 March 2012 at 9:41 am

I know only too well the ability of large companies to mess up simple instructions from customers (the worst stories are often about bereavement, i.e. bills still being sent to the deceased even when repeated notification of their death has been made), so I agree that the sexism here *might* be accidental. Still, wouldn’t a more progressive company at least have called Laura ‘Ms’ by default, or not assumed that the male half of the couple was to be named first, as the one in charge of payment?

Also, while it may be unfair to vent one’s annoyance on the call centre staff, who probably aren’t to blame for these big systemic failures, I’m a firm believing in complaining about both sexism and sheer incompetence (and I hope Laura did); I don’t see why companies should be able to get away with either and treat their customers in such a shambolic way.

MistressofBoogie // Posted 23 March 2012 at 8:36 pm

There’s nothing ‘accidental’ about not bothering to have a field in your data base for a very common form of address in the UK, or not bothering to send a bill for a joint account with the woman named first in the event that she’s the one dealing with the company. Easy enough to remedy, but they can’t be arsed because it’s institutionalised sexism, and no, that doesn’t make it OK.

EverydaySexism // Posted 4 April 2012 at 5:38 pm

This is Exactly the kind of small, normalised, everyday instance of sexism we got so sick of we decided to set up a website to record it! It’s such a tricky one because whenever you complain about something ‘minor’ like this, people say you’re overreacting or being uptight or militant, when actually as a small part of a much wider problem of sexist social assumptions, you have every right to object! We’d love it if readers would share similar stories to this at http://www.everydaysexism.com Thank you!

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