My dog just turned a year old and she’s been a part of our family for 10 months.
I have never had a dog before and she’s never had a human before so we both have much to learn. Even though we’re working on it with a trainer and on our own, inevitably we make mistakes.
Well, it’s more like I make mistakes, which is what happened recently at a dog park we visited.
But the reason I’m sharing this story isn’t because of the mistake I made, it’s because my mistake made a young man very upset and the way he treated me left me wondering whether I experienced sexism, ageism, or both.
What happened is that when I was leaving the dog park, I had to wait while dog walkers brought in a bunch of dogs before I could exit. No big deal.
Dog parks have two gates to make it harder for dogs that are off-leash to run out. The two gates create a holding pen. If dogs are coming into the dog park, you wait for them to come in and for both gates to be closed before you attempt to leave.
I waited as the dog walkers brought in all the dogs with them and as I was about to leave with my dog, I realized that a young man and his dog were also about to leave and had been waiting longer.
I let them go first and since no other dogs were behind me or around either side of the gates and his dog was on a leash, I followed behind them even though apparently I shouldn’t have.
Honestly, I didn’t even think about it because it felt like a safe situation for both of us. Well, the young man got very upset and yelled, “Hold on!” He wasn’t looking at me when he said that and he was so loud and curt that I thought he was giving his dog a stern command.
He said it again and then started angrily muttering under his breath, which was what tipped me off that he was addressing me. I stopped and let him leave before I proceeded.
Once he was on the other side of both gates, he turned around and told me why what I had done was wrong.
He spoke to me in a way I’m not used to being spoken to. It was confrontational and disdainful. Like how you would speak to someone you genuinely dislike and find repulsive on some level.
I listened and said, “Yup, you’re right, makes sense.” That seemed to catch him off guard. I think he was expecting a fight because when I agreed with him, he seemed deflated and stood there for a moment, not knowing how to react, before turning and leaving.
Not gonna lie, part of me wanted to clap back and give him a fight because his whole vibe was so angry. But, he wasn’t wrong, I had screwed up, so I took my lesson. Still, it felt very personal and ugly. I was unsettled by the interaction and thought about it the entire drive home.
My thought process went a little like this:
Why am I so upset? I screwed up and what he said was true so why do I feel offended? It’s the way he said it and the way he spoke to me. It’s like he really found me repugnant or something. Like something about who I am was offensive.
Was it because I’m a woman? Because there’s no way he would have spoken to a man like that unless he wanted to risk getting slugged.
I definitely think my gender had something to do with it, but I don’t think he would have spoken to me with such disdain regardless of my gender if I were closer to his age. Eww! That’s it! The whole thing felt ageist. As if my age were a part of what he found so appalling.
For context, I’m in my early 50s and this young man appeared to be in his mid or late 20s. Also, I realize that I can’t possibly know what was going on in this young man’s mind.
Maybe I’m wrong and he speaks to everyone who makes a mistake at the dog park that way, but my gut is telling me that he doesn’t and that if I were younger or a man, he might have still been irritated with me, but he would have been kinder, more respectful and definitely more chill.
It’s hard to explain the feeling that you get when someone seems to be treating you a certain way because of your age, race, class, or gender, but if you have ever experienced one of these “isms,” then you know that the words or comments hit like they are meant to put you in your place and make you feel disempowered, less than, or irrelevant.
It’s further complicated when it’s not overt, when it’s subtle to the point that if you actually call someone out on the behavior, they can easily say that you are “overreacting” or being “too sensitive.”
I wish I had been able to process my feelings while that young man was interacting with me because I still would have agreed with him that I made a mistake, but instead of only saying “Yup, you’re right, makes sense,” maybe I could have asked him why he was so mad at me for making a newbie dog park mistake.
He may not have been able to answer me right then and there because I don’t think he consciously made a choice to treat me like crap because of my age, but perhaps just being called on his reaction would have given him something to think about on his drive home.
Or maybe he could have explained his anger in a way that didn’t leave me feeling like I was being treated like an idiot because of my age and that would have been great because then I wouldn’t have been left to wonder.
And for those who may think I’m making a mountain out of a molehill: The truth is that we should all be examining what motivates our behavior toward others. That’s how we learn and grow and none of us are ever too young or too old to learn and grow.