A feminist guide to fitted kitchens: Hester Lacey hears the story of Mrs Rowe and the sexist salesman

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Indy Lifestyle Online
'WOMEN have to be taught to make a noise, to stand up for themselves]' says 70-year-old Mini Rowe sternly. She has spent the last two years doggedly pursuing an apology from Moben Kitchens, who refused to measure her home for new units unless her husband was present. Mrs Rowe has been a widow for 20 years. Supported by her then local MP Margaret Thatcher (another elderly lady who doesn't care to be pushed around) and the Equal Opportunities Commission, last week she received her apology plus an out-of-court-settlement of pounds 750.

'I was surprised and upset that they would not deal with me simply because I was a woman - particularly as there was always equality in my own home and my husband never thwarted me in anything. Why should I not be listened to?' she says.

'When the Moben designer phoned to arrange an appointment, he immediately asked to speak to Mr Rowe. I did not want to reveal information that would lead a stranger to assume that a lady lived on her own, so I said that he could speak to me, as I would be ordering the kitchen, and paying for it. He said, did I realise his demonstration would take two hours, and as it would involve measurements and costing, he needed to speak to my husband.

'I pointed out that I was a professional woman who was quite capable of dealing with him. He asked me if I planned to consult my husband at all - and whether I realised that refitting a kitchen was a complicated matter. I replied that this was the very reason I had called in Moben Kitchens' expert advice. He said either I brought in my husband or he would cancel the appointment. By this time I was getting very irate, and I replied that if he wished to cancel, that was entirely up to him. So he did, putting the phone down very abruptly.'

Although enraged, Mrs Rowe was fair-minded. 'My daughter suggested that Moben might want both partners there so they wouldn't have to make two journeys. So we got one or two men friends to ring through to them - one said 'My wife will be away for a fortnight' - and no mention was made of wives being present when the designer called. I finally got the estimate for my own kitchen when a man friend rang up - there were no queries whatsoever] This was what made me carry on - there was obviously something very, very wrong here.'

Mrs Rowe wrote to Mrs Thatcher, who suggested that she contact the Equal Opportunities Commission. 'They were helpful and encouraging in every way. They said they would be responsible for bringing the matter to court under the Sex Discrimination Act if necessary, and for the costs. What I really wanted was my apology from Moben, which I got in the end.'

She is delighted by her triumph. 'Women are orientated right from the beginning to take a quieter role and that is the problem. Some time ago, two men tried to mug me at Bank station. It just didn't occur to me that I was capable of making a fuss, of screeching and screaming. We have to be taught - don't be passive] Don't let it happen to you]'

Mrs Rowe is amazed by the amount of interest generated by her victory. 'So many people have got in touch to say that they have had the same experience, not only with kitchens but with double glazing. I would say to any woman, don't take it]'

Moben Kitchens' head office refused to comment on the effects of the case. But when I phoned two of their London branches, they were effusively eager to rush round with their catalogues, even though my husband would unfortunately be prevented from attending their demonstration. 'We'd be delighted - we're open seven days and evenings - how does Monday first thing suit you?'

(Photograph omitted)