I've always thought that the subtle forms of sexism are the most vicious. I thought so again when I heard from Smiti Kumar of Bethesda.

Early in December, before it closed for good, Smiti bought some groceries at the Memco store in Rockville. She was waiting to have them loaded into her car when a young male Memco employe attempted to push aside an empty cart.

But his aim wasn't the greatest, and the cart "rolled off the curb, hit the passenger side of my car and caused a small dent and a couple of scratches," Smiti writes.

"The young man came over, looked at the damage and told me not to worry as the damage was hardly noticeable. He seemed a bit surprised and annoyed when I asked him to call a manager."

The manager wasn't much more comforting, by Smiti's account. "He, too, decided the damage wasn't bad, and, in fact, he even insinuated that I was making too big a deal out of it, as the car had other scratches on it. He then reluctantly took my name and said the insurance company would contact me."

It did, and it paid up to the tune of $52.60, which convinces me that noticeable damage took place. Have you ever met an insurance company that pays a claim for no reason?

But the more troublesome lesson in the story is that two men, dealing within the traditional male province of cars, tried to intimidate a woman who clearly had a reason to complain.

Would the two men have acted the same way if a man had been doing the complaining? I doubt it very much.

As Smiti reports the story, you can almost hear each of the two men saying to himself, "Wow, this lady is being a real pain."

They might well have thought the same thing if Smiti had been male. Plenty of men are pains, too. But the warfare that took place outside the Rockville Memco is, sadly, another chapter in the battle of the sexes. My money says there wouldn't have been the grimaces or the insinuations if Smiti hadn't been a she.