"This was the first time someone singled me out and said I couldn't be something because I was a woman," Rebecca Landis Hayes tells PEOPLE

By Michelle Boudin
June 15, 2016 03:40 PM
Courtesy Rebecca Landis Hayes

Lieutenant Commander Rebecca Landis Hayes, a former Navy physician, was working a half day and trying to find the perfect cake to celebrate a colleague’s upcoming baby shower when she ran to a neighborhood grocery store in Concord, North Carolina, and parked in a spot designated for veterans.

“I don’t usually use them. I don’t feel comfortable. I’m perfectly capable of walking and I’m always afraid someone might call me out,” she tells PEOPLE.

In fact, someone did.

The 42-year-old mother of three was back in the car and on the road when she noticed a folded piece of paper wedged under her windshield wiper. She worried there had been a fender bender in the parking lot and pulled over immediately to read it.

“This parking is for Veterans, lady. Learn to read and have some respect,” the note bluntly stated.

Hayes, who comes from a long line of military veterans and served in the Navy for eight years before leaving for private practice in 2008, was shocked.

Rebecca Landis Hayes (center)
Courtesy Rebecca Landis Hayes
Rebecca Landis Hayes
Courtesy Rebecca Landis Hayes

“I thought, ‘Wow, people really do think this way!’ I’ve been lucky my whole life: This was the first time someone singled me out and said I couldn’t be something because I was a woman. I was angry and sad. I’d like to think in a world where we have the first female as a major candidate for president, someone shouldn’t be making those assumptions anymore.”

She was so upset, she wanted to confront the person who left the note but didn’t know how. Instead, she posted a picture of the note and her stunned response on her Facebook page. It’s since been shared thousands of times.

“I am shocked all of these people are sharing this. We identify that this is an issue in our society. Hillary Clinton is running for president and people think women can’t be veterans. We need to learn in this country not to make so many stereotypes.”