Wednesday, 25 April 2012

women drivers

I'm forever writing posts on my tumblr about feminism and gender equality from the point of view of someone who is neither a feminist or equal in gender. I feel I'm always grasping at straws when it comes to formulating concise ideas about gender in society and always bringing slivers of interesting thought that make little impact on anything.

 For me, the fact that feminism exists means gender inequality is inherent. If there was no inequality then there would be no need for feminism. Interestingly though, there is no such thing as masculinism whilst this gender inequality exists. It's a simple case of history being written by the victor. It frustrates me and I know I could go into a lot of detail as to what is unfair about society as a woman but the point I am making is that this is not helpful. Sure, I get treated in an inferior way on certain occasions as I am female, but equally I get treated poorly more often because I look young, often by older people. Yet somehow older people treating youth like lesser people doesn't result in social movements and activists. This is probably because there is a sliding scale of age and it is less A versus B than male/female divides. The point is that the only way to stop there being social gender inequality is to stop making an issue out of gender, to think less of people being male or female and think more of people being people. I'm the first to admit that there are differences between men and women - physiologically - and that to treat everyone the same would cause problems specifically in relation to health care and other similar physical issues. However, shouldn't the point I make stand up in terms of a person being a person? Sure a woman can give birth and may need to be treated in a certain way whilst undergoing such events, but similarly a man may experience physical issues related to parts of his anatomy which a woman does not posses, and need treated in another specific way due to this. Conversely though a person may have diabetes and need specific treatment for this, and another person may have mobility issues, and need specific assistance in this.

There is one gender related issue that comes to mind whenever I think about gender and sexism specifically, and it is driving. I found the above image on pinterest and looked at the comments below it. Some took a positive spin, saying that the picture clearly depicted a lane for women only, as they are a better quality of driver, and the only ones allowed on a new piece of road. Another commented anecdotally that her husband had crashed his car recently, yet she never had, even though she was a woman driver. One person tried to apply a logical test to determine driving ability but failed to move this beyond the gender issue, stating: "Just no. Most women suck at driving. If you can't reverse it, you shouldn't be allowed to drive it forward". The comment that struck most of a chord with me though was the one said this:

 "part of me wants to be offended and the other part wants to laugh out loud"

 It struck a chord as it is often how I felt about this in the past. I am a competent driver. I say this as I have a natural ability for driving compromising not only an ability to learn and function by the rules of the road, but additionally a good attention span, depth and speed perception and ability to predict the reactions of other drivers on the road. I have driven a car around a race track and my father used to be a rally driver, I believe it to be a skill I have learned from him and also my mother, who is also a competent driver. My husband is also a good driver, but he used not to be. He used to be less confident and less aware of other drivers around him. The reason for this was that he had not driven much. When I learned to drive I was taking lessons and also taken out by both my parents to practice, firstly on private land and secondly on the road. This did not happen for my husband and he only had lessons. By the time I passed my test I'd probably put more miles under my belt than my husband did in the year after passing his. However, now we are both competent drivers. Interestingly I have crashed a car and he has not. Make what you will of that, but please if you want to criticise me for my crash, criticize me for not taking the cruise control off when it was raining. And compliment my husband's lack of a crash for not having been driving under those exact same circumstances.

Going back to the comment above the reason I feel so conflicted about it is for two reasons. Firstly I too want to be offended; if anyone was to criticise me for poor driving I would be outraged to think this was because I had a vagina. No, more likely it is because I was just not good at driving. Some people are, and some people are not. However on the flip side I also laugh at the picture. It is the defence mechanism of someone who knows that feminist arguments are pointless but are not quite sure why. They take themselves and put themselves in with the men, the good drivers. Women who deem themselves good at driving, laughing at the other women who are not. It's true though, isn't it? From the perspective of a competent driver whenever someone pulls out in front of you without thinking, or waits at the empty junction before realising they can turn, or reverses without looking, it is probably 90% of the time a woman. Of course this is not scientific but women do commit driving outrages that seem to be common to their gender. They seem not to think quickly enough, they don't look ahead to what will happen after the thing that is happening at that exact moment, they don't anticipate anything, they just let things unravel in front of their eyes. To other road users this is incredibly annoying. Sometimes like the person who posted that comment, I want to laugh out loud. More often or not I get irate and you will find the words "woman driver" being uttered in my car as I avoid scrapes with dozy road users.

Surely then, it is acceptable to deride women drivers and to get angry or laugh at them? Surely it is something inherent about the way women are made up physiologically, or mentally, that prohibits them from being as good as men at driving? Surely not. Consider this: a young girl is growing up. Both her mum and dad drive. Most of the people she sees driving are men. Her dad drives more often than her mum. Her grandad drives but her gran does not. Her Mum is not confident when driving. Many people around her comment about "women drivers". Even if her mum doesn't ever cause a car accident, comment is never made about her safe or effective driving. Her dad talks about cars and is passionate about them. He is knowledgeable. Her mum is not. Got the picture? Well, when this girl turns 17 and steps for the first time behind the driver's seat of a car, what do you think her expectations for her driving ability-to-be are? Doesn't look like a positive picture does it? Even if she is a good driver and already possesses the skills necessary to be competent, will that be able to override the 17 years of constant social pressure on her not to perform well? You can bet her brother gets into that car with the utmost confidence that he has the ability to do this, and all he needs now is to learn how. She's getting in knowing that she is destined to fail, even before she starts.

It would appear to be a little more clear why then that "women drivers" are so bad then. The only other inconsistency to follow up here is why are there a group of women who are good drivers, and who find it necessary to alienate themselves from the rest of women, ally with the men and say snort "women drivers" in that so familiar way? As someone who deems themselves separate from "women drivers" I believe this to be down to upbringing and character. If you know someone who is a good woman driver then I bet they will be one of two things, either A) someone brought up in a family where the daughter was encouraged to do anything a boy could do or B) someone who has a large amount of self confidence and the attitude that they can accomplish whatever they like, so long as they put the time and effort in. In many cases it will probably be a combination.

In the car with my father the other day we laughed and derided a driver who drove up to a completely clear roundabout in front of us and stopped dead. The driver waited for a moment and then continued. They could have looked 100 metres before the entrance of the roundabout and seen that it was clear, and driven straight through without coming to a standstill. My dad remarked, "got to be a woman driver". I concurred. I don't think my dad is perfect, in fact I am fairly sure he is sexist on many occasions. His saving grace though is that he never is to me. He knows he would get into far too much trouble for that. So as much as the onus is on men to stop being sexist about issues such as "women drivers", it is even more on women to stop letting any person's stupid stereotypical attitude mould them into something they don't need to be. There are many different people out there all with different skills and it is unacceptable to think that the skills for driving cannot be learned by a women. Women need to stop labelling themselves women and start labelling themselves as people before we can ever move past sexism and inequality based on gender. And then we can simply shout "idiot driver" as we are cut off by someone on the motorway, and continue down the road in a world where people are people and that is all.

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