Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Women CAN drive :)

Early this year, I came across a post on Freakonomics that tried to assess why it was that when a couple is in a car, the men seemed to do most of the driving. People opined back and forth about how driving a car is symbolic of having power and 'being in control' and men like to be or seem like that they are in that position. Another party, who I quite agree with, dismissed this whole 'issue', claiming that women don't even Want to drive, and are pretty happy with someone else driving them around.

That being said, I would like to share a rather interesting weekend I had, in that respect. Whether man or woman, I think we'd all agree that most people are rather possessive about their cars and would only give their vehicle to someone they trust it with completely. I think that how often a women is offered your car to drive is a bigger test of 'emancipation' of women, or of how far we've come.

My father still recalls with much amusement, an incident of more than 10 years ago, when he had asked a female relative if she knew how to drive. The response was a non-committal "Uh.. I have a license..." This was truly the picture I knew back at home (Kerala) 10 years ago. Sure we've come a long way from women not knowing where the clutch or accelerator was. Around that time, there was this superficial give-my-daughter-the-power (-or-skill?) wave when girls would go to driving school during her 'break' (you know, she's finished her degree, and is waiting to .. get... married.) With a number of driving schools around, it wasn't difficult to pay them and get a driver's license as well as part of the package. Unfortunately, though, this give-my-daughter-the-power wave didn't come along with give-my-daughter-the-car.

So when this time, my (male) cousins actually trusted me with their car, it came as a real pleasant surprise to me. It was symbolic of how we'd moved ahead, but only partly, since their wives were still unable to pick up the car and go out when alone. But that might just be personal choice. In that, if they wanted to, I believe that they would actually be encouraged.

I came face to face with the other extreme as well. We were driving down to Mangalore and had a stopover in between at a relative's house. I was behind the wheel when we reached the relative's town. He was waiting for us at a predecided spot, to lead us home. When we stopped near him, he peeked into the car, and stood dumbfounded for about 15 seconds. He just couldn't understand it. Here I was, someone he hadn't met before, female, behind the wheel. My male cousin, the one who he expected to be driving when there were 3 other ladies in the car, was (gasp!) on the side seat. Once he recovered, life went on as normal. Until the next morning, when we were to start again. Relative (without bothering to be discrete) tells my cousin, You drive the car now, ok? Don't let her drive. I wasn't even planning to drive, but this was something else. I asked him in quite an innocent tone, why is that? Not accustomed to being questioned by a woman who drives, I assume, he mellowly mumbled about the ghats and that I shouldn't drive. He repeated the instruction to my cousin about three times after that, within the next one minute, lest he forget. I didn't see any point arguing. Que Sera Sera, I thought.

How long before it changes? How long before there is no thought given to the gender of the person behind the wheel? I've been so lucky to have a father who's always wanted us to be in charge of ourselves, as well as the car.

Answer me this one question in the comments section, since you have stopped by anyway :)
How differently would you react to a man and a woman wanting to drive YOUR car? State your sex as well and please feel free to comment anonymously, if you think that will encourage honesty :)
UPDATE: I'd like to hear from women who've been on the receiving end of this 'cultural role-allotment' if I may call it that. Did you ever feel like you were discouraged or not trusted enough with the car? Has that influenced later attempts at driving?