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?


  1. Not (differently) at all. Won't give it to either :). Exception to the rule: My wife, who is an excellent driver ;)

  2. i would like to marry girl who could drive me around.......i dont like to drive
    i would gladly give her the steering wheel with no second thoughts

  3. I can relate very well to this post :).. It did take me a day's drive to convince my husband that even woman drive well :)..

    I would give to anyone whom I am convinced can drive well regardless of gender.

  4. @Divya: Kudos to your persistence :) So finally Mahesh knows not to doubt your abilities :)

    @Ashish: Ahem! well atleast you aren't being biased:)

    @Warriorwithin :) hehe.. see that's what it feels like on this side.

  5. My Wife wont let me drive her car, My Mom and sister wont let me drive the other one. I just fill the fuel!! I like bikes, no woman has stolen that from me. Though my sister tried.

    Your cousins cousin needs to wake up and smell the coffee!


  6. Its been quite the opposite with me .. I taught my husband how to drive :D..So I will always be his guru correcting him ;).
    And I love to drive,its just that I dont have a great car yet :D

  7. I rem reading a mail which said that males have inherently better sense of orientation compared to females. it s genetic, so u cant blame men for being superior when it comes to sense of direction. and of course, no offenses meant here :)
    i couldnt get that article, but this synopsis might help u to understand the genetics of human race.

    "There’s been a fair amount of research done in the differences between how men and women navigate. Generally speaking, men are more adept at navigation in 3D environments than women. In fact, this ability marks one of the most significant gender differences in ability (Halpern, 2000; Linn & Petersen, 1985, 1986). Interestingly, it seems to point out a difference in the way men and women navigate. Men seem to have an inherent sense of bearings, an instinct of which way north lies. Women navigate more by landmarks. In tests of ability to navigate virtual 3D environments, there wasn’t a significant difference in success levels as long as landmarks were left in place, but when these were removed, men showed an ability to keep their bearings and had a significantly higher degree of success (Sandstrom, Kaufman, & Huettel, 1998). This difference also shows when directions are given. Men tend to use cardinal directions (North, East, West and South) while women reference landmarks (Dabbs, Chang, Strong, & Milun, 1998; Denis, 1997; Harrell, Bowlby, & Hall-Hoffarth, 2000; Lawton, 2001; Miller & Santoni, 1986; Montello, Lovelace, Golledge, & Self, 1999; Schmitz, 1997; Ward, Newcombe, & Overton, 1986). Women also feel a degree of anxiety when entering intersections or exiting parking garages (Lawton, 1994, 1996), not knowing whether to turn right or left. This is certainly true of the women in my life, who seem to habitually choose the wrong direction."


  8. I wouldnt really care about the sex of the driver while deciding if they can get to be in the drivers seat, considering that my mom is a much better driver than my dad!

  9. @unohuiam : wow, why do u sound suspiciously close to someone I know :D ! announce thyself, i beseech you!

    @Anonymous: That's a LOT of resources. :) While I don't doubt your citations, my personal experience has been this: Whoever drives more often, and therefore is more in control/command of the direction, tends to _acquire_ a sense of navigation. I have seen that female acquaintances who drive themselves, are far better at navigation than men. They remember a route, or are able to find their way if they have travelled there once or twice, while most of my male friends do not get a route right, unless they travel down it many many times. Although, its all relative as well. one's personal experience is most likely not the best sample.

  10. @Nikhil: Does your dad acknowledge that as well ;) ?

  11. @Roopa: still, there will come a day of debate on who drives better ;)

  12. Cars are like men - they're simple rational beings, responding to simple stimuli in predictable ways. They don't ever "get it", and cannot fathom the "emotional complexities" of the relationship with their driver (ahem). Simple creatures that they are, when you turn the steering wheel left, they turn left. It's way beyond their comprehension that you actually meant for the car to suggest that if you really wanted to turn right it wouldn't mind at all, and turn right. A car cannot possibly understand what you mean by "if I need to tell you which way to turn, then I won't", or when "brake" means "accelerate" and vice versa.

    Women can handle cars, most definitely so. The other way round, now that's the question :)

    (Male of course, but rarely serious and definitely not so in this case)

  13. And jokes apart, I've once given my car to a friend with the admonition that he mustn't drive it but his girlfriend may. Once you actually know people, stereotypes are irrelevant.

  14. I agree, once you know people. But that is where the problem is. As you said it, the stereotype, when you don't know the person.

  15. If you randomly pick 100 men and women, and their close friends ask them, would they go for an automatic or manual vehicle (given the cost difference) what would the answers be? Thats your answer.. :)

    And do they like driving or is it a headache.. I've seen women who are both good drivers and who dont like driving really. Same with men. Now the ratio is what you are talking about.

    But how does it matter anyway..

  16. I don't drive, and neither am I good at directions. My sister on the other hand is far better than my bro-in-law. Where as my Dad is far better than mom. I really can't comment on this one. Hats off to all those men and women who can drive and who remember directions. Because my life is incomplete without GPS and Google maps.

    A special note to Anonymous - I really appreciate the way you responded with all those references. I always admire arguments supported with facts and research.

    Prajna (Female)

  17. i know women who drive really well, tough I must admit most women drivers on the road are a bit clumsy with parking etc. but that should be no reason to make a judgement about women drivers in general. guess, hamara Bharat will take a while to move on from this mentality. till then, i will keep driving it (in)

  18. I am a woman and I must say when I go back to India for the holidays my dad doesn't trust me with his car as far as he could throw a stone and it's not even like he drives a 4x4 or anything. Just so you know I drive exceptionally well in the UK.

    But the same thing when applied to my twin brother, our dad is perfectly confident in his ability to handle his car even though he has dented it twice on the first two occasions he took it out!

    To which I say - "In your face Dad"!

  19. Ryan Bingham (Up in the Air): I'm like my mother, I stereotype. It's faster.

    We all stereotype at some level, don't we? Based on ethnicity, gender, profession and what not, sometimes even unconsciously. It's as if there is an inherent need to categorize, to put things in compartments. (Which I don't understand btw.) And also probably as Ryan says, it's faster. Who has the patience to deal with individuals, one at a time. Oh Reena can't drive, Leena can't drive but Meena can. I meet Teena and since the ratio in my head is 2/3, there goes the assumption. Btw nice I got a quartet of similar sounding names, though no one keeps them these days..:)

    Anyway I'm not really against mild stereotyping. What concerns me is how deep-rooted the not-so-mild type has become in our society. And it's a vicious circle. The greater the amount and depth of stereotyping prevalent, the lesser the emphasis on action to change the source of it. No wonder it flourishes. In this case, the greater the number of people who have in their heads 'women can't drive', the lesser the women get to drive. And so they continue to be not so proficient with the limited exposure they get.

    It's much simpler if we stick to individuals isn't it? Rach can drive, excellently at that to take Ashish's word, and so can a few people who said so above. I can't drive (as yet) and so can't a few other people who said so above. Who cares if "women" can/can't drive or "men" can/can't babysit or "this group" can/can't swat flies.


  20. @Anonymous: A delightful summary to the whole set of comments :) Do you write often?

  21. rach,
    i think except for this foolish cousin of your cousin, whom I think, i know well, men in general always appreciated your driving, especially back home, in kerala. Your uncles, cousins all are mighty impressed with the way you can handle any vehicle & your family always will endorse for your excellent driving skill, except of course when you are behind the wheel in my new car!!!
    Love you

  22. I would let anybody drive, as long as I don't have to.