On Gender, Feminism, And DrivingS

I might as well admit it: I really hate driving. And while I've come to terms with some other enmities (cleaning, skiing), this one still makes me feel bad because it's just so gendered.

In what's to be the first of a series of posts on gender and travel on the New York Times Freakonomics blog, Eric A. Morris lists some differences between men's and women's driving habits. Men typically have longer commutes than women, and women tend to take shorter trips in general. Men also make up a large majority of truck drivers and chauffeurs. And perceptions of female drivers remain mired in stereotype. Morris writes,

What's more, the "woman driver" stereotype hasn't quite deserted us entirely; as Tom Vanderbilt reported in his book Traffic, men and woman are more likely to honk at woman drivers than male ones. And, perhaps surprisingly, University of Washington sociologist Pepper Schwartz reports that in 9 of 10 households that identify themselves as "feminist," the man does most of the driving when both partners are in the car.

This last statistic hits home with me, as a longtime feminist and driving-hater. Whenever I'm in a relationship, the dude does 99% of the driving. I once set out on a road trip with a boyfriend, in my car, and then pulled over after ten minutes so he could take the wheel. It's not that I'm into traditional gender roles on the road — I'm just deeply embarrassed to have anyone, especially someone I love, watching me drive. I'm not actually that bad a driver — I've never (knock wood) been in an accident, and I've only gotten one ticket (for going a blistering 41 mph). It's just that I've never really gotten comfortable behind the wheel, and I feel like driving actually destroys the traits in me that I associate with feminism. Ordinarily a confident and independent person, I become nervous, dithering, and indecisive, and I frankly don't want anyone to see me like that.

Of course, the reason I never learned to love the open road may be gendered as well. My parents were restrictive about my early driving in a way they weren't with my brother, forbidding the freeway and preferring that I got rides from friends rather than driving myself. Then again, I'm also the firstborn, and I was a manifestly shitty driver at the beginning, largely because I have no hand-eye coordination and I can't tell left from right. I'm not sure if I would have gotten over my distaste if I were male, and forced by social pressures into the driver's seat, but I do know it's just as unfair to expect men to be awesome drivers as it is to expect women to be terrible ones.

I go back and forth about whether my driving problems or a flaw in my feminism. On the one hand, it's not great that any boyfriend automatically becomes my DD. On the other, driving isn't particularly good for the planet, and in an ideal world, we'd all do it less. Since I moved to New York, I don't have a car anymore, and construction aside, I heartily enjoy letting the subway conductors do my driving for me. I still think the fact that men are the default drivers in feminist households is troubling, and it disturbs me that many still assume women will be worse drivers than men. The truth is, some of the calmest, most confident drivers I know are women — and for now, I'll yield the wheel to them.

Sex And The SUV: Men, Women, And Travel Behavior [NYT Freakonomics Blog]