My car has a scratch in it. Not a little scratch, a big one. And the paneling around it is slightly dented. That in itself is bad enough, but do you know what? Of late I have been considering causing even greater damage. I have thought of arming myself a screwdriver and scratching the following into the paintwork above where the big scratch is:
See that big scratch? Well, if the person driving this car happens to be female, please note that she did not make it. It was her partner. Her partner who is male. And also a fuckwit when it comes to gateposts.
Moreover, that would not be a fib. It was my partner who made the big scratch. But I have yet to make the littler ones (I’m practising – it needs to be neat so it’s clear that I didn’t somehow write it by accident. Although the Daily Mail will still think I did).
The Daily Mail has a real thing about “woman drivers”. Here are some headlines from the 21st century, one decade in:
- Time for a bus pass? Woman driver has three accidents in under three minutes as she tries to get into a car park
- The cliffhanger with a happy ending: Woman driver trapped for 20 hours after car plunges 200ft … but stops just in time
- ‘Miraculous’ escape of woman driver whose car was dragged underneath lorry for hundreds of yards in bizarre motorway crash
- Loo turn! How police had to set up a roadblock after woman bus driver went wrong way down one-way street while searching for a toilet
- Caught on camera: Woman driver filmed talking on phone with no hands on the wheel
- What do you mean, I can’t see the road officer? Woman driver pulled over with a VERY faulty bonnet
- Sorry, I was just trying to do a three-point turn. Woman crushes neighbour’s car
- Now that’s off-road parking! Woman driver finds herself in a tight spot after crashing through railings
- Pub is almost destroyed by woman driver as she swerves to avoid a fox and crashes through wall
- Bit of a tight squeeze: Woman driver gets her tiny car wedged in a town gateway after crash with a truck
- Angry woman driver pays £60 motoring fine with 29 separate cheques in protest at ticket (even though she parked in disabled bay)
- Don’t look now! Woman driver’s terror after stalling her car on rising drawbridge
Have you had enough of these yet? Now I’ve got started I just can’t stop! I could keep going forever, wallowing in the tragic-comic slapstick that is a woman behind the wheel. Hahahahahaha. I tell you something, the Iranians – they totally had the right idea.
I don’t doubt (much) that any of these things actually took place. I am not however sure why any of these incidents truly counts as “news” (mind you, if you start asking yourself that about anything in the Mail you’re on a hiding to nothing). There are no equivalent articles about “man drivers”. There are pieces which involve men causing accidents, but only very serious ones, and here they are called just “drivers”. The more frivolous pieces on men on the road present them as hapless victims of speed cameras or petrol price hikes, and use the rather pompous term “the motorist”.
I would not say I was a brilliant driver myself. I don’t read any of the “woman driver” stories without a feeling of “there but for the grace of God…” (thanks, God). I am perfectly capable of having a ridiculous, Daily Mail-worthy slip-up one of these days. But still, I know the statistics (vaguely, in the way that most of us “know” the statistics without having any specific numbers in our heads); women are, from an insurer’s point of view, a safer bet than men. And hey, look! I just googled something to back this up (and selected the first link, which probably isn’t the best). The article, to be honest, does the same old trick: yeah, women might be safer but are they better? Huh? Women might refer to cold, hard figures but you can always trust the men to take the touchy-feely subjective line.
Women are more likely than men to fail their driving test due to being rubbish at parking. I know this one thanks to another article in the Mail, one which came out this week. This is about a Chinese car park from hell, which has a special place set aside for totally useless females:
This car park in China aims to solve all female parking problems when going shopping.
The area is clearly marked with neon signs, bright pink shopping-themed decor, and hazard bumpers in each space.
Argh! And there are several pictures of this total nightmare! And it looks fucking awful! And yes, I’ll confess: there are times when I don’t have my kids with me when I look longingly at the big, wide parent parking spaces at Sainsbury’s and think “well, I do have the child seats in the back. Perhaps no one would notice if I …” But I have not, as yet, committed such a fraudulent act. And if I happened to be driving in Tianjin, I would not, on principle, use the girly spaces (I would instead be driving around looking for someone to whom to pitch my new movie idea, as I’ve decided Driving in Tianjin sounds like it has potential).
Interestingly, the Mail article goes on to quote research which suggests that one of the reasons women might be crap at parking is down to a lack of confidence:
Psychologist Dr Zachary Estes has made tests which showed that a lack of confidence is a factor in women’s tendency to struggle in tasks requiring spatial awareness and that they improved in these activities when their self-belief was given a boost.
Dr Estes said: ‘Our research suggests that by making a woman feel better about herself, she’ll become better at spatial tasks – which in the real world means tasks such as parking the car or reading a map.
‘So a little bit of confidence-boosting may go a long way in a tight parking spot.’
The Mail immediately follows this up with the line “Pink walls and extra space may be the right way to go”. Er, no. I don’t think you’ve quite understood this. Perhaps a reduction in articles on “women drivers” being useless would be more productive.
As for me, I think it’s partly down to confidence, but personally, it’s also the pressure. And it’s worse if you’re a feminist. I’m fine on my own but if anyone sees me pulling into a tight space I just know – from ample experience with dads and in-laws – that if I make the remotest slip-up, the “woman driver” stereotype will be articulated and reinforced. It’s like the whole justification for gender equality rests in your steering wheel-clutching hands, and it’s not because you’re crap at parking, it’s because other people are prejudiced. And obviously the pressure gets to you so you end up either crashing or performing the classic fifty million point turn.
And how does this explain my partner’s accident? Well, he’s even more of a feminist than I am. That’s equality in action. Do you think a bodywork specialist will therefore offer a discount?