Girls Can’t Drive 
(By Which I Mean “Me”)

Alice Stanley has always felt guilty for being clumsy behind the wheel.

Photo by anyjazz65

I suck at driving.

  • If someone is giving me directions on the way to a destination, and he/she gets out of the car, I literally don’t remember if I came into the cul-de-sac from the right or left.
  • My mental capacity to estimate distances is null. Any memory my brain tries to make about how many minutes it takes to get to the store or how many miles on the highway until my exit gets fuzzified in my head, like someone accidentally used my Pensieve to mix the French toast batter.
  • I have no internal compass. At all. I know the sun rises in the East, but unless it is sunrise and I have to walk directly East, this knowledge usually confuses me.
  • I rarely notice street signs. I’d like to say that’s because I notice landmarks, but the truth is, I notice neither when I’m trying to get somewhere.

I consider myself a bad driver even though I’m technically a good driver: I’ve never been in an accident, and I’ve gotten my car through torrential downpour, surprise blizzards, and rush hour Chicago traffic. I’m just not a fun driver. I’m the person who puts the seat as close to the wheel as possible, clutching it with my hands 11 and 1 o’clock, completely ignoring any conversation coming from the radio or the person in the passenger seat. I also usually mutter to myself.

It’s bothered me before that I rarely go anywhere without making at least one wrong turn (even with a GPS). But it’s kind of how I’m wired. How do you become the kind of person who knows where she’s going? I can study maps for hours. I still pull out of my driveway and don’t remember a bloomin’ thing.

So when I’m going out with someone else, I rarely drive. This means that when I date men, we are figuratively equals, but he is literally always in the driver’s seat — even if it’s my car.

As a cheerleader* for gender quality, the metaphor of my driving behavior bums me out. On my own, I am a walking — er, driving — stereotype that women are worse behind the wheel than men. Because I suck at all things cars (the engine? where dat?), I appear helpless to dudes in my life and strangers who listen as boyfriends seem to give me extremely condescending directions to the party.

I just moved to Tempe, AZ to begin graduate school, and I met a guy from my program for dinner. He picked me up because I’m new (Surprise! I’ll be just as useless in a year!) and drove me through various parts of town. We laughed and said he was my tour guide as he pointed out the various sites and areas. Over dinner, we started talking about some of the things we had driven by, and it was immediately clear to him his gas had been wasted. I couldn’t remember a single cross street and couldn’t even recall if driving towards mountains meant going north or south. He had told me the particular place we were dining was close to my condo and would be good for me to know about, but I had no idea where I was.

Later in the week, while out with other members of the program, he mentioned he had been my tour guide to our peers. They asked where we went, and I blushed.

That was the moment I vowed to become a better driver. A great driver! A PhD of directions! But, then, my previous questions came back to me: how? Furthermore: why?

I know my life would be better if I could commute without giving myself stress knots, but honestly, I’m happy to bike or get toted. It’s the societal implications that get me. And that’s precisely why I realized I couldn’t set out to become Queen** of the Road.

It’s one thing to falsely be identified as a bad driver because I’m a woman, but it’s completely different because I happen to fit this specific stereotype. If I set out to prove a stereotype wrong at my frustration and expense, have I done womankind any favors? Not really. It’s just as constricting for any group of people to be forced to act oppositely as it is to live with the stereotype in the first place. That’d be like Asian kids purposely trying to suck at math. How criminal would it sound if the NAACP told all its members they couldn’t listen to rap or hip-hop?

In the end, stereotyping isn’t wrong because it’s negative — because all people have quirks. Stereotypes are wrong because they promote seeing group pitfalls instead of individual pitfalls. I don’t want to hear that stupid joke about Hellen Keller being a bad driver because she was a woman anymore. I want to hear jokes about me being a bad driver — because I am. And I’m willing to ride this character flaw out, from the passenger seat.

* Male or female cheerleader.
** Or King! Equality!

Photo by anyjazz65

Alice Stanley is an MFA candidate in Dramatic Writing at Arizona State University. Follow her tweets or send her an email. She also has a website.