I don’t drive. I never really learned. I realize this sounds ridiculous to some of you, but I grew up in a NYC suburb and was one of those over-achieving high school kids who decided that a bunch of extracurriculars were more important than driver’s ed. I started college in DC at 17, and well, driving just never happened. There have probably been a half-dozen times in my life when I wished I had a car and a license, but they’ve always been random events, and I’ve always been able to figure out a way to take public transportation or get a friend or family member to give me a ride. (This probably does make me a horrible mooch, but I promise, these things happen incredibly rarely. Less than once a year.)
Besides, taking mass transportation and walking and biking are good for the environment, right? I’m one less car on the road! Parking in DC is incredibly expensive, and I’m led to believe that car insurance, as well as car maintenance, isn’t cheap, to say nothing of cars themselves. These are the things that I usually tell people when they find out that I can’t drive. They are also partially true, but there is another factor: I’m really scared of it. My father is an excellent albeit very aggressive, driver; my mother was in a bad car accident as a child. This made for some incredibly stressful driving experiences growing up (and to this day sometimes!). My final go-to excuse is simply “I’m terrified of killing someone,” which is the real reason behind my reluctance to drive. Cars go fast! Fast enough to hurt or kill someone most of the time. I don’t want any part of that.
I realize, logically, that I ought to know how to drive. When the post-apocalyptic zombie takeover happens, for example, driving skills will be useful. Or if I move away from the East Coast, something about as likely as the zombie takeover. But still, it’s part of being an adult, and a skill that I really ought to have. So when my sister came to visit last weekend, and flew into a difficult-to-get-to airport, I rued the fact that I couldn’t just rent a Zipcar and go get her.
I was saying this exact thing to one of my coworkers, whose response surprised me: “You don’t drive?! And you call yourself a feminist?! Come on!”
I hadn’t ever thought of driving in terms of feminism before. It’s a right that’s just so ingrained in American culture, totally taken for granted. My coworker was born and raised in West Africa, so perhaps that explains her different perspective, but I couldn’t get her words out of my head. I know, of course, that women in Saudi Arabia are forbidden from driving, but aside from that (and as driving is one in a long line of rights denied women in Saudi Arabia) I had never really thought of driving as a right that was fought for or earned.
Still, I suppose driving must be empowering. (Is this something everyone else realizes at 16 or 17? If so, I’m a decade late to the game. At 27, this is honestly the first time I’ve wondered if that might be true.) Is driving fun? Is it freeing? Television ads seem to tell me that yes, it is, but the day I believe TV ads is a sad day indeed. Mostly it just seems like a stressful, scary hassle. I’d rather take the bus. But am I refusing a right that other women worked hard to earn?
Globally, definitely yes, in certain places. In the US, perhaps not as much. I just did a bit of Googling, and turned up something truly amazing: A 1952 LIFE Magazine article about the first woman in America to get a driver’s license. Here’s where it gets weird for me: The woman was from Washington, DC. The article specifically mentions the building that is now my office. And Anne Bush, the first licensed woman, learned to drive because her father hated horses, so he bought a car. (Related: Go read the article. It is mostly a treat, except–please be warned–there is some racist language about the family’s nursemaid.) So perhaps, due to my fear of driving, I will be on the frontlines of the next transportation revolution? The key point in the article id that once driver’s licenses were required, Anne simply signed up to be tested, took the test, and passed–though technically the license was to operate a steam engine, as the District of Columbia decided to classify early cars as portable steam engines. Oh DC, you never change.
But I digress. While driving was never illegal, many in the US did think it was inappropriate for women to drive, and personal battles fought at home still count as victories for women’s rights. Cars–indeed, pretty much all machines–have always been seen as part of the male domain, if we want to look at traditional gender roles. But to hell with traditional gender roles, right? I’m all about being subversive, I just never really considered driving to be an act of subversiveness.
So what do you think? By not taking advantage of a right other women fought for, am I a traitor to the cause of women’s rights? Is driving a feminist act? Do you think of driving as enjoyable or as a hassle? Also, obviously–should I learn to drive?