A woman at the wheel

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A woman at the wheel… Have you ever wondered about the number of female drivers in the US compared to their male counterparts? Let me share some data with you. According to statistics, the number of licensed female drivers in 2018 was around 115 million compared to 112 million licensed male drivers.

Today, women drive all sorts of vehicles, including trucks, and have the financial means to buy their own cars. It has been a long way to get here, though.

Until June 2018, some countries such as Saudi Arabia still maintained the driving ban for women. We cherish the US progress; however, the historical dynamics of the woman-car relationship should not be brushed away either.

The automobile has helped shape women’s identity by enhancing their mobility and independence, but also by deepening their domesticity during some points in history.

Women and cars: Historical milestones

Driving long distances

Historically, driving has been considered a male activity. Ironically, the first person ever to drive a long distance was a woman: Bertha Benz. In 1888, the wife and business partner of Karl Benz decided to put to use his automobile invention.

As people were watching her drive across the village in the Motorwagen, they even got to think she was a witch, putting to life the mechanical “monster.” However, quickly, people understood the importance of driving as an empowering and convenient activity. This was reflected in the increasing automobile sales.

Mechanical engineering

Women have not just been driving vehicles. They have also been perfectly able to understand the mechanics and apply their engineering knowledge to further perfect automobiles. For example, Margaret A.Wilcox from Illinois was one of the first female engineers, who invented and patented the first car heater. Even today, the bases of this invention find application in modern automobile heating systems.

Other women, such as Florence Lawrence, Hedy Lamar, and Gladys West are also part of the notable women list. They contributed with their inventions such as road signals, wireless transmission, and the proto – GPS systems. These examples reflect that women are equally capable as men at handling car issues and making history.

Leading the automobile manufacturing

From driving to car engineering and designing, women have repeatedly shown their practical skills. As the US has increasingly supported gender equality, the role of women in the automobile industry has strengthened.

In 2013, Mary Barra became the CEO of General Motors, making history as the first woman to lead a car manufacturing company. Afterward,  a series of women were promoted as General Managers and Chiefs of different departments at GM and Ford. These events bring hope and further materialize women’s love for cars.

Women as independent drivers

We often associate driving with freedom and independence. However, this has not always been the case. During the industrial revolution, men were the ones purchasing cars, but the women were driving them. It was not as liberating for them as you might think, though. Women would drive to buy groceries and chauffeur their husbands to work and children to school.

Moreover, different automobile commercials would stereotypically depict women drivers in a family context only. In a 1927 Sunset magazine article, Nancy Barr Mavity wrote: “If a man was non-mechanical, it was a personal accident of temperament; if a woman showed the same deficiency, it was a sex characteristic.”

Women could only drive short distances to run errands. This is why, when Henry Ford introduced Model T on the market, he still bought an electric car for his wife. The combustion engine vehicles were men’s privilege. They were seen as totally not suitable for women’s role in society.

During the Second World War, as men were sent away to fight, women had to take care of all household aspects. This is when they gained more independence, and proved that they could also handle regular-engine cars. Driving became their means of escape from family or financial problems. Thus, they were empowered to carpe diem and to visit new places as independent women.

Driving skills: Not better or worse

The legislation does not judge female driving skills against the male ones. However, the stereotype of ladies being worse drivers than men is present. For example, men often get involved in car accidents because they drive too fast or overestimate their car’s ability to maneuver. Whereas, women get involved in such accidents for the opposite reasons: driving too slowly and underestimating car capabilities.

Let’s stop looking at gender as a criterion to assess driving abilities. These examples show that accidents can happen despite gender, and there is no such thing as a better or worse driver.

So, dear ladies, each time someone makes a stereotypical comment about your driving skills, don’t let it affect you. Remember, we have come a long way, and it is also up to you to make the outlook seem even brighter in the future.

Thank you!

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About the Author:

Ina Gjika is a banker who loves to dive into philosophy and dance to the music beats. Ina also enjoys getting lost into her bookshelves and smelling freshly ground coffee, while dreaming about exploring the world. She holds two B.A majors in Business Administration and Political Science & International Relations, as well as a B.A minor in Economics.
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