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It’s a rare event in which my boyfriend Jason and I head out to a VW get-together driving in separate cars. In the good old days when my GTI was on the road, it often served as our chariot. There was only one problem – it was not I who was behind the wheel.
I realized one evening that I wasn’t alone, though; that there were a few other girls in the same situation. We noticed it, laughed about it – and then I’d enviously eyeball the single girls who rolled in, prideful and secure in the drivers’ seats of their own cars, with no one to answer to. Since that particular night, I’ve devoted quite a bit of thought to this subject, usually while slouched reluctantly in my passenger seat. Lest this analysis of what is unfortunately a familiar situation for some women be grossly misinterpreted as a feminist rant, just bear in mind that I’ve got the cars’ best interests at heart.
It is an occasional pleasant change of pace to be a passenger in your own car.
It’s almost a different level of consciousness when I relax in my car and just enjoy moving along without the effort of driving. But the actual level of relaxation attained is questionable when I start considering the side effects. It’s nerve-wracking to see the right side of the road from the passenger’s perspective (when it comes to my rims, any distance to the curb is just too damn close). It’s frustrating to relinquish control of my CD player according to the age-old decree that the driver can overrule any choice of music. My supple leather Euro Corrado steering wheel should be gripped by a pair of dainty hands properly moisturized with proprietary Bath & Body Works products, not perpetually dirty man-hands coated with all manners of grime, grease and oil. And climbing in my driver’s seat after it’s been adjusted to suit the driving posture of someone else? It’s never quite right again.
Men are too critical of women’s driving habits.
I shift too early and I can’t parallel park to save my life. These are facts I readily accept, yet I hate to be reminded of them constantly when I drive. It’s considerably more difficult to concentrate and usually I find it easier to just hand over the keys. Funny how all hell breaks loose when I gently remind my boyfriend that he’s run my car into more curbs than I have (R.I.P., factory mudflaps). We won’t even touch the subject of my near-spotless driving record compared to his long list of tickets and more.
The men always want to drive something different.
Consider, for example, male stereotypes – one characteristic (read: character flaw) can pertain to different areas of an individual’s life. I’m talking about “experience,” and men seem to want to get their hands on the steering wheels of as many different cars as possible. (Just ask Jason, who has owned at least 20 cars in the two and a half years I have known him.) Women are generally more loyal, tend to keep their cars longer, and are less likely to spend a Saturday sampling the latest wares proffered at all the local dealerships. On the contrary, I’m terrified of driving others’ cars for fear of damaging them. It feels like a breach of etiquette or an invasion of space. Men are, as a whole, less concerned with these issues.
The men’s cars aren’t running.
It’s simply true that a woman’s car is less likely to be in a purgatory-like “project” state. We like control, and we want function in the things that we own. I am too damn practical to spend tons of money on a car that is essentially nothing but a lawn ornament, dreaming about the day it will be done. That’s not to suggest our cars are always intact and always ready to go, but generally, we keep our transportation functional. I want to wash it, wax it, fill it up, and drive it now.
The girls’ cars are better.
This is an elaboration on the previous explanation (not to mention, my personal favorite). The women I have met who are active in the car scene understand the importance of keeping up with (or better yet, staying ahead of) the men. It’s rare to see a messy, sloppy female-owned car in the enthusiast circuit. What some of us lack in mechanical aptitude we make up for with style and, if all else fails, cleanliness. Yes, I said “better,” and no, that’s not the same as “faster.”
But still, all of the above fail to justify why we consistently don’t hop in and grab the wheel; after all, a passenger seat that’s good enough for us is plenty adequate for men. So I sought another possible explanation. “Natural hierarchy” is not my choice of words, and I am reluctant to use the term at all, but it was mentioned with some certainty by one of my co-female VW drivers. I’d hate to think that the age-old men vs. women battle could really be what it boils down to, because I feel lucky to be in a relationship with someone who appreciates my car almost as much as I do. But then again, Lindsay Lohan’s starring role in the newest “Herbie” movie doesn’t exactly mean we’ve reached vehicular equality.
It’s interesting to note what happens when we take ownership of our cars. On the occasions Jason wants to show off his car du jour and I want to drive too, I do. The scrutiny and criticism are still to be expected, but are far less frequent and come after the fact instead of a more distracting play-by-play. There have even been times (though few and far between) I’ve gone to a car event by myself. It’s refreshing when people ask me what I’ve done to my car, instead of automatically turning to the male. Driving makes me feel more like a participant than a tagalong.
I’m “the VW driver” as opposed to “the girlfriend.”
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