The XX Factor

Women Drivers, Heh Heh

This post by Eric Morris on the Freakonomics blog wins this week’s award in the ongoing contest of Most Egregious Attempt To Pretend Sexism Isn’t a Factor. The question at hand is simple: Why is it that when men and women ride in cars together, men are far more likely to drive? The answer is pretty simple: Because letting women take control is considered emasculating in our culture and even pro-feminist men are not immune to feeling that pressure-but Morris expends paragraphs worth of dithering to avoid admitting that’s it. He admits that there are such things as “feminists,” which implies that there’s a reason these “feminists” would exist, but he doesn’t quite get to the next step of realizing that it might be sexism, and they’re against it.

This bizarre brotherhood (and sometimes sisterhood) of pretending sexism isn’t a factor in cultural trends is bad enough because it shuts down honest conversation and hurts women, but it also hurts the people who perpetuate the myth of post-feminism because it makes them sound like honking morons. For instance, Morris comes across like a man who doesn’t know you can Google the answer to why the sky is blue:

What else might be responsible? Cultural factors? Social ones? Psychological differences? Logistics? Animal instinct? Historical inertia?

The reason that he won’t entertain the idea that sexism might be a factor is pretty obvious, though, and that’s because he appears committed to the idea that women are inferior to men physically and mentally. His ideas about why women don’t do as much driving drift back to the idea that it’s because we’re just not as good as men:

In the past, physical factors were important. My grandmother learned to drive only after the introduction of automatic transmission and power steering, which made the task much less physically demanding. But driving today’s cars requires little strength. In addition, our roads are engineered to be quite forgiving, for example with very long reaction times permitted by the system.

I was impressed to discover there are still men around who believe that I, by virtue of having girl bits instead of boy bits, am so slow-witted that I can’t figure out that when the light turns red, I need to hit the brakes. I was under the impression that a lot of traffic safety design is due to the fact that designers know most people drive so much that they tune out and need to have more time to react, but I guess that’s because I’m a dumb, slow-moving female. Of course it’s because the government was stupid enough to let women drive, and they have to design the roads now like they’re a romper room! And thank God they invented automatic transmission, since women, you know, have trouble counting to five gears, bless their tiny little lady brains. It’s a shame Morris didn’t get to my father before he taught me to drive on a standard; since both student and teacher were ignorant of the fact that I shouldn’t be capable of handling five whole gears, I learned how to do it without knowing that I shouldn’t.

And that’s not even accounting for the idea that women are so naturally weak that we can’t even handle a car without power steering. (If I’d only known for the first 10 years I was driving a car that I should have been incapable of turning the wheel!) This issue, that women are naturally too weak to lift anything heavier than a penis, was put to rest by Sojourner Truth over 158 years ago , and yet it still keeps cropping up. It is funny how our supposed weaknesses are so context-dependent. Women who are considered too weak to turn a wheel are somehow still expected to be able to exert enough muscle force to carry a toddler in one arm while pushing a grocery-laden cart with the other, or haul heavy laundry baskets up three flights of stairs. Perhaps Morris can start to work on some hormonal theories about women’s super strength that only exhibits itself when household chores stimulate our adrenal glands. Anything but suggest that perhaps sexism is in play.