There's perennial debate about whether men are better drivers than women. Terrible female drivers are the stuff of legend. Look up women drivers online and on the first page you will find an article (written by a woman, incidentally) entitled "Why women drivers drive me mad", a YouTube compilation of "Top 10 WOMEN DRIVING FAILS!" and an image of a multi-car pile up captioned "WOMEN DRIVERS' ANNUAL MEETING".
Yet research published last year indicates that women are better drivers than men when measures such as: "Stopping safely at amber traffic lights", "Adequate use of mirrors" and "Appropriate speed approaching hazards" are taken into account.
I don't hold a view as to which gender possesses superior driving skills but I have noted a phenomenon which suggests that women drivers just might be lazier than their male counterparts. In my twenties I noticed that when a married couple went out together, the man would almost invariably be the one who drove. "That's sexist" I thought, and promptly went out of my way to ensure I was behind the steering wheel pretty much every time I went driving with my other half. I was determined to subvert the whole man-takes-control-while-woman-sits-helplessly-by cliché. It was overused, unoriginal and made no sense at all to me.
Then in my thirties, I observed what I interpreted as a consequence of this passivity, this refusal to take charge of getting yourself from one place to another. I discovered that somewhere around the age of fifty, some women suddenly deem themselves incapable of performing certain challenging driving tasks. For example, I witnessed a few occasions where the woman made it very clear that if she wasn't being chauffeured up the mountain by her husband then she wouldn't be going skiing. Seemingly out of nowhere some feebleness asserted itself.
Keen to avert this manufactured helplessness for myself, I made sure I negotiated every mountain road I could find. I drove up (and down) Cardrona, Coronet Peak, the Remarkables and Mt Hutt more times than I can remember. I drove across the Crown Range on several occasions and I once drove down from Treble Cone with a freshly sprained ankle after an unaccompanied skiing expedition. I put in all this motoring effort to ensure that I kept my independence when I was older.
But then somewhere in my forties my strident attitude faded and now I must confess that my husband and I have embraced the stereotype about who drives and who sits in the passenger seat. When we go out together, it's silently assumed that he will drive us in his car. It's become a bit of a joke between us. We can see what is happening even while we seem helpless to stop it. "Who's driving?" one of us will ask as we're already halfway to our destination. What are we like?
Even on the weekends when we take the horses out in the truck, my other half has become the main driver. Four years ago when we got our truck licences, we divvied up the driving so it was strictly fifty-fifty but now, over 30,000-kms later, I have become accustomed to being driven to events and driven home again.
A couple of weeks ago, after we'd stopped for diesel in the truck, I decided my reversing skills were called for and invited him to vacate the driver's seat. Once I'd performed the manoeuvre he expected to continue driving but I was like: "Nah, I'm okay". We hadn't travelled far before he commented that he hadn't been driven anywhere for ages and he was quite enjoying the rest.
So, what is it with women and their penchant for being driven around by men? Is it laziness or does it simply represent a fondness for being taken care of by our other half? Are we all just simpering princesses beneath our girls-can-do-anything exterior? And what about the men? Does it enhance their sense of masculinity to get behind the wheel? Does "letting" a woman drive them around make them feel insecure?
I don't know the answers to those questions. All I do know is that, despite my best efforts, I've turned into one of those women I really did not want to become: I'm going to make a special point of doing my share of the driving from now on.