He For She: On The Road Too

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It was part media hype, but I believe it was very well deserved, i.e. the world's reaction to Emma Watson's address to the UN General Assembly in New York. Her powerful He For She speech has had an impact on many people. It has even led to many (even tangential) debates about the meaning of the word feminism. However, I believe, it takes on a greater meaning in this side of the world than it does in the rest. The reason? We are a culture that has traditionally claimed to respect and honour women, but in reality have not. We are also a people on the move; a country and region that wants to get ahead, grow and strive for prosperity - and has the potential to do it, more than others, perhaps.

So what does this have to do with Emma Watson's message? Well, I believe that we all need to really think about how gender equality becomes extremely crucial to achieve these targets and goals. Like all things - even one small step should also be lauded, for getting us moving in the right direction.

Which brings me to my point: there are more women today than ever before, who drive or ride their own vehicles. India has female cab, bus, and even truck drivers. There are women who operate heavy machinery, and of course there are plenty of women getting behind the wheel of a car, or donning a helmet and going bike crazy. Well, not nearly enough actually wear that helmet - but that's a separate conversation!

Again, you may ask - so? Well, that is where Ms Watson's speech left an indelible impression with me. With all these women now amongst us in traffic - do we - the men - really make room for them? Sure the feminist argument for equality suggests that women don't want or need special treatment, but in our society is that really true - or fair?

Here's the thing - how many of you have seen the driver of a vehicle ahead of you in traffic seem hesitant, or slow or simply getting it wrong - and thought, "Oh God, that's got to be a woman driving!" Exasperation, criticism, and sometimes even some gesturing follows, and you drive off cementing the view in your subconscious that women cannot and perhaps should not drive.

I have been guilty of this is in part too, and I have been thinking it over the past few months. Why do women drivers have such a bad reputation? Is it because they are indeed under confident, unskilled or worse - disinterested drivers? Or is it because, as the cliché goes, they are too busy chatting (on the phone too), or touching up their makeup to care about what's going on around them? Well, all these scenarios can be applied, but the under confidence and sudden panic is perhaps the most common in our part of the world.

Instead of simply getting frustrated, I believe we need to understand where that comes from. Most male drivers on the road do NOT accept women drivers. They are often heckled, overtaken, honked at, and of course judged as bad drivers - simply by the virtue of being a woman. Women can't park, women can't drive, women can't turn - the list is endless. That said, is it not true that we are a male-dominated society that scoffs at women drivers in the first place, and that, then, has in part led them to being this way?

Now let me clarify - it is not my view that all women are bad drivers. I know some very capable women drivers, who could beat the pants off their male counterparts - not in terms of speed - no, I mean in terms of precision, etiquette and sheer skill. There are thousands of bad male drivers, but somehow they are seen as individual idiots and don't give the whole group a bad name - isn't it? Why is that? Why the disparity?

Even today, men are reluctant to accept that women should drive. How many fathers "allow" their daughters to learn to drive - even after the age of 18? The sons on the other hand often learn when they are 14 and drive around their localities illegally! Most women don't have female driver role models in their own families - mothers, aunts or sisters - and are often the first ones to learn to drive.

Yes in the 1990s it was a still a relatively rare sight to see a woman driving. Of course, there were more of them in the big cities, but I am talking across India. Today it is no longer true. Young women especially believe it is a natural transition to learn to ride/drive and get their own set of wheels! Look at the resurgence in scooter sales in the smaller towns! Scooters are the sole product with specific models being marketed exclusively to women.

Yet the attitudes persist. So now you will ask, what is the point I am really trying to make? Well it is just this. He For She. Yes those words apply here too. How? I am not suggesting we all make way for women drivers, and treat them with kid gloves. No - that would play into the stereotype even more strongly now wouldn't it? All I am asking is that the male drivers - at least those of us who care, or have even half a brain - should simply stop judging the female driver any more than we would a male driver. Just treat every car or bike on the road, as just that.

Would there be some morons who are totally at sea, and some devious drivers flouting every known law of the driving land? Sure! That, again, is a whole different problem and those drivers could be male or female! But don't smirk, don't judge, and don't honk when you see a female driver mess up - or worse - before she messes up! If you offer to help, that's well - something you should really be doing for any driver. But stop judging, stop rolling your eyes, and stop berating. Every time you do, the women in the car with you - your own loved ones at times - read that as your affirmation of your supremacy. Maybe not overtly, but subconsciously. And that is exactly what gender equality is trying to beat now isn't it?

So its not that I feel my suggestions are to be read as noble, or benevolent. The He For She suggestion I make is simply a practical one. Make way for gender equality on the road, and it might just have some impact in what your overall attitude transmits to friends, fathers, sons, brothers and even strangers. He For She - on the road. I will try and live by this more sincerely starting this minute. Hopefully at least a few of the men reading this - will too.

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