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Stereotypes can be defined as “a set idea that people have about what someone or something is like, especially an idea that is wrong” (Cambridge University Press, 2019). Subconsciously stereotypes are used liberally to help simplify our social worlds. Through using a preconceived or widely held idea about a person based off of one of their characteristics (e.g., ethnicity, gender) it is assumed that everyone who possess that characteristic will also possess the same traits. Stereotypes can be both negative and positive, but negative stereotypes are encountered much more frequently than positive ones. This essay will discuss a widespread stereotype around the world – that women are bad drivers or worse drivers compared to men.

If you google ‘are women bad drivers?’, there are a plethora of results ranging from news articles to research dissertations discussing how there seems to be a general idea that women are bad drivers, and subsequent evidence showing that women are not bad drivers and are in fact just as proficient at driving at men, if not better. The parameters used to define being a better driver range from number of tickets, accidents and insurance premiums. If there is so much information to the contrary, why is this idea still so widely accepted? The answer lies in how stereotypes originate and are perpetuated in society. Research shows that stereotypes start when people share information and then break down the information to make it easier to understand, this leads to the formation of cultural stereotypes from the oversimplified shared information. As the same information is passed down from generation to generation and spread through the media, it further solidifies itself in society as a belief about that particular social group (Martin, et al., 2014). This can be seen in context to the idea of women being bad drivers as well.

There are numerous comedians who use ‘bad women drivers’ in their jokes along with television shows that portray women as ditzy and too absent minded to be able to be good drivers. An example of this can be seen an episode of the cartoon show ‘The Jetsons’, in the episode ‘Jane’s Driving Lessons’, which aired in 1963. Even though the cartoon is set in 2063, rather than choose to portray women as equals to men, the episode chooses to depict the matriarch of the family, Jane, taking driving lessons, and depicts her as generally unable to learn how to drive (Novak, 2013). These instances in the media are meant to be in jest, but only serve to further solidify the negative beliefs they portray. Young children may watch the show and start to think where they previously had not thought, about women driving and being bad at it.

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The stereotype is further perpetuated because women statistically do not drive as often as men. For example, in India women make up only eleven percent of the driving population (Dhawan & Ram, 2018), as opposed to the United States, where women make up forty nine percent of the driving population (United States Department of Transportation – Federal Highway Administration, 2018). The majority of men who drive in India have been driving for much longer than their female counterparts, women will learn how to drive to increase their own mobility, but then do not end up driving very far, instead driving to run errands. Many women and their families prefer for them not to drive regularly and for long distances, as it can be seen as unsafe to be driving on the roads of large Indian cities. Female taxi, auto and bus drivers face ridicule and rash behavior on the road from their male counterparts, simply because they are female and also driving a vehicle (Dhawan & Ram, 2018). Many Indian households can only afford one car and preference is automatically given to the male member of the household to use it, in more wealthy households there are drivers or male members of the family volunteered to drive rather than the women (Dhawan & Ram, 2018). It was traditionally expected that the man of the house would go out and earn and the woman would stay at home and tend to the household, in this situation there is no need for women to know how to drive, this is a key aspect in the fewer number of women drivers. Learning how to drive and being in control of your own mobility has an immense contribution to the feeling of independence, it is because of this that an increasing number of both urban and rural women are choosing to learn how to drive (Azad Foundation, 2014).

Despite this prevailing thought process on women drivers, the statistics show that they are safer and more cautious on the road than men. An article published by the Times of India highlights these statistics. The article quotes Joint Commissioner of Police (Traffic) Satyendra Garg in saying, “The number of women drivers is just a fraction of the number of men who drive. But even proportionally, women are involved in far fewer accidents and incidents of rash driving than their male counterparts”. According to a report undertaken by the Delhi Police, women are participants in less than two percent of all fatal road accidents in Delhi, in 2011 there were twelve fatal accidents caused by women behind the wheel and seven hundred and twenty-four fatal accidents caused by men behind the wheel. Furthermore, the involvement of women in non-fatal accidents leading to injury was also less than those of men: women behind the wheel were involved in fifty-three accidents causing injury, and men behind the wheel were involved in two hundred and twenty-four. The article goes on to state how the findings of the report go against the general perception in society that due to women being bad drivers they are involved in or are the cause of more accidents. So, women continue to break the age-old stereotype of their driving ability with statistics, showing that they are actually much more careful behind the wheel than men.

Despite strong evidence and research to the contrary, women continue to be stereotyped as bad drivers. Unsafe road conditions, road harassment and traditional social mindsets contribute to fewer women wanting to drive. Despite there being fewer women drivers, or maybe because of it, it seems as though their every move while driving is more heavily analyzed than those of their male counterparts. All of these factors serve to contribute to a vicious cycle of women disliking to drive and therefore driving less. Despite these factors, in recent years the number of women choosing to drive has gone up, and with each generation more and more women are choosing to be at the helm of their own mobility and independence and learning how to drive.

References

  1. Azad Foundation, 2014. Women On Wheels. [Online]. Available at: http://azadfoundation.com/our-programmes/women-on-wheels/ [Accessed 6 October 2019].
  2. Basu, I., 2011. Women Are Safter Drivers, Says Delhi Police Study. [Online]. Available at: https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/delhi/Women-are-safer-drivers-says-Delhi-Police-study/articleshow/10383186.cms [Accessed 7 October 2019].
  3. Cambridge University Press, 2019. Cambridge Dictionary. [Online]. Available at: https://dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/english/stereotype [Accessed 4 October 2019].
  4. Dhawan, H. & Ram, S. G., 2018. No Ban But Plenty of Bias: Why So Few Women Drive in India. [Online]. Available at: https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/home/sunday-times/no-ban-but-plenty-of-bias-why-so-few-women-drive-in-india/articleshow/64809217.cms [Accessed 7th October 2019].
  5. Martin, D. et al., 2014. The Spontaneous Formation of Stereotypes Via Cumulative Cultural Evolution. Psychological Science, 22 July, 25(9), p. 1777–1786.
  6. McLeod, S., 2015. Stereotypes. [Online]. Available at: https://www.simplypsychology.org/katz-braly.html [Accessed 4 October 2019].
  7. Novak, M., 2013. Jane Jetson and the Origins of the ‘Women Are Bad Drivers’ Joke. [Online] Available at: https://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/jane-jetson-and-the-origins-of-the-women-are-bad-drivers-joke-17672597/ [Accessed 6 October 2019].
  8. United States Department of Transportation – Federal Highway Administration, 2018. Licensed Drivers by Age and Sex (In Thousands). [Online]. Available at: https://www.fhwa.dot.gov/ohim/onh00/bar7.htm [Accessed 4 October 2019].

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