Women Drivers and Other Prejudices

Ladies First
John Kirkpatrick, for whom I drove in England some years ago, also managed the Jim Russell Racing School. He was fond of saying to the students, in a thick Scottish accent, “There are only two things you can’t tell a man he does badly, and one of them is drive a motor car.” Of course, John was also fond of using expressions like, “You’re not as green as you’re cabbage-looking,” so we mustn’t take it all too seriously.
In teaching racing and advanced driving, on occasion we encounter that certain couple. The kind where, upon arrival, the guy is quite condescending towards his wife, openly believing that he is the super driver and "the little woman" needs all the help. This triggers an interesting response among the instructors, because we know that in general, women are better students, and that said gentleman could have a comeuppance within a day or two. I've known instructors to discreetly make every effort to ensure that in the timed event at the end of the course, the female partner goes faster. Childish, I’m sure, but a somewhat chastened husband might learn from the experience and start to recognize what good driving really involves.

There have been some astonishingly capable women racers, going as far back as the 1930s, when a Czech lady who I believe was named Elizabeth Junek competed on equal terms with the guys, on a world-class level. More recently, there have been examples like Michele Mouton, who stunned the rally world with her performances in one of the early Audi Quattros. In Iran, no misprint folks, Iran, car racing is becoming increasingly popular among women. One of the top racing drivers in the country is a 30-year-old PhD student, a beautiful and talented woman named Laleh Seddigh who has earned the nickname Little Schumacher, after the great Grand Prix champion, Germany’s Michael Schumacher.

All of which goes to show that gender or race based stereotyping is pretty silly. Still, every now and then we hear statements about different nationalities, and how inept they are behind the wheel. There are some who will state that Orientals, or perhaps Indians or Pakistanis, as a category, simply cannot drive. However, the truth is that driving skills do not specifically belong to a gender or race. These days, there are some very quick Japanese racers on the Formula One circuit, and there will be many more. Our only advantage initially, in North America and much of Europe, is that we were raised in and around motor vehicles. Simply getting to sit there while Mom or Dad worked through traffic gave us a seat-of-the-pants feeling for the task. Of course, if you have barely ever sat in a car before attempting to drive one, it will not be a pretty sight.

Two points here. All that narrow-mindedness simply contributes to unpleasant events on the highways, up to and including unreasoned road rage. Next, and in part this is for the racing fans, it will be very hard to maintain that sort of prejudice when in a few years, as could happen, an Iranian woman wins a Grand Prix, or perhaps
a fellow from
China wins the Indy 500.