It’s fair to say that most drivers (especially those who frequent Canberra roads) have had a moment or two of road rage over the course of their driving history.
Our roads are one of the few places in society where we regularly put our lives into the hands of complete strangers, and we take that risk because of the social and legal contract that requires us to obey road rules and act with common decency.
But it’s inevitable that someone will piss you off at some point while you’re driving – whether they’re too slow, too fast, erratic, indecisive or distracted, and that’s just me listing all the things that irritate me when I’m in the passenger seat with my partner driving! (Joking! He really is the superior driver out of the two of us.)
But a friend told me about a recent incident that had more sinister undertones and reinforced a suspicion I’ve had for a while about sexism on our roads.
This friend, let’s call her Monica, is a very competent driver but prone to a dash of road rage herself, as I’m sure she’d be the first to admit. She’s a petite young woman and drives a large ute which she regularly uses to tow a horse float.
On this day, she was driving sans float in the right lane. A male driver in an SUV was trying to undertake other cars so he could turn right, and he was indicating to merge in front of Monica. Monica missed seeing his indicator initially, and then when she did, she waved in apology, by which time he’d already braked to duck in behind her.
They ended up next to each other as the traffic light turned red, and the guy wound down his window to yell at Monica. She wound hers down and said something to the effect of, “I didn’t see your indicator; there’s no need to be rude about it”, to which he replied, “You didn’t see my indicator because your car is too f-ing big for you to be driving!”
Is this a comment that he would have made to a male driver in a ute? Would he even have wound down his window to abuse the driver if it was a man and not a woman?
Monica told this story to a table of women at dinner. Suddenly, we were all pouring out our own experiences of male drivers saying sexist remarks or intimidating us while we’ve been driving, with the latter being the most common. Men tailgating us, brake tapping and accelerating to make it impossible to overtake them, following us with their high beams on … I know I’ve had angry male drivers in the past follow my car home, tailgating me to intimidate me after some minor incident – and it works because, as most women will tell you, having a strange man threatening you while following you to your home is pretty bloody scary.
I’ve also witnessed road rage incidents between two men, or two women, and where women are the instigators. But comments like the one made to Monica are clearly sexist, and grounded in the stereotype that women are bad drivers, presumably because our ovaries have a direct function when we’re behind the wheel, which makes our driving different from that of men.
Although road rage can be universally instigated and experienced, the added element of sexism and the existing dynamics of women’s safety in public – where 53 per cent of women can expect to experience sexual harassment in their lifetime, and 1-in-3 will experience violence perpetrated by a man in her lifetime – mean it’s especially frightening for women to be harassed or intimidated on the road by men.
Not being one to back down from a fight, Monica was quite happy to inform the angry man in the car next to her exactly what she thought of his implication that her size has anything to do with her driving ability. If I were her, I’m not sure I would have been comfortable to even wind down my window, and in fact, I usually drive with my doors locked out of paranoia of these exact types of interactions.
I am already bracing myself for my readers to inform me, yet again, how this is a trivial thing to complain about, but I’m also curious as to whether other women have experienced road rage from men that has taken on a sexist tone? Or was this just one especially angry misogynist in a fleet of otherwise run-of-the-mill road ragers on our streets?