Yesterday, as I left the underground station, I watched a scene play out before me that I have witnessed many times. A man travelling in the same train as me was being met by his wife who had driven to the station to collect him. On seeing him, she got out of the driver’s seat and went round to the passenger side. He got in and drove off. I guess we have all seen this at some time or another. It took me back to my childhood when my mother did the same thing when collecting my father.
I observed a similar situation in our street on Sunday this week; a family going to church as they do most weeks. When the mother drives the father sits alongside her and their two sons (16 and 18) sit in the back. On this occasion the father drove and the mother got in the back to allow her elder son to sit in the front.
The car seems to present us with an opportunity to determine a family pecking order based on gender.
What is the message that my neighbours give their sons and what was the message I was receiving as a child in the back of my parent’s car. How do the messages we receive impact on our behaviour and how does it inform attitudes?
How much of the contemporary workplace difficulties faced by women have their roots in the question “who sits in the front”. We, boys and girls growing up, seem to be told that women should know their place – a passenger to their husband’s driving and deferring the front seat to their sons. Perhaps the glass ceiling was developed in the car.
This is the 21st century and surely it is time to make a change.
How many of you reading this Blog will recognise the scenarios above as real situations in your family? Think about the messages you are giving your children (and others who may be watching). You have an opportunity to make a change and make a difference too. Power is in the hands of the driver; the passengers put their faith in that person (and not only when they have been drinking). Children should grow up seeing their parents sharing this power equally. It is part of the rebalancing that needs to happen on the journey towards gender equality. Sure, it is just a small step, but for many families it would represent a huge leap into a fairer world.
Having been through this situation myself, I know it is more challenging than just passing over the keys to your partner. At first it felt like a bit of a slight on my manliness, the need in me to always be in control, in the position of power. But by accepting the challenge and the twenty years of discussions that have gone along with it, I know I have far a greater understanding of gender issues and awareness of the affect my behaviour has had on my children.
So I challenge you. Men, cede some control and share the driving. Women, claim your position behind the wheel. In time, it will feel good.