There is a car parked outside the village shop, identical to my late, lamented Silver Bullet. Granted, the Green Goddess is in a considerably better state than her predecessor, but there are still twinges of nostalgia. The notice in the window of the car describes its legal condition and price and adds a single, simple phrase, guaranteed to make you think that this is a trustworthy vehicle.
‘One lady owner.’
The immediate assumption is that here is a car that has been well maintained and gently driven. It is a phrase we are conditioned to accept as a reassurance of reliability. We do not think twice about it… the car, should you be looking for something of that nature, is definitely worth a look.
Except… that’s the thing. We don’t think about it… we simply accept the implication.
Now, not only have I driven with a good many female drivers. Indeed, I am a ‘lady driver’. And, for a moment, I thought about what that means. Now, don’t get me wrong, the majority of women are excellent drivers. Statistically we may be the better drivers, but that depends on which study you look at. Many of the accidents we have may well be the bumps and scrapes acquired in the Pit of Hades, otherwise known as the supermarket car-park.
However, no matter what the illusory stereotype of the little woman sedately driving the school and supermarket runs may suggest, you can never generalise that easily. I have bought cars that have had the ‘one lady owner’ that have been spotless and fabulously maintained….and immediately had to replace a clutch that has been ridden to death or add oil to an engine that appears to be dying of thirst. That same lady owner could also have kept a menagerie of ill-disciplined animals and children, all of whom may have left their detritus, muddy paws and bodily fluids all over the interior. I’ve had them… I know what dogs and children can do to a car.
The vehicle that is immaculately presented may have come from a car-lover. That can be even worse. For a long time, I drove a white van for a living…one of the long-wheelbase, high topped variety. White van men have an even worse reputation than women drivers on the road…and back then, few women were driving large vehicles. The look of panic on the faces of male drivers as they saw me coming towards them was a constant source of delight.
I learned to drive fast and with confidence. And a small, sporty car can do things on a road that a large white van cannot…officially, at least. There is no guarantee that an apparently sedate woman is not a demon from the dark side once she hits the road.
I also learned to do my own day to day maintenance and how to strip down an engine, cleaning it with horrific inventions like oven-cleaner and Brillo pads before putting it back together again. And anyone who has driven with me may tell you that once behind the wheel, I am no lady.
So, after careful consideration, ‘one lady owner’ is more likely to strike abject terror into my car-buying heart than to reassure me.
Yet, we are almost brainwashed into accepting that it is right. We seldom question it; invisible stereotypes and ingrained prejudice run so deep that we do not even think we need to do so. And I can’t help wondering how often that applies to what else we unconsciously accept in our everyday lives. Especially in the things we tell ourselves.
Too old. Too young. Too late. Too soon. Not until… The litany goes on. Some are excuses for the things we dare not do. Others a reflection of the ‘should’ and the ‘ought to’ that are imposed on us by societal norms and I wonder if we should question those too. My son has a sign up in his home. It says ‘challenge can’t’.
The world has changed since we were younger… and that is true of all of us, no matter what age we may now be. What we grew up accepting as the norm for our elders has shifted, allowing the boundaries of role, gender and stereotype to be broken. Yet we may still be stuck, living within the accepted rules of a world now gone. Maybe we should also be questioning our acceptance of our personal status quo and instead of thinking we ‘can’t’, really asking ourselves ‘why not’while we still can?