Today was an absolutely beautiful spring day, and I spent part of it outside on the patio of my favourite café, watching the world go by. While doing so, a lady parallel-parked her Toyota along the sidewalk across the street. She did so in a manner which was perfectly in accordance with any responsible motorist... quite unblogworthy, really. But it got me thinking... whatever happened to the myth of the "woman driver"?
It used to be that in the newspaper comic strips or Reader's Digest, or any fine purveyor of safe, stale humour, there were few lower-hanging fruits than those of the woman who got her car into a horrible situation, and then failed to grasp the significance of her actions. In real life, road rage would take on a particularly caustic tone when the other driver was revealed to be a female. In days gone by, it was "common wisdom" that women were just worse drivers than men.
Needless to say - and yet I'll say it anyway, just to be clear - this is not the case. I say this not with statistical proof, but with the simple knowledge that two people with eyes, hands, feet, and brains are equally capable of driving a car. And so long as chauvinism exists, so shall slander on the highway.
("Slander on the Highway": if you see a headline like that, it's a slow news day at the Sun offices. But I digress.)
But let us return our focus on earlier days to ask... what was up with all those jokes? Was there some actual evidence, during the dawn of the automobile, when it was much less user-friendly? Was it just because more families were single-income back then, meaning that the father bought the car and used it for work, so he was the one with practice driving? Or did it stem from resentment of the fact that women seemed less inclined to want to understand cars on the same level as men?
But here's where I'm really going with these questions... did anyone ever try to justify these stereotypes in a study of some sort? Did they try to fabricate reasons (e.g. women have to check their makeup while driving) and then shoehorn them into reality? Did they look at statistics which showed no gender bias, and then try to account for why those results weren't actually trustworthy?
If any studies like this exist, they'd be fascinating reading. And more importantly, they'd be a valuable tool in reading studies today. One of the the more controversial announcements in the 2011 budget, for example, was the expansion of the Canadian prison system. On a topic like this, facts, opinions, and studies are constantly thrown against each other. Do prisons deter crime? How well should prisoners be treated? Are they being punished or rehabilitated? Do more prisons cause more incarcerations? And how are crime, arrests, convictions, and incarcerations related to each other?
All excellent questions, and a study that tries to answer any of them is almost immediately re-interpreted by opposing philosophies. Having an existing body of scientific fallacies, like the aforementioned woman driver syndrome, would be a handy resource for bias detection...
...but these are just idle thoughts on a beautiful Saturday afternoon. Really, I should just post this and go out for a drive right now.
Or maybe a walk.