Six years ago this August, I began driving.
I had gotten my driving license on my first attempt, a decade ago, but I did not drive. I was feeling inadequate, powerless. My husband knew better than me in all matters. I was brought up to respect and look up to men, from my grandfather to the idealized A-male who would lead me to my happily ever after.
Once I got my license, my husband never let me drive “his” car. Finally, he bought me one. His taste, his style, his color. The very few times I got behind the wheel, I was bullied. My daughters copied their father’s behavior to a T. The final straw dropped when he made me get off the car. I was so embarrassed, I never drove again. A few months later he sold the car. Wait! Had he bought the car for me, or should I say that I bought it? for fifteen years I worked for free in the family business, like so many women in Greece and other Southern European countries like Italy and Spain, and never get their work acknowledged as such.
In fact, according to OECD (the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development), every Greek woman working outside the home spends four hours every day on domestic tasks. Unpaid. this is a country where only 10% of CEOs are women, while the EU average is 30%.
Women drivers are very often harassed in the street. They are told to “go to their kitchen”, and they are insulted in the most vulgar of ways. In which case, if you are accompanied, your man will likely step in to protect you…by telling you not to drive again, to save yourself the heartache. No, they will never face the insulting fellow man. It is your fault that you have taken to the streets. Do you really mean to become a feminist?
It took an important unexpected mishap in our conjugal life, for me to take the wheel and drive my children and myself everywhere, safely, and on time. I felt efficient. The adult of the family I knew I was.
When we meet and discuss with our adult children, they “blame” my change of heart to the fact that I began driving. “You saw that you can live without him, even better”, my younger daughter said. “You now feel powerful in ways you did not before. Now you know you can go anywhere you want”, my young son added.
Six months ago I placed an order for a new car. The seller made my life a nightmare with a list of mistakes in the process. I got a lawyer. He told me, “Madam, you should have gone to the garage with a man”. I was furious. Come on, guys, this is the 21st century!
We are not innocent of the blame, though.
Women are prisoners to conditioning, and there is a lot that needs to be done, on a personal and collective level for women to reach self-empowerment. When I discussed cars with friends, asking for advice on different models, the most common answer was: “What cars did your husband drive? Buy one of them”. I did. The car I ordered was not the car I wanted but the first car my husband and I owned.
During confinement, I yielded to the pressure and joined the family house. I have not driven for months. Fear creeps up again under my dress. I know I need to step in and step up again.
I seriously think of selling the car and buying a used one. One that I will love to drive. “Would driving his car make you feel empowered? could you take your revenge?” my friend asked over a homemade courgette pie in her courtyard, soon after we returned from the sea. Would it?
Now that Covid-19 makes transport and communication tricky, I wonder if life behind the wheel is the secret to a new women’s revolution. What if communicating with each other, helping each other, supporting each other, became our passport to empowerment? What if, to quote Susan Jeffers, we feel the fear of facing the street bully, the manipulative husband, the needy children, and do it anyway?