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Breaking the bias

Breaking the bias

“Babae kasi.”

How many times have we heard this random conclusion from drivers who see erring motorists on the road? Whether it is lane hogging, a slow moving car, failed multiple attempts at parking, or even a less than decisive move when the coast is clear, women are conveniently made the culprit of the annoyances experienced while driving.

Even the used car ads we see often reek of gender bias against women. Notice how “Lady Driven” is often included in a car ad to slyly connote that the car is well taken care of versus other cars owned by men. Why are we still even entertaining these biases today?

As we celebrate International Women’s Day and Women’s History Month this March, we also highlight their contributions to society as equal partners. Gender equality after all is already a given in this day and age. And if you still think men are superior to women then it is high time you crawl out of the rock you are stuck in.

While riding the women empowerment bandwagon may seem the politically correct thing to do, it is not without merit. Even in motoring, women have proven time and time again that they are just as capable and as skilled as every other male driver behind the wheel.

Twenty years ago, I had the unique opportunity to be the teammate of an up and coming girl racing driver. She was turning heads not only because of her looks, but also because she had the skills, tenacity and speed to keep up with the men.

It was a privilege to have seen how a young, 20-year old girl would lead a pack of chest-beating male drivers into turn one. She did not flinch in corners that would make other men back-off. She would go mirror to mirror with anyone to finish an overtaking move. And yet, after the race, she would emit an aura of easy going innocence that could only endear you more to her.

Of course, I am speaking of Gaby dela Merced. In many ways, she broke the mold of what a race car driver should be. First of all, she was not a man. And for a sport oozing with testosterone, this was a refreshing development. Second, she bore the torch for women drivers not only in the sport, but in everyday life. She showed that with the right training and exposure, women can make a name for themselves in this competitive and judgemental sport. Indeed, in society even.

The author with Gaby dela Merced

Women like Gaby opened the doors for a new generation of girls who dreamed of pursuing their racing ambitions. Michele Bumgarner, who at that time was like any other pre-teen girl, showed that she could mess around the track with boys her age in karting. Like Gaby, she showed that women can indeed make a difference in their chosen paths. That like men, it only took conviction and belief in one’s self to get ahead. More than just proving they were better than the men who they raced with, they also showed they can achieve more with the proper mindset and grit. 

And perhaps that is why we continue to celebrate International Women’s Day each year on March 8th. To remind women, young and old, that they too can become anything they want if they put their minds into it. That they do not have to settle for biases and tropes that relegate them to anything less than they should be. 

Just because a car is driving slow, it does not mean that a woman is behind the wheel. Just because one cannot park in a straightforward fashion, it does not mean all women are spatially challenged. And that because a car on sale is “lady driven” it does not mean it is of better condition. Men can just be as good or as bad in any situation. Biases do work both ways.

See Also

According to data from the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Fatality Analysis Reporting System (FARS), almost every year from 1975 to 2019, the number of male crash deaths was more than twice the number of female crash deaths. 

The US Insurance Institute of Highway Safety cites a study that states while men drive more miles than women, “they are more likely to engage in risky driving practices, including not using safety belts, driving while impaired by alcohol, and speeding.” 

One need not even look far to see which gender is involved in significant crashes. Just see which gender has had the most brushes with the concrete barriers along EDSA in the past few weeks.

Can we therefore infer that women drivers are “safer” than their male counterparts on the road? Perhaps. But more importantly, it only shows that our long-harbored generational biases no longer hold water. 

Every driver on the road deserves to be treated equally. And while there is no need to glorify women behind the wheel, there should also be zero tolerance to denigrate them. Women, just like men,  have the right to drive in peace. Let us not add to the hate that is already festering in the world today.