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Feminism, SUVs and road rage

By Tanveer Ahmed - posted Tuesday, 1 July 2014

Something unusual happens when otherwise perfectly modern couples enter a car. They often regress and revert to traditional gender roles. Unless he is thoroughly inebriated or physically injured, the male inevitably drives. It is virtually an expectation.

This is certainly the case in my relationship, where my professional wife would never consider driving if we were both travelling somewhere, even when it's in her own car.

This is in contrast to women driving without their partners, when many revert to aggressive and combative car lovers, no different to men. Infact, the sharp surge in SUVs in the car market is in part driven by women loving the vehicle type, feeling more powerful and invincible with the raised suspension.


While the workplace receives all the bluster and debate, a less discussed battle line of modern feminism is being fought on the roads.

A recent global study by Gallup found road rage was on the increase and that Australians were among the worst offenders, with three quarters of drivers reporting being subjected to obscene gestures, amongst the highest in the world. Tailgating and verbal abuse were other common expressions of road rage.

While men still make up the majority of those whose temper in the automobile tips over the edge, women are increasingly doing their bit, says motoring expert John Cadogan.

"Women are increasingly aggressive on Australian roads, which is one of the reasons SUVs - and in particular luxury SUVs - have exploded in popularity. Road rage tends to be a male phenomenon, whereas when a woman gets behind the wheel of an SUV, that's about either equality or superiority. Maybe it's also a case of 'you're not going to intimidate me any more'."

There are certainly unique features about cars that make us more vulnerable to aggressive outbursts. We feel more powerful and more anonymous. They are like a second home, almost an extension of us as a person. So motorists, females included, tend to respond to perceived threats in a territorial fashion.

So why then does this assertiveness suddenly recede when males are around and does it say something about the place of modern feminism?


The most discussed and debated book surrounding women in the past year is almost certainly the Facebook CEO and billionaire Sheryl Sandberg's motivational treatise "Lean In." I have no idea what car Sandberg drives, but being in the IT business I suspect it is some kind of hybrid, electrical contraption.

Her central point is that the advancement of women is hampered not by institutional or attitudinal barriers, but by women's inhibitions. It is a conservative message of individual responsibility and more subtly an argument that feminism has little to offer the middle class, educated woman.

A similar point was also made in an April episode of ABC's Q and A program, when the guests were asked whether they were feminists. The conservative on the panel, economist Judith Sloan, responded that she was not a man hater and therefore not a feminist. This raised howls from other guests and many in the studio audience, but the association is not an uncommon one today .

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About the Author

Dr Tanveer Ahmed is a psychiatrist, author and local councillor. His first book is a migration memoir called The Exotic Rissole. He is a former SBS journalist, Fairfax columnist and writes for a wide range of local and international publications.
He was elected to Canada Bay Council in 2012. He practises in western Sydney and rural NSW.

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