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For me, one of life’s great mysteries has always been how, whenever I am attempting to manoeuvre my car into a tricky space, a man appears, seemingly from nowhere, to lend a hand.
Whether it’s a multi-storey car park or my local High Street, there he’ll be like some kind of parking superhero, waving, gesturing and barking instructions with the aim of helping little old me park my big, shiny car without damaging anybody else’s.
While I’m sure he has the best of intentions, his appearance will always guarantee the same response from me: a polite(ish) request to clear off and leave me to it.
Because, hard as it may be for some men to believe, not all female drivers are helpless Penelope Pitstops who can’t efficiently drive or park a car without their help.
IT REALLY ISN’T THAT DIFFICULT.
As someone who’s been driving for 20 years without having a scrape or prang, I confess to being extremely irritated by the type of pathetic woman, like those described in this week’s AA survey, who is terrified by the prospect of parallel parking.
According to the AA, a third of women will change their plans rather than confront the sheer terror of simply parking the car.
Parking in a cage full of hungry tigers would be terrifying. Parking on the edge of a cliff on a windy day could be a bit hairy — but parking between two other stationary cars? I find it hard to believe that women who have experienced childbirth, hold down jobs, run households and cook Christmas dinner find it beyond them.
I can only assume the women surveyed live in houses with garages and drives. I live in Central London and have to park on the road.
If I refused to reverse park and, instead, drove around until I found a space big enough to drive forwards into, I’d end up parking about six miles from where I live.
If you drive today, when there are more cars on the roads than ever, parallel parking is non-negotiable.
I believe the reason for some women’s lack of confidence can be laid at the feet of men and their Neanderthal attitude to female drivers.
When I first took my driving test in 1986 I failed, even though I made no obvious mistakes. The examiner claimed I hadn’t used my mirror enough. I had, it’s just that he had been too busy ogling women at bus stops to notice.
My instructor later told me that, even though I was a good driver, he knew I would fail because most examiners (at that time) had an unofficial policy of failing women at their first driving test in the hope of putting them off. I eventually passed at the third time of trying.
“LEAVE NIGHT DRIVING AND FREEWAYS TO YOUR HUSBAND.”
It’s a shame I wasn’t old enough to take my test in the 1950s or ‘60s, when women were quizzed about what they intended to use their car for. If the examiner heard that the woman was just planning to nip to the shops or hairdresser and wasn’t going to make a nuisance of herself on any main roads, she was far more likely to pass.
My grandmother, who passed her test in the early 1960s, was told she was to leave night time and motorway driving to her husband - an order she never dared break.
One of the reasons so many women are so bad at or fearful of parallel parking is because it wasn’t made part of the UK driving test until 1991. Presumably, before then, it was assumed a man would do it for them. But it’s because women have, for so long, been treated as imbeciles behind the wheel that so many struggle.
You only have to look at sexist shows such as Top Gear.
Men still regard driving as their domain, along with DIY and barbecues. That must be why my busybody, middle-aged neighbour stands in the street watching whenever I reverse park next to his car. He is waiting for me to go inside so he can inspect his vehicle for damage, something he’s done for 10 years even though I have never left his car with even a scratch.
And in two decades of driving, I don’t think I’ve made a single journey without encountering aggressive behaviour from a male driver, whether it’s a white van man, a sports-car petrol head or Mr Mondeo in his driving gloves.
It’s thanks to men like this that in 2012 there are women who still refuse to go on freeways, won’t use self-service petrol pumps and, of course, avoid parallel parking.
Rather than being so frightened of a very easy manoeuvre, perhaps a better way of looking at it would be to think: if a man can do it, then how hard can it be? - Daily Mail