Men, women and driving: Gene Weingarten puts sexism in reverse

(Eric Shansby)
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Sunday, January 2, 2011

I'm watching a TV commercial on YouTube. Three men from Johannesburg are in a car. The driver declares himself "The King of Reverse," and boasts that he could drive to Cape Town, entirely in "R." A $50 wager is made, and they set off. Head over his shoulder, the King drives backward at breakneck speed. Hours pass. Day turns into night, then day again. The passengers heckle, kibitz, sleep, feed the driver a sandwich, etc. Finally, triumphantly, the bleary-eyed, bestubbled trio makes it to Cape Town, where, amid their wild cheering, the car plummets backward off an overpass and they all, presumably, die.

It turns out this is a commercial for a South African company that, in an odd wrinkle on apartheid, offers car insurance only to women. The video was forwarded to me gleefully by my friend Gina Barreca, the feminist scholar. Gina, please tell the people what you contend this commercial proves.

Gina: That women are better drivers than men.

Gene: Safer, maybe. Not better. If anything, it establishes -- and I derive no joy from saying this -- that men remain the visionaries. The doers. The darers. Men don't just admire Everest, they climb it. Do you know my first reaction to this commercial?

Gina: Yes. I do.

Gene: You do?

Gina: Yes, because I know my brother's first reaction to it. He said, "I wonder if I could make it to Montreal."

Gene: Well, he lives in New York. Being from D.C., I was thinking Philadelphia.

Gina: This is exactly why women are better drivers.

Gene: You mean, like your mother?

Gina: You leave my mother out of this!

Gene: I wish I could, but it is information you have shared, and it is germane to this conversation, which you initiated.

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