[Originally published in Turkish Daily News]
This might not be the most politically correct thing to say, but I cannot resist the temptation to proclaim the truth: Most Turkish women are horrible drivers. You will see what I mean if you spend a couple of years, or even months, in Turkish streets. If there is a car in front of you which is too slow, too undecided, and too paralyzed, there is 95 percent change that a lady will be sitting in its driver seat. Indeed, it is a truism among Turkish men that “women can’t drive.”
Of course, there are exceptions. I have a friend who defies most clichés about Turkish females, including this driving problem. Her car has a sticker which reads, “Beware the mare,” and she masters all the highways and narrow streets of Istanbul with great skill. Once in a while, I see more of such ladies who have developed the talent to survive and triumph in the Social Darwinistic driving culture of this frantic city. Yet they remain exceptions.
Not Much Decision Making
In the distant past, I used to think that there was some genetic reason behind women’s failure to handle the steering wheel. But I started change my mind as I spent time in the roads of America. Here, many females were — and I am sure still are — pretty skillful in driving their huge jeeps, trucks and SUVs. “It is not that women can’t drive,” I said to mself. “It is the Turkish women which have a problem with that.”
Let me speculate a bit on the origins of that phenomenon. One thing about driving is that it is a very individualistic experience. While moving on four fast rotating wheels, you can’t ask anybody whether to take or not to take the next exit. You have to decide it for yourself. You have to be independent.
Of course such an individualistic experience can be very dangerous if it is combined with irresponsibility. That explains why quite many Turkish men are horrible drivers, too: Actually they are the ones who are generally reckless and aggressive. They see their cars as embodiments of their egos, and try to satisfy them by intimidating other vehicles.
As for most Turkish women, however, the problem is just the opposite: Generally they are very cautious, but they lack the talent to respond to challenges. A common joke about a Turkish female driver is that she crashed into a roadblock because she couldn’t decide to take whether the detour to the right or to the left. The problem is the lack of a talent for independent and quick decision making.
A sociologist would easily see the link between this driving problem and the role given to women in Turkish society. The lack of independence is precisely what our society suggests as a feature of the ideal woman. In popular Turkish imagination, women are perceived as girlfriends, spouses, and wives. They are not self-made human beings who master their lives. They need to be protected, financed, and tutored by men.
I bet some readers would rush to blame religion, and in particular Islam, for this passive female attitude. They would be partly right. It is true that there are elements in the Islamic tradition which make women subservient to men. One just needs to look at Saudi Arabia to see how tyrannical those teaching can be on the feminine side of the society.
Yet the Turks who have distanced themselves completely from Islamic teachings and who have rather become zealous secularists can be very similar in the way they see gender relations. Go to upscale bars in Istanbul and you will see drones of stylish girls looking out for “rich husbands.” Their career plan is based on not their intellectual merits, but their physical assets that will attract males who will, if they are dumb enough, pay for and take care of their lives. These “provider” guys will probably buy these girls fancy cars, too — and the latter will probably soon crash them into some roadblock.
Who Is to Blame?
On the other side of Turkish society, one can find “Islamic feminists” who criticize the “chauvinism” in the Islamic tradition, which they see as a post-Koranic deviation, and who argue for a comprehensive reinterpretation of religion. These women might be journalists, doctors or academics who earn their living and make up their own minds. Despite the clichés, there is no sign of a dominating male under their veil.
In other words, the culture of the passive female is something that stands alone, and it can dominate both the secular and the religious mindsets. Similarly, both of those mindsets can be liberated from the attitudes that prevent the flourishing of a decision-making, independently thinking personality.
The thriving of that individualism — which is often, and quite mistakenly, confused by selfishness — is the key to the progress of Turkish society. It will definitely help our women find more meaning in their lives. I believe it will even make them better drivers.