Samantha Bennett: Sexism in a parallel universe

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When I was a little girl, sexism was easy to see, and it was bad. Men complained about “women drivers,” “women’s libbers” and the way the wife kept “going crazy with the credit cards,” because she was home all day and had no sense of how hard a man had to work to pay off the Diners Club.

We kids heard phrases like “not bad, for a girl” and were scolded for behavior that was “unladylike” while being told that “boys will be boys.” (What did anyone expect them to be? Boys will be opossums? Boys will be cans of succotash?)

A few decades later, the open, patronizing, head- (or butt-) patting sexism of my childhood has largely been shooed into talk radio and the scummier crannies of the Internet. Now, belittling attitudes toward women which are, to be fair, often shared by women — tend to bubble up in weird phenomena.

As recently as a dozen years ago, I heard an ad on the radio for a car dealership that was having — surprise — a big sale. Yes, the pitchman crowed, we have SUVs, minivans, all the latest models, “and automatics for the ladies!”

When I heard that, I almost double-clutched.

Especially because I was dating a man who couldn’t borrow my car because he couldn’t drive a manual.

The belief that women are inferior drivers is subtle and hard to eradicate, like an intermittent bad smell you can’t find the source of and finally blame on the dog. On the one hand, I find that women are less likely to drive fast and recklessly. On the other, I have been shocked several times to hear women admit freely and without shame that they cannot parallel park and will not attempt to do so. The penalty for this is a life sentence to the suburbs.

I would have thought that, aside from the rocket science of curbside maneuvering, parking presents a roughly equal level of challenge to both genders. Apparently, I would be wrong. As evidence of our perceived shortcomings behind the wheel, I present the news from Seoul, South Korea, where “women-only” parking spaces are longer, wider, and indicated with pink lines and pink icons of people wearing what look like tutus.

If this catches on here, we will have designated parking for people with actual disabilities, and for new and expectant mothers (If you say you’re two months pregnant, who’s going to challenge you? Unless you’re 60 or a guy, of course), and finally for those whose only challenge is that we were tragically born without a Y chromosome.

To be fair, this is part of a huge and expensive program to make Seoul more “female-friendly.” Other modifications include replacing ordinary sidewalk pavement with a “slightly spongy” surface easier to walk on in heels — and THAT, I think, is brilliant. I bet it’s also kind to male walkers, who may be able to discard their gel insoles. Pittsburgh’s perpetually broken, rough, uneven, crumbling sidewalks have ruined more pairs of my shoes than its famously vile weather.

The girly parking spaces are also better lit, which isn’t a bad thing, and other cities in other countries have also designated parking for women based on safety considerations.

I appreciate better lighting. But I don’t need a bigger space, especially because I don’t drive an enormous car. What I’d like to see is designated parking for people who deliberately park over two spaces because their cars are sacred and precious and shouldn’t have to sit next to your lousy heap.

We could give them special double spaces, indicated with an icon of a pig. And put them far away from the ballerina parking. Because every time I see a car parked like that, I mutter things that are most unladylike.

Samantha Bennett, freelance writer:

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