Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Equality of the Sexes?

All men (and women) are created equal. Or so they say. I’ve always believed in the equality of the sexes myself and have been known to rant about this subject on occasion. But after a recent experience on the N3 I’m not so sure.

There I was driving along the motorway listening to my favourite music at full blast when the car behind me flashed its lights at me. I couldn’t move over to the left lane because a large truck blocked the path. Used to the anger of many men on the road who resent seeing a woman ahead of them, I showed the flasher a rude sign. He continued to flash his lights. I moved into the left hand lane as soon as I’d overtaken the truck but the car then hovered alongside me as drove past. I wondered if he was about to pull out a gun and shoot me. These things have been known to happen on the Durban highway. Instead I was surprised to see the man gesticulating towards my tyre, mouthing something about a flat. That’s when I heard it. The ominous knocking sound. I turned down the music and tried to convert my rude gesture into a friendly wave of thanks.

My heart sank. I had an interview an hour’s drive away and a flat tyre was the last thing I needed. The next service station was far away so reluctantly I steered the car onto the shoulder of the road. As trucks whizzed past, taking a few layers of paint off my car each time, I climbed out gingerly and went to open the boot. At least I could do that much. Now I have to admit that I have never changed a tyre. Every time I’ve had a flat someone else has stepped in to help me. And I must admit I’ve been delighted each time. I’m probably the least practical person on the planet and have been known to have trouble opening a bottle of wine. So when I opened the boot and couldn’t even find the spare tyre I knew I was in big trouble. Even after lifting up the boot’s carpet there was nothing to be seen. I panicked.

At this point I’d just like to thank the manufacturers of Peugeot for devising an ingenious device to hide the spare tyre under the car. And I’d like to thank them even more for hiding the wrench which unlocks this ingenious device in a cleverly hidden compartment in the boot. We realise you French have always had it in for us foreigners, haven’t you?

Just as I was about to abandon all hope, a warm and friendly police car drew up behind me. Two smartly dressed men mouthed through their windscreen – did I need any help? Not allowing room for any misunderstanding I nodded back desperately. Like two knights of old they leapt down from the front cab of their horse, um, vehicle, and found the hidden wheel. Somehow to them the arcane location of the spare tyre made complete sense.

And that’s when I began to think the unthinkable. As they replaced the tyre within a matter of minutes and packed the remnants of the burst tyre back into the secret compartment without any fuss, I began to consider a horrific thought. Perhaps men and women aren’t created equal after all. Perhaps most men are better able to deal with the intricate aspects of French technology than most women. Perhaps there is an aspect of the male psyche that drives men to build a building higher than any others, to send a rocket into space and to develop intricate suspension bridges. Yes, I know many women have these highly developed technical capacities too. In fact I’m sure a couple of women are far better at these jobs than some men.

But although I’m good at Science and not too awful at Maths, I’ve never had the desire, never mind the ability, to tinker with machines. And a lot of women I know feel the same way. Perhaps there isn’t really equality of the sexes after all. Perhaps we each have our own intrinsic capabilities which may be different from each other but no less worthwhile. All I know is I’m glad that someone out there can change a tyre better than I can.

First published in The Sunday Independent on 10-10-10