Physicians, Engineers, Mathematicians, Computer specialists and even cooks, coiffeurs, stylists and much more are considered as jobs that are better handled by men- not women- for no specific reason. And driving, without a doubt, could be perfectly placed on top of the list… not only in Egypt but all around the world.
It was not just a few times when I received an email that makes fun of female drivers by listing the most stupid parking pictures or accidents and endless mistakes made by women behind the wheel. Not only that, but also various videos including one that was published on CNN website last October; showing a woman sleeping while driving in Denver. The camera kept videotaping her, along 50 kilometers at a speed that reached over 100 kilometers per hour; from different angles to ensure she was deeply asleep.
It often annoys me too much that unlike Saudi Arabia for instance, women around the world are legally permitted to drive; yet they ‘were’, ‘are’ and I guess ‘will’ be stereotyped as clumsy drivers and inferior to men. If they are super cautious, they do not know what ‘real driving’ is about… and if they are courageous enough to take risks and reach extremely high speeds they are thought of as suicidal and again do not know what ‘real driving’ is about. Most of the men I know would not hesitate to get into a male friend’s car but would not sit comfortably, or sit at all, next to their wives, girlfriends, female friends or family members while they are driving- so that when a female is in the car, men are either behind the wheel or out of the car.
A friend, who found a female driver in a cab he ordered over the phone, sent me this message as soon as he got in “HELP!! I JUST GOT INTO A CAB WITH A FEMALE DRIVER!!”
“At first, I thought I could not see clearly… but I kept staring at her and it was a woman… I was worried at first, and kept making comments such as ‘watch out’ ‘oops’ and ‘take care’ but once a minute passed I realized she was really calm and in control. I had no problem with her driving at all but I felt so embarrassed to give her instructions as she was a woman after all” he said.
As soon as I heard of the female driver that was hired by a major cab service in Egypt, my interest as well as curiosity levels sky rocketed; especially that she was not just another cab driver that was working on and off; based on her free time… she was working daily for fixed hours.
When I called her to set a meeting, her main and major concern seemed to be that she refused to be photographed as she believed it was too sensitive. She also requested not having her name published; as none of her kids or family members knows of her current job. She believes it is not yet the right time as since it is not yet a prevalent job for women, she is most likely to be frowned upon and requested to quit. It is worth mentioning that she studied English literature; and she speaks fluent English, French and Italian-she even handled parts of our conversation entirely in English- making her the number one recommended person by her company in case the clients are foreign. Our conversation went as follows:
What is the most common expression you get from your clients, once one gets into the cab and find out that their driver is a woman?
I have to admit it is always somewhere between ‘surprise’ and ‘shock’… some of the clients even hesitate to tell me ‘Good morning’ at first. It always takes them a while till they are comfortable enough to start talking to me, express their shock and ask me the “why you chose this job” question… and I got to say men seem to be more upset than women that they have a female driver behind the wheel.
So now that you mentioned it; why did you choose this job in particular?
I don’t really have another choice. I believe it to be the best available option as it is a decent job, with fixed hours; which enables me get by and go back home on time to look after my kids.
… But do you realize that your job is unusual for a woman in our society, especially that we have a terrible reputation as awful drivers?
Of course I do… but this seriously needs to change. I think women are calmer when it comes to driving, making them less likely to harm other drivers and pedestrians. I always wonder why more women wouldn’t work as drivers, when it is a safe, decent job.
How do you consider it safe… when it often requires you to be stuck with strangers for long hours, and probably drive them to faraway destinations?
It does not matter at all! All information on each client; including full name, address, home and cell phone numbers are provided and kept at the main office… thus there is nothing to worry about- and by the way this is how I make sure no one I know would get into the cab to avoid any sort of embarrassment that I do not want at the moment. In addition, most of our clients are respectable ones who belong to a certain social class.
Your tone shows that you are very proud of your job, yet you do not want your family members to know that you work as a cab driver… could you clarify?
I definitely am very proud of my job, but I do not need anyone to bother me at the moment! I just want to work and make life easier for myself and my kids… and do not want to reveal what my job is because I do not think it is acceptable in our society yet- so I would rather keep that piece of information to myself till it is more common and that is when I would start talking about it.
So far, what has been the worst experience you went through since you started working?
Men in the street are sometimes too mean to me. They often call me names and give me “if women were to work as drivers, we should be home cooking” sort of comments. It really hurts my feelings, but I do my best not to give them an ear and I always make sure all windows are closed and doors are locked.
That’s mean! And how about the best experience you had so far?
Once, a woman freaked out when she got into the cab and found out it was a female driver… and she refused to go where she was meant to go and instead rushed out of the car in anger. Around a month later, I was particularly asked to go pick a lady up and drive her to 6th of October City… and when I did, she told me it was the same lady who rushed out of the car before… and that she heard I was a good driver through her friends; so she decided to have me drive her that time as she was too scared to go to that one hour away destination with a male driver.
At this point I felt relieved and thought things could be getting better.
So tell me honestly, does even a tiny part of you believe that men are normally better drivers than women?
Of course not. It has absolutely nothing to do with being a man or a woman… some women are good drivers and some are not, and the same applies to men. I personally believe it is being calm and responsible that makes you a good driver; as risking your, as well as other peoples’ lives is never a good idea. While driving, I almost never go beyond 100 kilometers per hour to make sure I am in full control of my car and to maintain my and my clients’ safety; this concerns me much more than showing off how fast I could go.
In your opinion, what makes your job most beneficial to you; in addition to its being unique and challenging?
Since I started working, I learnt a lot! I became less isolated as I get to meet new people every day and I engage in endless conversations. I also became more interested to learn about Egyptian history, as I work with foreigners most of the time and they keep asking me history related questions which I hate not being able to provide satisfactory answers for. In addition, I am now more concerned with checking the daily weather forecast; to be able to tell what to wear and how the weather conditions are going to be every day.
Finally, is there anything that you would like to add?
Definitely! I would like to advise all women; especially fresh graduates to consider ‘driving’ as a career as it is nothing shameful… and women in Egypt, just like other countries around the world, need to start taking this path- especially that in our culture women could feel more comfortable having a female, rather than a male driver with them in the car.
Next time you order a cab, and you find a woman driving don’t be surprised… just sit back and relax.