Today: Apr 21, 2024

Herland: Car Power

The car. Since its inception and introduction to the American life, it has been a powerful symbol of independence and an essential propellant of the idolization of the open road. Cars not only made it easier to travel, they made it possible to traverse large areas in record time. But unlike the train, it gave the individual an identity with the road that lay ahead, rather than peering out train windows. You, as operator, held the wheel, felt the ebbs and flows of the valleys and curves in the roads and were the sole determiner of the direction in which you were to travel. But where does the woman fit into this slightly obsessive yet completely freeing experience? The man is often interchangeable with the identity of the car and all its power, but I too as a woman find great freedom in the drive and a passion for what the car provides to us as its operator.

Just as many the American teenager is presented with, I at 16 received my first vehicle. I must stress that having such an instrument so connected with freedom that was also given to me to utilize freely was the first taste of unbounded possibilities that lay before me. The car was able to remove the crutch of the parent, and the other mainstays of transport such as buses, and bikes, and pave a new road in front of me; the road of limitless avenues and great adventures. It seems almost corny to give such depth and reign to the car, but even as I look fondly back on this first experience, it has not diminished in importance nor in actuality. It did give way to late night cruises. The destination was never the real objective, and friends would almost fight at who got to drive. Backseats filled with bookbags, empty soda cans and crumpled snack wrappers were like badges of freedom, the ability to exist outside of the constant purview of the parent, and of society as a whole. The car was the ultimate, moving expression of oneself.

So why has there been such a stress or portrayal of man and car, of man’s obsession and ultimate worship of the vehicle, creating an entire masculine fortress with an entire lexicon all its own? Movies often implore the relationship of man and his machine, such as the book by Stephen King turned movie “Christine.” The teenage boy slowly becomes obsessed with his vehicle, which he has named Christine, which the car itself has embodied a sort of succubus-style soul, usurping all of the boy’s will and turning him, physically and psychologically against all others but her, the car. Is it purely that the car, made up of metal and physically constructed, is more of a male-seen object, or is there something psychologically manipulative about the car that men more identify with?

Societal pressures of female suppression, although constantly the reasoning behind many female-lacking institutions or theories, can be to blame partly for this. Males have been long portrayed as the traveler, the wanderer of life and its meaning, the great philosopher. And the car fits into this equation quite nicely, as it is a vehicle, literally and figuratively, for the quest of such knowledge. Works such as Jack Kerouac’s teenage cult anthem “On The Road” have long been a young man’s bible for his journey into what life holds and how to carve out the meaning of your own existence within it. Cars and the road that they travel on can easily be ascribed to male-identity searches.

Perhaps there is more of a history of the male experience and relationship with the vehicle, but I believe women also have a similar drive to connect with their own freedom through the open road. Although it may not be as pronounced or vindicated for a woman to identify such with a car, I believe it to be just as inherent as the male-car dynamic has long been touted to be.

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