My husband wont let me drive our car, because Im a woman | Dear Mariella

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This controlling behaviour needs to be addressed unless youre a terrible driver, says Mariella Frostrup

The dilemma My husband wont allow me to drive the car when hes in it. I used to accept this, but for the past four months Ive challenged it. Now that we have a son, I dont want him growing up thinking Daddy is in charge. When I first raised this, I casually said Id drive us home from a day out and didnt think itd be a big deal, but it was. He threw the keys at me and had a face like thunder. Another time, I was going into town and he wanted to come, too, but expected me to get out of the driving seat I was already in. I refused, he was mad and stayed at home. This made me realise it wasnt acceptable. For ages Ive avoided situations when we might travel together, but when we do, he blows up. I do think about complying and going back to being a passive passenger, but I dont think I can. He must have some sort of anxiety about being driven by a woman, but he wont engage with me about it. Ive discussed it with friends and family, and they agree its ridiculous and I should challenge it, but itd end up ripping us apart.

Mariella replies How 1950s! Even as a metaphor for needing to be the one in control its pretty transparent stuff. If you were writing to me as you embarked on retirement, Id be slightly less surprised, but you mention having recently had a baby, which puts you in an age range where such stereotypical appropriation of roles really should no longer be applicable. The first question you need to be asking is whether this man is mentally abusing you. The behaviour you describe could certainly be judged an extreme form of bullying. You dont say if the dynamic around the car is a one-off or indicative of the day-to-day control he is exerting. If so, who takes the wheel is the least of your problems and you need to be considering extricating yourself and your son.

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Having placed that seed for contemplation, Ill work with what Ive got. Its hard to imagine a guy of my generation, let alone yours, believing he has a right to claim the driving seat. Then again if I can digress for a moment, since Paula Hamilton chucked her car keys away in the then-revolutionary 80s Volkswagen ad theres barely been a step forward when it comes to gender roles in the car industry. The clich of hatchbacks for ladies, behemoths for the boys still persists, as confirmed by both Top Gear and The Grand Tour being presented by men.

As a Land Rover Discovery driver, I was recently quite put out by their latest testosterone-charged campaign. Voicing my ideas on social media I was met by some surprisingly analogue attitudes. While Charlie Boorman and Ewan McGregor and any number of blokes get paid handsomely and sponsored heavily to embark on epic small screen driving adventures, plucky, funny, explorer Lois Pryce, featured in my Wild Women anthology, whos motorbiked from the top to toe of Africa, the Americas and across Iran, has never had even a whiff of a TV adventure offered to her

As with your current situation Id like to say its no big deal, but thats not the case. How did you manage to get to a dynamic where being emphatic over something as pedestrian as who grasps the steering wheel was ever deemed acceptable? If you cant smoothly negotiate shared driving duties then you are paving a relationship path towards some impossibly rocky terrain.

Id like to return to the question of whether this driving issue is a unique touch paper between you or if there are other areas of similar draconian dominance. If so, as I said at the outset, Id think seriously about this relationship. You dont want your son growing up to think women shouldnt drive or indeed that men can choose for them, based on bullying behaviour. You cant fence off this particular foible from the rest of your relationship. Equality means exactly that: both of you embracing what youre best at and hopefully compensating for each others inadequacies.

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Which brings me to the quality of your driving. If youre aggressive or incompetent, nows the time to confess and offer to take some lessons. I doubt its the case, but its worth throwing it out there in case its his personal safety and indeed that of his son thats concerning your husband, not just his misguided perception of manhood.

Youve discussed this with friends and family. Is there any chance of a helpful intervention from one of them? The only acceptable outcome is shared custody of the car keys. If you want an alternative to determined assertion of your rights, and your car doesnt tick any macho boxes, you could try pointing out that its really not the sort of wheels a real man like him should be driving and how much more alpha it would be to have his wife embrace the subservient role of chauffeur, ferrying him about. Im joking. obviously, social media trolls note! Standing your ground in a calm, detached and faintly amused way in the face of his illogical and unsustainable position is your second choice. The first is to tell him to close his eyes and when he opens them wake up to the fact that hes living in the 21st century.

If you have a dilemma, send a brief email to Follow her on Twitter @mariellaf1

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