A Philosopher's Blog


Posted in Miscellaneous by Michael LaBossiere on October 27, 2010

While watching CNN this morning, two of the TV personalities were chatting about the stereotype that men, unlike woman, prefer not to ask for directions when driving.

What struck me about this exchange was the fact that men chatting about women in a comparable way (patronizing and critical) would be blasted as sexism. I suppose that women stereotyping men is funny, men stereotyping women is sexism.

What I found most interesting, however, is that the claims about men and women in regards to driving are based on the fact that the average man tags on an extra 276 miles a year due to being lost while women add on 256 miles. Assuming the data is accurate and the margin of error is minimal, this means that men only drive an average of 20 more miles than women due to being lost. While this is a difference, it is hardly a significant difference.

It is also claimed that 26% of men wait at least 30 minutes before asking for directions and 12% will never ask directions. 74% of women will ask for directions. 37% of women and 30% of men claim they will do so as soon as they  realize they are lost.

Interestingly, Jacky Brown of Sheilas’ Wheels said “Our research not only reveals that men aren’t quite as confident behind the wheel as they make out when it comes to navigation but also that women are in control when it comes to modern motoring.”

Brown’s claim does not seem to be supported by the data. After all, the fact that women drive 20 less miles due to being lost hardly shows that men are not as confident as they claim nor that women are in control. At most it shows that women drive marginally less lost miles (about 93% of what men do). Given the marginal difference, it would seem unreasonable to read much, if anything, into such data. After all, such a slight difference could easily be the result of how the data was collected and such factors as the sample size.

A final point worth considering is that while the news about the story often includes commentary comparing men to women in a way that is unfavorable to men it is still the case that men only drive 20 more lost miles even with our reluctance to get directions. This, some might say, shows that men are better navigators. Of course, it would obviously be sexist to even suggest such a thing.

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14 Responses

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  1. Greg Camp said, on October 27, 2010 at 3:49 pm

    My own experience with asking directions is that I get a whole lot of “turn at the second left, go for a while till you see the yellow house, and go right.” The problem is that the second left is an alley, the yellow house sits in a group of similarly painted buildings, and the right hand turn is more like going straight. That’s why I prefer an accurate map.

  2. T. J. Babson said, on October 27, 2010 at 4:50 pm

    I think this explains everything.

  3. brucetheeconomist said, on October 27, 2010 at 6:26 pm

    My opinion/experience is that assuming random strangers will know about a destination in their area, even one within 1-2 miles of their home or office is a brave assumption. People can find their office or home, or other places they frequent, but they don’t frequent lots of things near them.

    That said, I think get a map, or these days: a GPS.

    No offense ladies.

    • Michael LaBossiere said, on October 28, 2010 at 2:41 pm

      I’m a runner, so people often stop me to ask for directions. What most folks don’t get is that runners tend to navigate runner style rather than navigating like a driver. For example, I don’t to stick to the streets or go the right way on a one way street. I also rarely use signs-I just turn at this building or that tree.

  4. chamblee54 said, on October 27, 2010 at 6:55 pm

    This still does not explain why female comedians think men not asking for directions is so damn funny.

    • erik said, on October 27, 2010 at 7:22 pm

      Because stereotypes are seen as funny/true/”inciteful”/etc. to people who believe the stereotype . . .probably

    • erik said, on October 27, 2010 at 7:24 pm

      Probably because stereotypes are seen as funny/true/”inciteful”/etc. to people who believe the stereotype . . .maybe?

    • Michael LaBossiere said, on October 28, 2010 at 2:42 pm

      I’ve always been willing to stop for directions-but I’m a local legend for my lack of navigation skills. 🙂

      • erik said, on October 28, 2010 at 2:53 pm

        Get a GPS? 🙂 Three times on longer trips with friends their GPS has led us far afield . Damn machine couldn’t even find a restaurant 3 miles from their house.

        • Michael LaBossiere said, on October 29, 2010 at 9:21 am

          A GPS is a good idea-mine has been dead on almost all the time. True, sometimes the maps can be wrong (out of date, for example) and sometimes there are other problems. That is why it wise to not blindly trust the machine.

  5. WTP said, on October 28, 2010 at 6:06 pm

    I’m curious, and yet too lazy, to know if the study considered the percent of driving done outside of one’s local area by men vs. women. My observation is that men do most of the driving when both sexes are in the car, and this is more so when approaching destination. But of course, that may just be my observation.

    Also to be considered (though I have yet to see anyone do so when CNN, comediennes, etc. bring this subject up ad nauseam) is that men are far more willing to offer help to women than to help men. And women can be uncomfortable being approached by a strange man. A man must make extra effort to not offend when speak to 50% of the population. This sounds silly in the abstract, but in a real situation where one is lost, one is not necessarily going to pay close attention to one’s manners. Men may be more aware of this and thus more reluctant to engage. Plus, society places a greater burden on men to be self sufficient. Though, according to Adam Corrolla’s book, “In 50 Years We’ll All Be Chicks”, so such is changing.

    • Michael LaBossiere said, on October 29, 2010 at 9:42 am

      Good question. If men drive more in unfamiliar areas, they would tend to get lost more.

      As you noted, we are socialized to be more independent. So, we would be less inclined to turn to help. Interestingly, even with this tendency we seem to get lost only marginally more. However, I think that the media folks are reading way too much into this survey. At most it shows that the men in the survey drove marginally more lost miles than women. Now, if it had been 276 lost miles for men and something like 100 lost miles for women, then this would show a significant difference. But, when the margin of error is factored in, the difference is negligible.

      Another interesting point is that when men do something better than women or women are worse off, it is assumed that there is some bias, sexism, or oppression at work. When men are doing worse, it seems to be often assumed that this is because men are worse. For example, when men were the majority in college feminists and others argued that this was due to oppression and prejudice. Now that women are the majority (in 2 and 4 year programs) this is said to be because women are more serious, etc. That is, women are better than men. Interesting how things change.

      Naturally, I think it is great that women are doing well. However, I am concerned that men are becoming worse off and that attempts to point this out are being dismissed as mere complaining about the fall of the patriarchy. While I have no problem giving up “male privilege” I am concerned with what is happening to men-just as I was concerned when women were in the minority in education, etc. That is, I have a consistent set of principles regarding justice and equality.

  6. brucetheeconomist said, on October 29, 2010 at 11:46 pm

    There’s an episode of classic Star Trek where tech savvy women lived below the surface a plant, and the males lived liked savages on the surface only for providing “stud” services. Hopefully that’s not where we’re headed, but sometimes I wonder.

    • Michael LaBossiere said, on October 30, 2010 at 10:36 am

      Just a matter of time. But, the ladies did have to steal Spock’s brain to fix things. So men, at least Vulcan men, will have a role. Or their brains will.

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