At first, amid the unmistakable crunch of steel and aluminum, I thought I was the victim. A pang of outrage, a twinge of self-pity. But it quickly dawned on me that I was the one who caused the accident.
I was responsible for the damage to a stranger’s car. I had caused the stress the man in the other car endured. It was a relatively minor accident, but I still felt the weight of the loss I’d caused both of us. And there was something more than embarrassment and anxiety. There was shame. I felt a specific form of indignity for being a woman who had hit a man’s car.
In Saudi Arabia, women have only just been granted the right to vote. But they still aren’t allowed to drive vehicles. Even countries that consider such limitations archaic often hold steadfast to the stereotype of women as bad drivers. It can be a self-fulfilling belief: Studies show that these kinds of negative stereotypes actually affect women’s confidence while driving.
I want to prove myself as helpful and responsible, not flighty and negligent. I want to be the person who keeps an accident from happening, not the one who causes it. But I had caused it. Was I really a bad driver? Was I merely fearful of being labeled one because of my gender? Either way, the crash filled me with shame.
Like many women before me, I felt both legitimate and illegitimate shame. Like the first woman in the Garden of Eden, I felt the shame of genuine failure. But I also felt the impact of a lingering shame projected onto Eve by Adam, who blamed her for his eating the fruit. Ever since the events of the Fall, women have felt both sides of shame.
At Christmastime, we tend to focus on God’s deliverance of the righteous from illegitimate shame. The Virgin ...1
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