How I Learned to Drive

by Paula Vogel

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In "How I Learned to Drive," how is Lil Bit instructed to behave as a woman?

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One of the many fascinating themes in this somewhat disturbing play is the way in which gender is presented as something that is learned. Consider the way that one of Li'l Bit's classmates tells her that "Rage is not attractive in a girl," which is a lesson that seems to support the idea that Li'l Bit has already learnt from her mother and grandmother than women must learn to be treated as sex objects by men. This is particularly relevant in the case of her grandmother, who, we are told, had sex with her husband every day because he demanded it even though she was never bothered.

Traditional gender roles, and in particular the way in which women are shown to be inferior to men and objectified by them, is something that Li'l Bit learns from the women in her life and is a lesson that shapes her relationship with Peck. We can see how such assumptions form part of her belief when she accepts Peck's belief that cars are female with the following justification:

...when you close your eyes and think of someone who responds to your touch—someone who performs for you and gives you just what you ask for—I guess I always see a 'she.'

Even though her relationship with Peck could be viewed as her trying to subvert gender by having power over an older man, such examples show the way that Li'l Bit has been taught about what it is to be a woman, and how she is fulfilling that subservient role.

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