Why Driving Stick-Shift Makes Me Feel Bad-Ass

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I belong to the sisterhood of stick-shift women. We seem to gravitate toward each other. There’s a look of recognition, a nod of respect, a knowing laugh when we meet. It’s like a secret club. 

I learned to drive on a stick-shift at 15, and since then I’ve done my best to expand our ranks. I spent many a Saturday afternoon in high school teaching female friends the nuances of clutch and how to navigate the dreaded uphill start. I think it’s a useful skill for every woman—every person, really—to have.

Nearly 20 years later, manual-transmission cars are becoming an endangered species, but I remain strangely loyal. The true test came a couple years ago when I had to buy a new car for the first time in my adult life, rather than receiving a family hand-me-down. Which way would I go? I think you can guess what I stuck with.

There’s just something about the control, the power, the fun of it. There are other arguments, of course, both pro (greater fuel efficiency) and con (stop-and-go traffic, ugh). But here are the main reasons I remain a stick-shift woman:

1. It’s empowering. I feel in charge when I drive a stick-shift, like I’m taking control of my own ride, power, speed, finesse, and destiny.
  
2. It’s bad-ass. Last year I gave a male friend of mine a ride for the first time, and mid-drive he paused and said, “So, you drive a stick-shift, huh?” 6151659680_dc30408b55_bas if this was revealing information he’d just discovered. I swear he looked at me differently after that. I mean, I get it. I’m in the driver’s seat, I’ve got a phallic symbol in my hand, and I know what I’m doing. I think I’m bad-ass too. 
 
3. It’s self-sufficient. I can drive more cars more places, whether it’s a borrowed pick-up truck on moving day or a rental car in the foreign countries where stick-shifts are the norm. I’ve never been stranded somewhere because the driver’s had too much to drink or the only loaner is a manual. Why rely on someone else to save the day when I can do it myself?
 
4. It’s mindful. I’ve noticed a subtle difference when I drive my car versus my mom’s automatic: I’m more keyed into what I’m doing in my car. I can’t as easily fiddle with my phone or zone out while driving, because driving a stick-shift is more complex. And I’m almost always aware of how fast I’m going, because I’m intuiting when next to shift or downshift or switch to neutral.
 
5. It’s fun. It feels like its own dance: a play of energies, a flow of life force. How can I be more graceful in my transitions, in driving as in life? And while I’m not a hard-core hypermiler by any means, I do get a kick out of noticing how my finesse or awkwardness with my stick-shift affects the miles per gallon I’m getting at any given moment.
 
Fellow stick-shift drivers, any reasons I missed? What do you love about your manual?


Photos (top to bottom) by Kris Krüg (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0) and Ian Kobylanski (CC BY 2.0)

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Anna Befort

About

Anna Befort is a magazine editor, freelance writer, yoga teacher, and avid tree climber who’s proud to hail from Midwest farm stock. Co-founder of Invoke Magazine, she’s inspired by creative grassroots collaborations and the ability of her black lab Samira to fully inhabit the joyfulness of each moment. She tries to use her grammatical superpowers only for good, and she loves sharing women’s stories and wisdom at invokemagazine.com.


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'Why Driving Stick-Shift Makes Me Feel Bad-Ass' have 9 comments

  1. June 9, 2015 @ 10:43 am Wendy

    Anna, I really, really, really miss my manual transmission and how bad ass I felt in it. But somewhere in my aging process, the stick shift became harder for my knees. So, a big shout out to mature women of a certain age who have stayed physically, emotionally and spiritually connected to their stick-shifting cars. I do, however, continue to name each car, and my current one is named Maggie Mae, which may inform you that I am a contemporary of Rod Stewart, who used to be pretty bad ass.
    Love your article.

    Reply

  2. June 9, 2015 @ 11:23 am Maiya

    Love my bad-ass stick shift, too! Especially great for the winter, gives much more control in snow and ice.

    Reply

  3. June 9, 2015 @ 12:02 pm Lisa

    Ok, I get it, the cool girls drive stick. I’m actually super happy that my parents insisted on stick for my first car. I’ve also never been stranded, and I love that about my skill set. But I gave up my stick when I moved to the Bay Area. Too many crazy-steep hills and funky parking requirements. You go get ’em girl!

    Reply

  4. June 9, 2015 @ 6:26 pm wendy

    I like to pick up speed and keep shifting until I leave those slow ass SUV’S eating my dust! I’m 60 and young men think my car and that I can shift is cool. All the women in my family learn to drive a stick…we can drive anything!

    Reply

    • June 10, 2015 @ 3:11 pm Wendy

      Wendy,
      Loved your post. I want your knees! Wendy M.

      Reply

  5. June 13, 2015 @ 11:38 am Lori

    Love my stick-shift for exactly the same reasons! I am so much more engaged with the car and the landscape this way. I regularly get offers from 20-something-year-old guys who want to buy my 26-year-old car, but when I weigh the cost of a new car–one that’s this fun to drive, that is–against leaving behind the car I’ve driven so long that it’s a part of me, it seems a no-brainer to stick with the car that’s paid for. But then I consider the 3 months I just spent bumming rides and working from home when I broke my right shoulder (no one could trade cars with me), and the long hill on my daily freeway commute where traffic and my knees grind to stop after aching stop–and I’m forced to face my age. Is it time to consider trading bad-ass and engaged for sensible with airbags? And cupholders? For now, I’m not budging until I get a second opinion on that last MRI…

    Reply

  6. June 21, 2015 @ 7:36 am elisabeth

    spot on! I’m a member of the stick-shift sisterhood and taught my daughters to drive one as well (which they had to, in order to drive my car!) happy moment yesterday when my 21 yr old nephew asked me to teach him how to drive a stick! And nothing feels more bad ass than driving the old John Deere tractor on the farm 🙂

    Reply

  7. July 10, 2016 @ 9:49 am Allison Lian

    I am 37 and really wanted to learn how to drive a stick shift, I wish I had learned when I was 15. Anyway I bought a Miata a week ago and am terrified of messing it up, stalling, shifting in the wrong gears. I feel like there is something wrong with me, I have cried several times because I am so confused. Thank you for a great post! I will feel like a Bad Ass when I figure it out. Right now I feel like a Dumb Ass!

    Reply

    • Anna Befort

      July 10, 2016 @ 4:08 pm Anna Befort

      Stick with it, Allison–it’ll get easier. And it’s fun to drive once you get used to it. You’ll feel like a bad-ass soon enough!

      Reply


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