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?” as 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)