DVLA? More like DVL – hey, wait a minute, is that sexism?

DVLA? More like DVL – hey, wait a minute, is that sexism?

by Becky Sales

We’ve all found ourselves dragged into futile conversations about which activities, hobbies and professions suit which genders. Of course, there's no answer. So why does the DVLA (Driving and Vehicle Licensing Agency) consider a woman's relationship status relevant to her interest in driving? 

Take Lou for example, she loves to drive. She finds any excuse to get on the road – picking up her husband, organising road trips or taking friends out. One evening, while she was ordering a late-night burger at a drive-thru, after dropping a friend home, she was propositioned by the cashier. 

“Y’alright love, do you want some sauce with that and can I have your number? You’re pretty fit you”, he remarked. 

To which Lou sternly replied, “No you can’t, I’d just like to pay and take my burger home please. Plus, I don’t think my husband would be happy about you asking for my number.” 

Shocked, the youth replied, “You don’t look old enough to be married, let me take you out, c’mon.” 

Sighing, she said, “I can assure you I am – look I have my driving license here to prove it” and held up the form of ID. 

Now Lou isn’t real; nor is the story. So, what’s her relevance? Well, I’m glad you asked. 

This story is one of the satirical circumstances I can only assume is used to explain why the DVLA still requests women to have ‘Miss’, ‘Mrs’ or ‘Ms’ imprinted upon their driving license. Note: their male counterparts do not have a title at all. 

I’m somewhat late to the party in noticing this, but after conversations with various friendship groups, it appears I am not the only one who has remained unaware of this everyday sexism. 

Over eight years ago, Zoe O’Connell, Lib Dem councilor for Cambridge, spotted this inequality issue. Taking it to the DVLA, she argued that "there’s no reason for any form of gender identification on official documentation. When it comes to titles on driving licences, why should someone need to know if I’m married?”. The DVLA responded that there is now a ‘no title’ option for women. 

To put this to the test last year, Scientist Elin Roberts opted for ‘no title’ when renewing her license. On receiving her new documentation, she realised the DVLA had still assigned ‘Mrs’ to her. Challenging the organisation, a spokesperson added more fuel to the fire by replying that they use this format to differentiate between sexes. 

This year, the DVLA used their gendered data to highlight that women are statistically better drivers, with men laying claim to 7.7 million of the 10.6 million penalty points on UK licences. Perhaps, this was a bid to alleviate some of the frustration caused namely to women. But that is beside the point (and we already knew we were better drivers 😉). 

The thing is, regardless of if the ‘no title’ function now works, men still don’t have to input one at all. There are several generations of women, walking around right now, with this mark of inequality in their purses, cardholders, sandwich bags – whatever they carry their licence in. It may seem small, but to me it’s a baffling product of historic hegemonic masculinity. If conversations aren’t still had about it, it’ll continue driving Miss, Mrs and Ms crazy.

Becky is a part-time writer, full-time feminist! Catch some of her musings in Manchester Live Guide or on Twitter.

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