If you’ve been around car culture at all, you’ve seen imagery of scantily-clad women holding car parts, bending over a fender, or sliding under a car on a creeper. This is an ideal than many men will tell you is ‘sexy’ or the image of a woman they wish they could find—a woman who likes cars as much as they do, almost too much.
There’s a problem though, this is a fantasy version of a ‘car girl’ that marketing departments put together for a calendar or other man-centric campaign to draw in guys who want to stare at “pretty girls” standing around cars. They’re selling the objectification of women standing near other objects.
So, why is it so hard to find a woman who’s into cars?
As it turns out, it’s both not that difficult to find and is a product of the male-dominated nature of car cultureas a whole.
As we move forward in the first two decades of the 21st century, we’ve seen women begin to take their place in other male-dominated arenas like professional sports—showing that they can be professional athletes, on-location interviewers, commentators, and in-studio analysts. At the 2017 24 Heurs du Mans, there was even a female commentator on the Fox Sports broadcast here in the US.
This is the exception rather than the rule.
While female sports personalities have become more mainstream, they run into a lot of hurdles while trying to take their place among their male peers—namely sexual harassment, overt and covert sexism, being labelled in ways that take away from their accomplishments, and a general dismissal of their knowledge, expertise, and even interest in the subject matter.
The experience of women trying to participate in car culture is no different.
The assumption about a woman at a race (or other automotive event) is that they’re someone’s wife, girlfriend, or just think a driver is “hot”. Speaking to this point, Jalopnik published an essay by a female race fan about her experiences.
“Being a woman who loves racing means wanting to go to a race but not wanting to go alone, because going alone means subjection to harassment. When I went to a 2015 Pirelli World Challenge race, I had men ask for pictures with me because they “try to get pictures with sexy little things at every race they go to.” During that same weekend, a man sat next to me in a grandstand, his three friends surrounded me, and he proposed a bet: we choose a car, and if his car wins, he gets my number and a kiss.”
While they spend their time longing for a woman who is into cars just as much as they are, men spend a lot of time gate-keeping.
”Being a woman who loves racing means that if you fail any one of the many qualifications and requirements you’re supposed to meet, you can’t be a real fan. I can see the disdain—the exact moment where I’m written off—when one of my questions falls short of expectation.”
Why is it like this?
Throughout history women have been sidelined or discounted in every aspect of life outside of the home, where women were expected to work keeping house, raising children, and generally being quiet. This is because for a majority of human history, women were considered the property of the men in their lives, not much more than objects.
Even as the 20th century has progressed to allowing women the right to vote, own property, and work, the historical attitudes toward women haven’t changed much—and this extended well into car culture as marketing for automobiles likened women to accessories to draw attention to a particular car (including nude models in the 1960s) and “grid girls” whose sole purpose is to look attractive and market brands at races.
It’s no wonder that women are uncomfortable in the historically male-dominated area of car culture—they’ve only ever been seen as objects in that context. Why would women want to subject themselves to sexism and harassment if the can avoid it?
So, to review:
- Men saythey want a woman who likes cars/racing/etc.
- Men don’t believe that the women they see at races, car shows, etc. are actually fans or have real interests in cars
- Men disregard or challenge women’s legitimate interest or try to “one up” them
Am I surprised? No.
Is it OK because it’s the way things are and should be accepted? No.
Should men, as the gatekeepers (whether they think they are or not) of car culture do something to change this? Yes.
I can’t speak for women when it comes to their experiences with car culture. I can’t emphasize this point enough. What I can do is learn about those experiences and push for inclusivity and change within car culture so that women may start to feel welcome and like they belong because they do belong.
This isn’t something that can happen overnight, and I understand this. But I believe that anyone with any amount of interest in cars should be able to explore that interest without feeling like they’re being attacked, unwelcome, or inferior.