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The Perception of Automotive Gender - Resonator

The Perception of Automotive Gender

Sep 8, 2006
Epcp_0609_01_z+automotive_gender+editor Photo 1/1   |   The Perception of Automotive Gender - Resonator

About this time last year a slew of AMG Mercedes came through the office. All of them were incredible cars: powerful, luxurious, meticulously assembled and ridiculously expensive. At the end of the loan term, after logging considerable seat time in each model, I found myself most impressed with the SLK55.

This bears mentioning because I was never a fan of the original SLK. It was too small, too cute--not to mention underpowered--to be considered a proper sports car.

This AMG version, though, was amazing. Considering it was an AMG, this shouldn't be all that surprising in regard to performance. More to the point, the new R171 chassis really lend the SLK the look it desperately needed. Fast and aggressive, it now looks like a baby McLaren.

That's what I thought, anyway, until I drove it home. I had no sooner pulled up into the driveway than my daughter asked me why I was driving a "chick car."

Normally I don't put much credence into subjective critiques on my preference of transportation. I like what I like, and that's that. But her comment raised an interesting question which demanded further reflection. What is it exactly that causes people to assign a perceived gender to an automobile, a mechanical entity that has absolutely no thoughts, no emotions, no hormones, no sex organs of any type?

The SLK just seems to be one of those cars that people automatically assume will be driven by women. Indeed, a good 90 percent of the SLKs you see on the road have a female behind the wheel. That's not to say a man should feel that his masculinity is somehow compromised if he decides to drive one. It's just an observation based on the eventualities of market distribution.

There are other cars perceived in the same way. Take the New Beetle. A very large portion of New Beetles on the road are driven by females, more specifically, young females in their late teens or early 20s. Most people who see a guy driving a New Beetle will usually assume it's his wife's or girlfriend's car, regardless of whether or not that's the case.

There's a single (unmarried) guy here at the office who drives a New Beetle, a sporty 1.8T with Eibach suspension and big wheels, and I presented the question to him in order to get to the bottom of all this. "It's just a good car; I've been really happy with it," he answered with a shrug. Turns out he wasn't much help at all.

On the other hand, what if you see a woman driving a so-called "man's car," an E55 AMG or, even better, a restored 396 Chevelle SS? Would you automatically assume she is less feminine than other women, that she likes to curse profusely, drinks malt liquor and enjoys arm-wrestling at biker bars on the weekend? Or would you think: "Hey, look at her in that sweet Chevelle, she must be a real automotive enthusiast who appreciates a nicely-restored classic car, a broad torque band and big smoky burnouts." I imagine a lot of people would think more along the lines of the former.

The bottom line is that automobiles are sexless objects as issued from the manufacturer, so perceived gender assignments only come about after the fact. Pinpointing how and where these perceptions come into being is probably an impossible task; how does any other sort of stereotype come into being?

Whatever the case, I feel what you choose to drive is as personal a decision as selecting your underwear, and frankly, whatever you decide is fine with me (on both counts). Just make sure you treat the car with respect, and stop worrying about what someone else might think. How you decide to treat your underwear is entirely up to you.

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