Do women really need something different?

A press release What Women Want identifies that:

Of the hundreds of emails Honest John receives daily, 35% are from female motorists who need help and advice.

Apparently, this warrants “John” teaming up with “a well know female motoring journalist operating under the alias of “Ultra Violet” to provide practical advice on what women want to know about when it comes to motoring” via the website www.honestjohn.co.uk.

But, I really don’t get why there is this ongoing attitude that women need to be communicated with differently in respect of motoring matters.  The average male car owner is as likely to need advice regarding “what to do in an accident, buying from a franchised dealer versus an independent and… basic car maintenance”.

It is disappointing that attitudes to women and cars seems in many ways as patronising as it was back in the 1960s – as illustrated in a great video I found in the British Pathe online resource of the 1967 Motorshow that stated “this is the year when women will have the say in what goes… ladies perhaps for the first time the choice is yours if hubby doesn’t want to give up those pints (following the introduction of the breathalyser), you’re going to do a lot of driving”.   

Anyway, this latest initiative is just one in a long line that I’ve seen of journalism targeted at women – most specialist magazines with this aim have failed, and there are already websites targeting women. 

Of course, women motoring writers are pretty rare, but do we need women to write for women?   

I’m not convinced women really need something different in terms of motoring communications – is Honest John now only for men?  Haven’t 35% of his contacts been happy to receive advice from a man?  Did any of them ask for a women to answer their questions?

4 thoughts on “Do women really need something different?

  1. Interesting post, and very relevant to me, as I’m writing about motoring for a female readership – my first book, The Girls’ Guide to Losing Your L Plates -how to pass your driving test was published by Simon and Schuster in Jan 2007 and my second, The Girls’ Car Handbook for the same publisher is due out later this year.
    Both back when I was writing about driving test nerves and now, when I’m writing about stuff like not getting ripped off by garages, I was aware that what I was saying had the potential to be of value to both men and women, so why was the book aimed at just one gender? In terms of my own writing, I think it’s to do with my particular style – my past clients have included Cosmopolitan, Company etc and I guess I write in quite a girlie way.
    Personally, I think the Honest John initiative is excellent (and I’m not Ultra Violet!). So much motoring journalism (written by both men and women) assumes a lot of prior knowledge and a ‘female-friendly’ approach is reassuring in that it assumes you’ll be coming in at entry-level and be more interested in getting your five year old Nissan Micra through its MOT rather than the comparative merits of ferraris and alfa romeos.
    I think there is, hopefully, room for a variety of different approaches.

    Best wishes

    Maria McCarthy
    http://www.mariamccarthy.co.uk

  2. Maria,

    Thank you for your thoughts – I do agree that style of writing can appeal more to one gender than another and that targetting motoring messages to women could reach out to those who find the traditional macho approach rather off-putting.

    But, I think it is important to make motoring information accessible to anyone who doesn’t have techy or other prior knowledge – regardless of gender. And similarly, the specialist information shouldn’t be seen as male-only.

    My concern is that whenever women and motoring are put together, it seems only in the context of us needing a simplified approach – which compounds the attitudes about women and cars that possibly keep more women from feeling informed.

    Why shouldn’t women find out about how to get their older car through its MOT alongside men with the same interest – and ditto, should women be excluded from comparing sportscars and other high end models?

    There is room for different approaches, but I don’t think it is helpful to continue the stereotypes about women by segmenting communications. That continues to leave the mainstream motoring media targeted at men – and so nothing changes.

  3. I risk being labeled a sexist here, but perhaps there really IS a difference in the way the male and female brains perceive information and data?

    While I’m not saying that either is superior, we have to admit that motoring literature has always been written with a predominantly male readership in mind and this has remained unchanged over the decades.

    To draw some kind of a parallel here, there is a higher tendency to associate romance novels to women than to men (I’m stereotyping here, but indulge me a little ok?). If the same authors were to rewrite the same novels to appeal to men, would they have written it differently? Would they even be confident of writing something that would work for men?

    I believe Honest John was just being perfectly honest (pun intended) with his own writing limitations and hence the engaging of Ultra Violet.

    (End note: Ultra Violet is the region on the electromagnetic spectrum that we know exists and can feel the effect of but cannot see… Maybe Honest John felt that way too… Responding to women is something just slightly beyond his area of expertise that he cannot fully grasp or comprehend?)

  4. Matthew,

    Rather than a general difference in the way that male and females perceive information and data, I believe we are all capable of understanding complex material, but this may well be on a spectrum and vary according to our level of interest in certain issues.

    I also believe there is a lot of conditioning so that women tend to believe that cars are techy for them. What I find rather disappointing is that if 35% of the people contacting Honest John (based on his existing writing) are women, why they are then being labelled as requiring a woman to respond to them. If he wasn’t doing the job well enough, they wouldn’t be reading or writing to him.

    I don’t think the fact that motoring literature has “always” been written for a predominantly male readership is any argument for segmenting women in this sector. Women today buy and own cars equally to men. Cars don’t require any specialist mechanical or technical knowledge to either buy or own. There are certainly prejudices among those selling and servicing cars about women that need to be changed – but do we need information written in a more girly style for this to happen? I don’t believe that will change anything other than reinforce the stereotypes.

    I also don’t find the argument about novels works – there are zillions of novels that appeal to men and women. (And thousands of women like me who hate the “romantic fiction” genre as per the specifically targeted titles).

    In fact, the books that are usually the most successful and well written appeal to both genders. And, what about classic romantic novels like Madame Bovary which had a male writer? Or are you saying that women can’t write for a male audience, but men can appeal to women?

    I’ve written hundreds of press releases about cars and motoring issues, which have been sent to male journalists and run under their bylines. I’ve never had a male journalist accuse my press information of being too girly for them.

    Personally, I think that Ultra Violet is a marketing move intended to help attract more female oriented advertisers. I just think it is a shame that we continue this ghetto-isation of women in motoring.

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