In Saudi Arabia, apparently women are allowed to sell and own cars, but not drive them. Women behind the wheel is seen as too far on the road to emancipation.
Cars are symbolic of freedom (which is why our love affair cannot be broken as easily as the politicians and their taxation ideas believe) – but public relations practitioners still feel the need to separate even stereotype women and motoring.
Although a model drapped over the bonnet at launches is less common, when Volvo announced a car designed by women for women, the press lapped it up. Small cars are generally seen as suitable for women, although we are allowed behind the wheel of sporty convertibles.
Driving School’s Maureen epitomises jokes about women drivers. There are women only classes for vehicle maintenance and separate racing championships. And of course, women-oriented car insurance – like the dreadful “Sheila’s Wheels” campaigns. We even deride the “yummy mummy” behind the wheel of a “Chelsea tractor” 4×4.
The car industry remains very masculine – few designers, car dealers, senior managers , auto jounalists or senior PR practitioners are female. Yet, women are a big market and key influencers.
Women also have a long-history of driving – being among the first to drive at the start of the industry. The Daily Mail in 1899 reported the rapid increase of “lady automobilists” such as Mrs Louise Bazalgette (who a year later as a 49 year old widow entered the 1,000 Mile Trial).
Maybe it was that original emancipation that is behind the remaining stereotypes and reluctance to see women as good drivers.