Before you start reading this Postcard, I would like to mention that this is quite a long one. It is structured in two parts – the general interest of women in cars and a recent personal encounter of mine to illustrate sexism related to cars. You can skip to the second part of the Postcard if you want to only read about this encounter. (It is quite funny.)
There is this thing about cars. They are a “guys’ thing”. Car magazines are primarily designed to target a male audience. An expensive sports car is a status symbol of a successful male entrepreneur. Successful female leaders are depicted in designer clothes, maybe in a carefully designed and curated apartment. If people see a woman leaving a sports car, they rather think she is the wife of a successful man rather than that she worked for that car and achieved a dream herself.
Implicitly, we are still told that this is nothing for us. If a man says: “Oh, look at this car,” we are supposed to answer: “The black one?” and waiting for him to explain it to us. We are not expected to answer with: “Yeah, I love that BMW M8!” It is just not supposed to be a “girls’ thing”. We are allowed to pose in sexy clothes in front of a car to promote it to men. But have an interest in them ourselves or even know more about the technicalities of cars? Not for us.
My dad is crazy about cars and also motorsports has always been present at home. He religiously watches the Formula 1 race weekends and knows everything about all the drivers. When I was growing up, I always found cars interesting, but never to the same extent. I sometimes watched the races with him and I also took an interest when he helped me buy my first car. I do know something about cars but somehow, I never took it further than that until a few years ago. I restarted watching the F1 again, I watch documentaries and car shows. What I still find so interesting is that despite that whole environment which should have fostered my interest as a young girl, I just never thought “I can be an F1 driver too.” I guess it was because I never really saw women in the sports.
In the history of Formula 1, there have only been five female drivers. The first one was Maria Teresa de Filippis in 1958, the last one in 1992 (!) was Giovanna Amati. You would have thought times have changed… There are some female test drivers. One of the most known ones is Susie Wolff who also acts as an evangelist for women in motorsports. I find it really interesting that women are so underrepresented in motorsports still at this day and age. There are so many things which would speak for women: the height of drivers, the ability to multitask, working in teams – all traits which are very commonly labelled as “female”. (Whether this labelling is correct or not would be worth a separate postcard.) Maybe it is the lack of role models, that women do not see themselves represented in the “world of cars” and, hence, do not foster their interests.
It extends well beyond the spheres of F1. Women are just not supposed to have any interest in anything involving a motor. I recently bought a car and I diplomatically ignored the sales representative when he asked me, if he should explain the car to me. (Maybe I can forgive him and think he just had to do his job.) But whenever he was talking about specifics, he addressed my dad (who I always bring as my personal expert). Even my dad kept reminding the guy that he should talk to me, not to him.
When I proudly showed our car around later, people told me that the colour of the car was nice, then turned to my dad or husband to ask: “How many PS does this car have?” When I answered, they gave me a startled look. I also get strange reactions when I send male friends sports cars I see on the road. It happened more than once when they asked: “Is this what your boyfriend/husband will drive soon?” It obviously never occurred to them that a nice car could be a goal women have as well…
I also love to observe reactions of fellow (mostly male) drivers when women are in the driver’s seat of sports cars. First, it is the startled look. And then they soon feel the need to show us were we belong – they overtake, come up close and try to show us that we are not able to handle such a car. I would like to share a recent incident beautifully illustrating this sexist behavior:
I drove my mum to a nearby town, taking their car. We parked at a public parking space and, as always, I made sure that the car is parked within the lines and that I do not bother any other drivers who want to park there. When we came back, I saw a Mercedes parking right next to us and in a way that I could not open my door to the driver’s seat. If the guy had just moved back two centimeters, nothing would have been a problem. (I leave it up to you to assess such a parking move.)
I had to climb over the passenger seat. While I was climbing into my seat, the owner of the Mercedes arrived. Probably in his seventies, retired, watching me climb over, but not even blinking. He pretended not to notice. I opened the door for a centimeter, to make a point that I could not get in and very politely said: “Excuse me, I just wanted to say that next time, it would be nice if you could just move the car for two centimeters, so that the person next to you can get in and out.”
He walks over, lifts his hands in this “I am going to politely teach you a lesson…”-way and starts: “My dear Fräulein, next time you park such a car, make sure you are within your lines.” When we heard him talk, I just rolled my eyes and slammed the door. (As mentioned above, I parked very well within the lines.) But then it dawned on me: Did this guy just call me FRÄULEIN?!
(I need to explain this for the Non-German speakers: “Fräulein” was a way to address a young and/or unmarried woman. Today it is NOT accepted to use this term anymore. It has happened to me before that men tried to call me “Fräulein” in meetings to “show me my place”. But I never let this happen and always fight back. Adding a “my dear” (German: “Liebes …” even enhances the condescending tone – the wise old white guy has to teach the young and naive girl a lesson.)
Nobody calls me Fräulein. I opened the door again for a centimeter, heart pumping, adrenaline rising, because I was so angry.
“First of all, Doctor is my title and secondly, there is no such thing as Fräulein anymore. Fortunately, these times are over,” I shouted.
My mum had somehow managed to enter the car quickly, I reversed and headed out of the parking lot. The guy pretended that he did not care. I am sure he did. He followed us for a while and even indicated with his lights when he turned.
Another prime example: Firstly, that guy would have never pulled his condescending lecture if I had been a man – especially if I had been a white man his age and considering the car I was driving. He would probably respect that man, maybe secretly even envy him. Would he have been a —- well, I am not going to use any of these terms — but would he have made a stupid comment? Of course, because this was irrespective of me being a man or woman. But this scene made it clear to me that he did have one big problem: a woman in such a car who is not listening to his lecture. How dare she talk back?! Or even: How dare she drive a car?! (Unfortunately, it is still common among that man’s age group that many women do not have a driver’s license and rely on their husbands to drive them around…)
At first, I was furious. But then my mum and I started laughing about it. The whole scene had just been so absurd. My mum did say that the effect of my answer would have been even better if I had been calmer (I had gotten quite loud), because women are always told to be “too emotional”. But I wanted to make a point. However I would have sent that message, this guy would have had a problem with me and my message anyways. Let him think I am a furious woman in a fast car.
I was proud that I did say something. Five years ago, and definitely before the #metoo-movement, I would have probably just left. I would have thought “another sexist guy”. But I did not want to give him the power to lecture us. The way he behaved and talked (and parked) was not right and as women we need to point these things out. I did briefly think about whether it was right what I had done or not, if it had been worth it. But I do think it was the right thing to speak up.
I have no idea if this encounter changed that stranger’s view on women. Probably not. I also think it will still take a long time until women cannot have any interest in cars or anything with a motor unless it is our rich husband’s car/plane/boat. But it was a small victory for myself. I spoke up and I did not let this person lecture me just because he had a problem with me driving such a car. Furthermore, it gave me great content for this Postcard. And I guess I should take it as a compliment: Obviously I still look really young, otherwise I would not qualify as a “Fräulein”.
Whatever your interests are, do not let anyone tell you that you cannot do it, just because of your gender or background. Anything is possible, let them eat your dust!