Generalizations about women in the car world aren’t limited to the back corners of Reddit or the comment threads, often absent of any actual female voices, about how women are “naturally inclined” not to like cars while men are the opposite, or the usual annoying stereotypes and gender-based assumptions about knowledge levels in “male” industries. The generalizations often stretch far past that, like a recent set from our friends at Aston Martin.
Women are behind the SUV boom, Aston Martin’s global marketing chief told Australian outlet Motoring. And, after the brand conducted “comprehensive research” around its new DBX SUV, it has an idea of what to give those women. Here’s the Motoring except, emphasis ours, because it’s easier that way:
Even though men might be drawn to an off-road toughie like a Jeep or LandCruiser, Aston’s global marketing boss Simon Sproule says there are plenty of reasons why women prefer an SUV.
“[Women] want to feel safe, they want to be protected, they want to be able to see ahead. The SUV class of cars have attributes that correlate more strongly with what women want,” Sproule told carsales.com.au.
“SUVs are attractive to both sexes but there is a closer correlation between what women look for in a car and an SUV or crossover type of vehicle. [...]”
Sproule then talks about how the new wave of crossovers has “softened the extremes of truck-based SUVs,” which is apparently good for attracting this “female” market everyone’s talking about. That’s important, he told the outlet, because 80 percent of global car sales are decided by women:
“It logically follows that their vehicle preferences will have a substantial impact on the market,” said Sproule.
“The industry knows it and they just have to get over it.”
Aston didn’t set out to make a “car for women,” he said. But for some reason, generalizations about what women like were a lot of what was discussed. From Motoring, again, emphasis ours:
Aston Martin is taking the DBX program so seriously it even created a female avatar, codenamed ‘Charlotte’, as a reference for decisions on the car. Sproule said that included everything from the body design to the interior fit-out and a softer type of drive.
“We used Charlotte as a proxy for this segment but it did not lead us to create a car for women but rather a car that would fulfill the needs of customers like Charlotte,” he said.
“Our primary objective was to create another beautiful looking Aston Martin that had the attributes needed to be successful in the luxury market, regardless of gender. [...]”
Perhaps Sproule got into the preference data in this interview, but if he did, it didn’t make the story. The topics he hit were discussed in a way that lumps women together, to the point that there was a “female avatar” (?) to represent women used in the decision process in making the car, rather than saying “[x] percent of women wanted this or this, so we leaned toward it in the design.”
Generalizations like these—that men like “off-road toughies” while women like soft vehicles, that women want to feel “protected,” and the idea that a “female avatar” can guide decisions geared toward an entire population of women—are bad, and they only help sustain old, tired gender stereotypes in a community full of old, tired gender stereotypes. The pages of the New York Times aren’t full of people talking about how sexy or curvaceous cars are anymore, but industry wide, it still happens. Generalizations about already-generalized people are the last thing anyone needs.
The automotive industry, after all, reminds us that it’s by men, for men. Men drive the cars in commercials while women, if there are any, sit idly by in the passenger seat. The same goes for manufacturer-provided car photos for news stories, shaping our idea of who belongs where in a vehicle.
There’s also the idea that all women are the same and should be considered as such, even on a national sporting stage, or that women need their own, lesser category to race cars in. Even David Coulthard, now a higher-up at the new, all-female W Series development championship, believes that women will always struggle to compete in Formula One because of “mothering DNA.” It’s science!
There are even ongoing practices and institutions in car racing that perpetuate the idea that women are meant to look pretty while men compete, supported by the men in the leadership positions. (These things listed, mind you, are all in a cisgender framework, which is bad in itself.)
All of this falls under the same blanket: Women being told what they like, what they should be doing, and where they belong. That has roots in viewing women as the same, not as individuals, and the generalizations spread into stereotypes that no one—especially not women, in this case—benefits from.
So, please, stop telling women, and anyone else who happens to be listening, what women want. They can tell you themselves, and save everyone a whole lot of headaches in the process.