An environmental activist group called Insulate Britain, a subset of the larger environmental movement Extinction Rebellion, have been staging protests across the United Kingdom. These protests often involve blocking major roadways, especially those that connect to large metropolitan areas like London. But a recent video of Insulate Britain blocking a mother driving an SUV from dropping off her son at school has brought the moral debate around SUVs to a fever pitch — especially when it comes to moms.
There are many valid concerns surrounding SUVs. They’re large, often unnecessarily so, which means they consume more gasoline and can be dangerous. They tend to be owned by a certain “type” of person, especially when it comes to luxury SUVs. But the fact that they’re often the car of choice for mothers lingers at the center of this debate.
A News for All clip posted to Twitter brought both sides of this debate to a fever pitch. You can watch it below:
It seems the public argument really took off after Ash Sarkar shared the video with the caption, “I have a lot of issues with Insulate Britain’s tactics. But driving an SUV with one passenger for the school run is exactly the kind of shit people should stop doing as a bare minimum if they care at all about preserving a habitable planet!”
She continued in the thread, “My problem with Insulate Britain is that they seem dedicated to burning goodwill, and I don’t seem them building up a broader mass movement to make up for it. Videos where they continue to block someone trying to get to her mum in hospital are awful. But... Inconveniencing an urban SUV is better than what I think should happen, which is they should stop being sold immediately and the rest of them cubed.”
Sarkar’s strong words brought out a whole host of folks. One mentioned the lack of public transportation available in the country, which forced many folks to turn to personal vehicles for transportation. Plenty of other people made the argument that one consumer can’t be blamed for the entirety of climate change, so focusing ire on one mother is an issue. There were other arguments thrown around: it’s hard to coordinate getting kids to school and heading to work at the same time, SUVs are safer, the comfortable hip height for older drivers or those with disabilities, the fact that new SUVs have lower emissions than before, and more.
The consensus, though, has largely been the same: SUVs are generally unnecessary. And the battleground once again comes down to a certain kind of driver: mothers.
Moms have been the target of criticism about their driving habits for ages; think about the hatred many automotive journalists have historically channeled toward minivans. They haven’t been the most aesthetically pleasing vehicles in history, but they’ve been a comfortable and spacious way for people — especially parents— to transport a lot of kids, often on a budget and with decent fuel mileage. But the desperate hatred often comes down to the psychology of presentation: people don’t want to look uncool, and there’s nothing more uncool than a mom.
As minivans disappeared (or even earned a revamped reputation as a surprisingly practical vehicle), SUVs have taken up the mantle of the auto world’s most hated vehicle. Astounding numbers of articles, blogs, and think pieces dissect the SUV hate, and many of them have a similar theme, either overtly stated or masked in bias: real drivers hate it when these pushy moms clog the highways and model lineups with anything that’s not a sportier sedan.
There’s a belief that these mothers are buying vehicles out of a Karen-like superiority complex, and one user on the VWVortex forum summed it up best: “A mother with a one kid buys a suburban, x5, etc to feel above and superior to traffic without thinking of the effect it has on the people driving around them like being blinded and my first point (that SUV drivers are inherently bad drivers.” Another user added why they think women are such bad drivers: “My absolute favorite is seeing women and even younger girls driving mommy’s GLK or tired ass Lexus truck that everyone and there mother has driving with there head down because there playing with there phone nearly rear ending people jerking the car as they realize there about to crash into another car or a parked car.”
Those same arguments were used against the minivan: they were too big, drank too much gasoline, and they were owned by poor drivers.
Now, back to the case of a British mother stopped while taking her son to school. Some have painted this mom as loving mother doing her familial duty. Others have expressed their hatred for this mom and her status symbol. The sentiment remains that, without these moms sullying the automotive sphere with excessive SUV purchases, the world would be a better place.
I won’t blindly defend SUVs and the women that have made them so popular, because there are valid concerns to be raised about SUVs (poor fuel efficiency, drain on resources, danger to pedestrians, and more) and about the sheer number of vehicles on roads in general (which could be lowered with more effective public transit). But I will argue that we need to untangle valid criticisms of SUVs with the often inherent misogyny that plagues any decision a mother or a woman makes.
SUVs aren’t popular because entitled women hate the environment. SUVs are popular for plenty of reasons, many of which may appeal to moms: ease of ingress and egress, a higher hip height that doesn’t require anyone to bend down to buckle a child safety belt, better visibility, the perceived sense of safety that stems from those factors. A luxury brand may confer status — but women aren’t the only consumers who are attracted to a specific name, label, or other status symbol.
No, the advantages of SUVs don’t negate the impact they have on the environment. But they can inform our understanding of what makes SUV buyers tick and how we can start implementing eco-friendly changes that keep these drivers’ needs in mind without pinning the entirety of the climate crisis on their shoulders.