The traditional preconception that driving is a man’s thing stubbornly persists in some quarters. Where do these clichés come from? And what differences between genders in their relationships with cars might actually exist? We asked Prof. Dr. Joachim Scheiner from TU Dortmund University.
Despite considerable progress, gender roles and equality are still contentious topics of discussion to this day. Even the experts dealing with these research areas are not always in agreement. Nevertheless, it is possible to identify some differences between men and women in their relationship with their vehicles. However, among other things, these are down to their different life situations, such as the unfortunately still prevalent gender pay gap, or other conditions reflecting the fact that equality is not yet fully a reality. What doesn't help in this discussion are sweeping judgments – and people’s connection to their cars is always a very individual one. In the following article, we get to the bottom of the question “Cars, cars, cars – is it only a boys thing?” using selected statements from experts and independent studies.
People and their cars – it is clearly a special relationship. Emotions play a much bigger role here compared to with other objects. “The car provides safety and comfort from the impositions of the outside world,” explains Prof. Dr. Scheiner, Head of Traffic Behavior and Mobility research in the Spatial Planning faculty of TU Dortmund University, in an interview with 63Magazine. “Secondly, it represents autonomy and self-determination, which is highly important to many people in an individualized society.” Thirdly, it conveys social status, the “little differences” to the outside world, the professor explains. Finally, some find being able to exert power and control over a fast, powerful vehicle a thrilling experience, he says. “Of course, all of that has little to do with mobility in the narrower sense of reaching a destination,” says Prof. Dr. Scheiner.
"For women, engine power and the exhilaration of speed are less important than the protective function of the car and the self-determined mobility it offers."
He feels gender differences in this emotional relationship between people and their cars are clearly recognizable. “For women, engine power and the exhilaration of speed are less important than the protective function of the car and the self-determined mobility it offers.” The sociologist Christa Bös from Freie Universität Berlin confirms the latter in the newspaper Welt: “The relationship with the car is more strongly associated with feelings of individual autonomy in women than in men.” Many women told Bös how happy they were to finally get their own car, having previously only been “tolerated cousers” of the family automobile. For women, therefore, their own car represents a step towards equality, Bös explains. For men, on the other hand, it is above all an instrument to document social status, she adds.
Prof. Dr. Scheiner sees additional differences in driving styles: “In particular among men – and especially young men – driving can trigger a rush of power and control over the machine. They drive faster and less in line with the rules and regulations, overestimate their abilities more, and, in extreme cases, consider themselves to be above God.” According to the expert from Dortmund, women can also feel the same rush. “But they don’t seem to give in to it nearly as much. They drive more rationally, perhaps partly due to their sense of responsibility. We know that they take far-above-average responsibility for interpersonal matters – such as upbringing, family, care, and private contacts.”
Prof. Dr. Joachim Scheiner
Among other areas, Prof. Dr. Joachim Scheiner researches the topics “Traffic behavior, everyday mobility, spheres of activity,” and “Social change and traffic.” In the “Gender and mobility” research project, he investigated “Everyday life in the transformation of the gender relationship” with regard to “Activities, routes, transport, and use of time.”
Gender differences can also be seen when it comes to car purchases. However, they cannot be explained by sweeping generalizations. For example, a study by TÜV Nord established: “Men drive luxury class, women compact cars,” as the graduate psychologist Cornelia Nagel succinctly summarizes the results. But, she adds, “that is not necessarily of their own accord. The trend toward a smaller (second) car for a woman could be down to the sharing of roles in couples – or simply due to different financial possibilities.”
Even today, preconceptions persist in the mutual judgment by men and women on the driving skills of the opposite sex. Prof. Dr. Scheiner explains how this comes about: “You have to understand how these preconceptions come into being. The cliché that women cannot park comes from a time when women with driving licences had little opportunity to acquire driving practice. So it was a kind of self-fulfilling prophecy.” How inaccurate that stereotype is today was revealed by two studies. Firstly, British researchers found that the car ends up more in the middle of the parking space when women park – meaning they park more precisely than men. And according to a study that they conducted for a car park operator, students at the Baden-Württemberg Cooperative State University Mannheim found that women park faster than men. They need an average of 17 seconds for a parking maneuver – men need three seconds longer.
This much is clear: Women love cars just as much as men do, but – for various reasons relating to life circumstances – in a different way. And which gender drives better? The real answer to that question is far from the established clichés. But one thing is for sure: cars are not only a boys thing – they are just as much a girls thing!
Photography | Anatol Kotte