After a recent meltdown in the White House, President Trump proceeded to further extend his tantrum by posting a picture of the House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi. He imagined that sharing an image of Pelosi standing over a room of white men would send the same message to the country that it sent to him. However, it is a narrow, historical perspective that a woman in power appears “unhinged”. It is also a good reminder that men are often able to assert latent and assertive power by their (generally) greater height, so it is often in moments when they are seated and a woman is standing that men feel ‘under’ women and feel ‘small’ and threatened by her power.
In my forthcoming article about women entering elected office after 1920, I find that for 1st 20 yrs of having the vote women generally were only able to enter office if they were widows of male politicians. An image I found captures the power of a woman standing and talking to seated men and it still resonates today.
Appeals to women are nothing new, though, as reporter P.J. Bednarski notes in this story:
Almost from the time the first service stations opened, big oil doted on women, writes Katherine J. Parkin in her book, Women at the Wheel: A Century of Buying, Driving and Fixing Cars, which even credits the need to cater to women for prompting gas stations to compete to claim the cleanest restrooms, as far back as 1938
Gasoline companies also liked to sell women, as with the campaign to have certified nurses who worked at gas stations to verify that the stations were clean.
Check out my book for more ways that gasoline and oil companies marketed their products to women, as well as the appliances and promotional items they sold as well!
I hope you’ll check out my new article about pioneering driver, Alice Ramsey.
Alice Ramsey: Driving in New Directions
Summering in Asbury Park in 1908 enabled Alice Ramsey to hone her motor skills as she drove 6,000 miles of Monmouth County roads. She developed skills to care for and maintain the car, with few services available to her. Her winning performances in endurance runs on Long Island and between New York City and Philadelphia caught the eye of a Maxwell-Briscoe car promoter who invited her to undertake a sponsored trip across the country. When she crossed the country in 1909, only a tiny percentage of women drove; there were few formal roads and very little guidance on how to navigate. While she was known throughout her life as Mrs. John R. Ramsey and had two children, after her husband’s death in 1933, Alice Ramsey, under cover of her married name and her identity as mother, grandmother, and great grandmother, lived for 50 years with women she loved. Her wealth, presumptive heterosexuality, and notoriety as an automotive pioneer led newspapers and magazines in the 1960s and 1970s to cover her unconventional life.
Delighted to report that my book, Women at the Wheel, was excerpted today on the blog at Hemmings.com. In the first day, 55 people commented on the excerpt and offered personal stories about women drivers in their lives, insights into how they saw women as drivers and their relationship with cars, and reflections on the article. So pleased to have inspired such an animated conversation and appreciative of the opportunity to hear so many people reflecting on women and cars.
Hope you’d enjoy the excerpt and their comments, too!
A couple in Texas had a sticker made and mounted it on their truck. It stated,
“F‑‑K TRUMP AND F‑‑K YOU FOR VOTING FOR HIM.” (The profanity is spelled out on the sticker.)”
Sheriff Troy Nehls sought to charge the owners of the truck and when he was thwarted on rights of free speech, he targeted the owners by digging up an outstanding warrant against the woman, and arrested her.
She, in turn, made a second sticker, to place alongside the first:
“F-CK TROY NEHLS AND F-CK YOU FOR VOTING FOR HIM.”
In researching the history of women and cars, I found some controversies around sexualized decals/stickers, like this one that sparked debates about First Amendment rights in Great Falls, Montana:
Closer to home in the parking lot of my local PetSmart the car of an employee is adorned with this sticker:
A recent article in the Washington Post alleges that Uber prioritized profits over passenger safety, “giving perpetrators of sexual assault, sexual harassment and physical violence access to thousands of “vulnerable victims” nationwide since it launched 2010.”
The biggest crime, according to a recent lawsuit is “lax driver screening — that endangers thousands of women who use the service on a daily basis. The suit cites numerous cases of rape, violence and sexual assault– along with screening lapses in Maryland and Massachusetts — as evidence of its claim that Uber has prioritized profits over the safety of its passengers.”
To give you a sense of what they’re alleging: “In Massachusetts, more than 8,000 Uber and Lyft drivers failed state screening despite passing Uber and rival Lyft’s background checks, according to the suit. Among them, 1,599 had histories of violent crime and 51 were registered sex offenders, the lawsuit says.”
Advocates and international human rights groups criticized Saudi Arabia for their policy forbidding women to drive because it violated women’s basic rights. Their efforts to change the law were met with intense resistance starting in 1990. One Saudi woman recounted that “‘the mutawa (military fundamentalists) demanded that the women be beheaded,’” and their own relatives threatened them with death for the shame they brought upon their families. Stripped of their jobs and their travel papers, the government effectively detained the women, tapped their phones, and threatened their families. Over twenty years later, trying to lay claim to the freedoms promised by the “Arab Spring” that emerged in 2010 and building on the hope created in 2005 when the King of Saudi Arabia surmised that it would only be “a matter of time” before women drove, women in Saudi Arabia planned a 17 June 2011 protest. Their efforts, however, revealed no momentum for the movement, as only about 50 women reported driving with only minimal attention from the authorities. The international attention, however, continued to expose the Kingdom’s denial of human rights and they remain the only country in the world that did not allow women to drive.
Until today, as the King of Saudi Arabia has now decreed women can be at the wheel.
“The American really loves nothing but his automobile: not his wife his child nor his country nor even his bank-account first … Because the automobile has become our national sex symbol….”
“the American woman has become cold and and undersexed; she has projected her libido on to the automobile not only because its glitter and gadgets and mobility pander to her vanity and incapacity … but because it will not maul her and tousle her, get her all sweaty and disarranged….”
“… the American man has got to make that car his own. …. spending all Sunday morning washing and polishing and waxing it because in doing that he is caressing the body of the woman who has long since now denied him her bed.”
Bruce Springsteen frequently refers to women as “girls” in his music and while he found freedom and mobility behind the wheel, he generally imagined women in the passenger seat (or the back seat).
“The key to the universe : Springsteen, masculinity, and the car” / by Katherine Parkin. Found in Bruce Springsteen and the American soul : essays on the songs and influence of a cultural icon, edited by David Izzo