The Truth About Cars » Sexism http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. Tue, 15 Jul 2014 15:25:59 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.9.1 The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars no The Truth About Cars editors@ttac.com editors@ttac.com (The Truth About Cars) 2006-2009 The Truth About Cars The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars » Sexism http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/wp-content/themes/ttac-theme/images/logo.gif http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com “Women Drivers” In Period Advertising http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/07/women-drivers-in-period-advertising/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/07/women-drivers-in-period-advertising/#comments Sat, 06 Jul 2013 07:25:34 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=494351 libertyad
Period advertising can be entertaining. The ads are often graphically interesting and it’s also kind of educational to read the copy. At the least they are historical artifacts, a window into the commercial mind of a different era. For the long Fourth of July holiday weekend we posted a piece on the Liberty Motor Car Company, including the above ad. It was published sometime between 1916 and 1923, when Liberty went out of business. While reading the ad copy, I came across the following phrase:

“How about safety, in these days of women drivers and crowded traffic? Did you ever see an emergency brake applied with a touch of one finger that will stop a car without shock at full speed – surely – smoothly – safely. Try the Liberty emergency – and try it where life might depend on its action.

At first my reaction was “women drivers”? “How quaint and patronizing and sexist”, went through my head, which is rather funny considering that I’ve been called a troglodytic misogynist, being terribly allergic to any form of PC thought. Women have always been in charge, they give the next generation much of their values in every society that ever has been, and ever will be. I am, though, a father of two daughters and a granddaughter and I want them to be able to pursue whatever opportunities their talent and hard work might merit. I personally have nothing against women drivers, I taught my older daughter (and her mother, too) how to drive a stick. Heck, my ex shifts smoother than I do and has a spotless driving record, which I can’t say for myself.

Then I thought, maybe the reference to women drivers was not disparaging but rather appealing to protective impulses. That’s a theme common in a lot of recent commercials, and some not so recent. There’s the Subaru ad with the dad talking to a little girl playing behind the wheel of their car sitting in their driveway who turns into a 16 year old about to drive on her own for the first time.

Click here to view the embedded video.

Michelin has been using the tagline Because so much is riding on your tires since 1985, when the DDB ad agency created this ad. It’s been called one of the most effective advertising slogans ever and it’s all based on appealing to parents’ protective natures.

Click here to view the embedded video.

Interestingly, this 1987 version shows the changing roles of women, because it’s the mother, not the father who is buying Michelins so their child will be safe.

Click here to view the embedded video.

I’ve written about the incessant cliched and misandrist stupid father commercials, so this Chevy truck commercial, with Tim Allen sonorous tagline “the things you carry are even heavier than the things you haul”, also a variation on the “keep my family safe” theme, hits all the right notes for me. It shows a capable, caring and strong but gentle dad dropping his kid off to day care on the way to work.

Click here to view the embedded video.

That’s why I thought it was silly when this old Goodyear ad was labeled as sexist. It’s just another variation on the same theme. Yes, back then men may have made most tire purchases, but if it was okay for a mother to be concerned about her daughter’s safety in 1987, it was okay for a husband to be concerned about his wife’s safety in 1967. Besides, unlike all those stupid dad commercials, it shows the wife actually accomplishing her task, getting to the airport in difficult traffic conditions, picking her husband up. I think what really bothered the scolds was that when she picked him up, she slid over and let him get behind the wheel, the ad ending with a kiss. I’m guessing that they could reshoot the same commercial today, not changing a thing other than making it a same-sex couple, and the same folks who call the old ad sexist would cheer it.

Click here to view the embedded video.

People were concerned about their families’ safety in 1917 as well. Perhaps rather than mocking women drivers, maybe the Liberty ad was appealing to them and their husbands. I’m not so sure that it’s putting down women as much as trying to sell the car to women and to husbands of “women drivers”, concerned for their safety in increasingly crowded traffic.

Alice Ramsey changing a tire on her renowned 1909 cross-country drive.

Alice Ramsey changing a tire on her renowned 1909 cross-country drive.

To be honest, I’m not even sure if “woman driver” had become a pejorative by the time the ad was published. Liberty was in business from 1916 to 1923. It was a time of women’s suffrage. Women drivers like Alice Ramsey and Dorothy Levitt (who held land and water speed records and wrote what is probably the only book that gives both fashion advice and instructions on how to rebuild a carburetor) were world-famous years before the Liberty was on sale. By the time the Liberty was being made, Kettering (another one of those “dead white males” whose inventions helped liberate women) had developed the electric starter and women drivers were indeed becoming more common.

Dorothy Levitt at the inaugural Brighton time trials, 1905

Dorothy Levitt at the inaugural Brighton trials, 1905

One of the Liberty’s selling features was ergonomics, the ad mentions how just a “touch” is needed at the controls. Note how the text that I’ve quoted says that with “touch of one finger” on the emergency brake the car can be brought to a complete halt safely (presumably to avoid an accident). Perhaps all that ergonomics and light touch was a selling point to women, implying that a driver didn’t need a man’s physical strength to drive the Liberty.

Dorothy Levitt in a Napier racer at Brooklands in 1908

Dorothy Levitt in a Napier racer at Brooklands in 1908

I’m not naive, and neither was whoever wrote the copy for this ad. Read it. It’s pretty sophisticated copy for an ad from not very long after Alfred Lasker more or less invented modern advertising. It’s possible Liberty was trying to have it both ways. They use the phrase “women drivers” but they don’t actually say anything disparaging. Maybe novelist L.P. Hartley’s famous opening line, “The past is a foreign country; they do things differently there,” applies. Maybe it really was patronizing and sexist, but I’ve seen enough period advertisements from that era that were pitching cars and car accessories to women to think that Liberty was perhaps being true to its name and was as eager to make money off of women drivers as it was from men.

Ronnie Schreiber edits Cars In Depth, a realistic perspective on cars & car culture and the original 3D car site. If you found this post worthwhile, you can dig deeper at Cars In Depth. If the 3D thing freaks you out, don’t worry, all the photo and video players in use at the site have mono options. Thanks for reading – RJS

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Did Sexism and Racism End the Fisher Body Craftsman’s Guild? Harley Earl’s Grandson Says So http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/07/did-sexism-and-racism-end-the-fisher-body-craftsmans-guild-harley-earls-grandson-says-so/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/07/did-sexism-and-racism-end-the-fisher-body-craftsmans-guild-harley-earls-grandson-says-so/#comments Wed, 25 Jul 2012 18:13:22 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=454157

In a recent post on Stillen’s contest to design a body kit for the Scion FR-S, I brought up the history of the Fisher Body Craftsman’s Guild, a scholarship based model making contest for budding designers that ran from 1930 to 1968. Since just about all of the promotional materials for the Guild were targeted at boys, I wondered if any girls ever tried to enter the competition.

Ron Will, who was a national winner of the Guild competition in 1961, later worked at GM design and is now retired after heading Subaru styling for 25 years, is active in the reunions that Guild participants have organized, so I contacted him. To his knowledge, no girls ever tried to enter the competition. With the changes in women’s roles Will says that had the Guild continued beyond 1968, he’s sure that it would have been opened up to female participation, just as the Chevrolet sponsored Soap Box Derby was. Richard Earl disagrees. In fact, the grandson of Harley Earl, the man who started GM’s styling department, says that the Guild was ended specifically to prevent girls and minorities from competing. Furthermore, Earl told me that his source was none other than Irv Rybicki, who headed GM styling after Bill Mitchell, Harley Earl’s successor, retired.

 

Richard Earl’s mission is enshrining his grandfather’s legacy as the father of automotive styling and he operates CaroftheCentury.com, dedicated to Harley Earl. Since he’s written about the “Damsels of Design”, the women designers who worked for Earl, I contacted Richard to find out if Sue Vanderbilt, the most prominent of GM’s female designers in the 1950s and 1960s, was still alive to see if I could get her perspective on the notion of girls participating Craftsman’s Guild.

Chuck Jordan with boys competing in the Fisher Body Craftsman’s Guild

Earl informed me that Vanderbilt had passed away but then alluded to “the real reason” why the Guild was discontinued.  He was surprised that I’d never heard the story, since I’ve posted before at TTAC about Bill Mitchell’s supposed bigotry. My curiosity piqued, I asked him to clue me in. This is what he said.

Certain Detroit history is illusive. This particular area is one of them. What follows is kind of fast and loose.

I found out why the illustrious Fisher Body Craftsman’s Guild was eliminated while interviewing certain GM Styling Section veterans and Damsels as well when I lived in Detroit area researching the history of Harley Earl/GM’s Styling&Design legacy. I was fortunate to not only sit down and talk to Henry Lauve, Paul Gillian, Irv Rybicki, Homer LaGassey, Stan Parker, Loretta Ramshaw’s brother who worked at Styling for a long time, George Pisiani and a parade of other great old veteran GM Styling guys; but as I mention I talked with a number of Damsels of Design as well.

Irv Rybicki, head of GM styling 1977-1986

I’ll focus primarily on what Irvine Rybicki told me while I was visiting him in his retirement home in East Sandwich, Mass… Reason I’m mentioning all this has to do with the sensitive stuff I learned from Irv, you know the behind-the-scenes stuff on GM Styling/Design. He was not like Jordan, a power broker, and Irv wasn’t scared of losing his pension or any reprisals be waged against him by what he said. He was honest and unmerciful about what went wrong after Harley Earl left the corporation and Detroit’s auto world.

Ronnie, you actually have a little knowledge as to why the FBCG went away because you wrote a story a couple of years ago pointing to the heart of the matter in your titled article, Was GM’s Head Bill Mitchell A Sexist Bigot?

Here’s what Irv told me, “The FBCG was disbanded because GM’s top execs at the time in power sided with Bill Mitchell and didn’t want blacks or young girls coming in and being involved in any way shape or form with the event. So they just got rid of it and told themselves they didn’t really need it anymore and it had already served its purpose.”

Ronnie Schreiber edits Cars In Depth, a realistic perspective on cars & car culture and the original 3D car site. If you found this post worthwhile, you can dig deeper at Cars In Depth. If the 3D thing freaks you out, don’t worry, all the photo and video players in use at the site have mono options. Thanks for reading – RJS

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