‘Women Auto Know’ Revisited

Women’s Car Advice website A Girls Guide to Cars

A number of years ago I wrote a journal article – Women Auto Know: Automotive Knowledge, Auto Activism, and Women’s Online Car Advice – that focused on four popular online car advice sites for women. While, at the time, an online Google search revealed nearly one million car advice websites, only a very few were geared specifically for the woman driver. The women’s car advice websites I came upon did not function as forums or social networks but rather, were constructed as reputable and important resources for automotive knowledge and the acquisition of negotiation strategies and skills. In addition to providing advice and information, a few of the sites endeavored to revolutionize the male dominated automobile market to become more “woman-friendly” through an integrated auto dealership rating system. As I argued in the article, these online locations were significant not only for the hard facts they made accessible to female visitors, but for what women gained – as drivers, consumers, and political actors – by accessing them. 

Although we are now accustomed to finding just about anything on the Internet, at the time the original research was conducted – 2010 and again in 2013 – the idea that women could find online automotive information that addressed their specific needs, concerns, and experiences was rather new. The four online locations cited – AskPatty.com, Women-drivers.com, Road and Travel Magazine, and VroomGirls – could be considered revolutionary for the time. Nearly ten years since I first visited these online locations, these four car advice websites continue to provide useful information and negotiation skills to the woman behind the wheel.

While browsing women-and-car articles online a few days ago I came across a recent addition to the women’s car advice scene. As noted on the site, A Girls Guide to Cars was introduced in 2018 in an effort to provide women with a fun, fresh, and informative automotive source. Described as “Cars on Your Terms, and a Car Site for Women,” A Girls Guide to Cars provides many of the services of the older sites. It also shares a philosophy of not only providing information, tactics, and strategies to make a smart and comfortable automotive decisions, but to empower the auto industry to develop a better relationship with female customers. 

While it builds on the strengths of its online predecessors, A Girls Guide to Cars reflects a younger, more technologically savvy, and perhaps more economically stable population of women drivers. The regularly posted articles – which fall into categories of luxury, style, technology, travel, car buying, and news and opinion – are written by a diverse group of female staff and outside contributors from all over the US and Canada with various interests, occupations, and hobbies. They are authors, bloggers, podcasts, content creators, and journalists, whose common interest is a love and fascination for the automobile. As the contributors note, “we are not car enthusiasts, but regular women who spend time in cars, make car buying decisions, and think about how women are changing the automotive world.” There is a plethora of automotive information available on the site, as well as a good dose of automotive/human interest stories. All content is well-researched, well-written, and enjoyable to read, written from a definite female perspective.

Like the car advice sites that preceded it, A Girls Guide to Cars recognizes that when it comes to cars, women often have different needs, uses, and perspectives than the male driver. If you are a woman who is into cars, desires car buying information, or is just looking for a good automotive read, I suggest you take a look at A Girls Guide to Cars. 

Reiss, Scotty. A Girls Guide to Cars: Empowering Smarter, Happier Car Owners. agirlsguidetocars.net (2018).

Lezotte, Chris. “Women Auto Know: Automotive Knowledge, Auto Activism, and Women’s Online Car Advice.” Feminist Media Studies (2014): 1-17.

Have you ever visited an online car advice site? How was that experience? Do you have any that you would recommend? Your comments are welcome.

Truck Guys Aren’t Just Guys

Molly Osberg’s New-to-Her Toyota Tacoma

I recently came across an article on Jezebel – “A Supposedly Feminist Website” – about a recent pickup truck purchase of one of its writers. In “I’m a Truck Guy Now,” blogger Molly Osberg announces, discusses, and rationalizes her recent acquisition of a used Toyota Tacoma. Although Osberg’s excitement in her vehicle choice is palpable, she finds it necessary to continually justify not only the purchase itself, but her feelings about owning a mid-sized truck. It is only after she lays out the “legitimate” reasons for owning a truck that she allows herself to express why, in her words, the Tacoma is “the coolest fucking thing I’ve ever owned.”

Women and pickup trucks was the subject of an article adapted from my dissertation recently published in the European Journal of American Culture. In “A Woman and Her Truck: Pickups, the Woman Driver, and Cowgirl Feminism” I call upon a 2013 Chevy Silverado commercial as a segue into American women’s growing fascination with pickups. In interviews with 25 truck-owning women, I consider how women often assume cowgirl personas as a way to gain legitimacy in a historically masculine culture. However, what also became apparent through these enlightening conversations was how passionately many women feel about driving and owning a pickup truck.

Osberg shares many of the sentiments of those interviewed for “A Woman and Her Truck”. Much like those female truck owners, Osberg expounds upon the vehicle’s practical applications to her own life and that of her partner. Whether calling upon the truck to pull horse trailers and boats, or transport landscape supplies and building materials, women are likely to view truck ownership as a way to present themselves as tough, sturdy, industrious, and hardworking. Osberg also spends a great amount of time considering possible modifications to the truck. Carhartt seat covers, a trailer hitch, a three-inch lift, a truck cap, and vinyl racing stripes are a few of the additions Osberg contemplates as a way to make the truck her own. Osberg has named her pickup “Wylene”. In many of my women-and-car projects, I have found that naming is a common way women personalize and create identities for the vehicles they drive. Osberg also enjoys the element of surprise driving a pickup offers. Due to the truck’s size, substance, and strong association with masculinity, a small woman climbing out of a big truck often turns heads. And as Osberg has discovered, trucks provide the female motorist a sense of respect not often awarded to a driver of a typical “mom” vehicle – i.e. minivan or small SUV. As noted by the 25 truck-owning women, the ability to confidently and expertly handle a vehicle of considerable size and power marks the woman behind the wheel as an exceptional driver.

However, unlike Osberg, the women I interviewed had few qualms expressing enthusiasm, passion, and pure joy over the trucks they drive. They love how they feel when behind the wheel of a large, powerful vehicle. They appreciate the opportunities for recreation and adventure the pickup makes possible. They embrace the respect they receive when maneuvering a cumbersome machine; they feel empowered by the strength and toughness associated with truck ownership; they consider themselves exceptional for handling a vehicle rarely associated with the female motorist.

Perhaps Osberg’s reticence regarding her recent automotive purchase stems from an underlying suspicion that she does not in fact need, or deserve, a pickup truck. Perhaps admitting her affection for a masculine material object on a “supposedly feminist website” causes her to question her feminist “props.” However, as the interviews with 25 unapologetic truck-owning women – not to mention the growing number of female truck consumers – make clear, a good number of women have discovered that pickup ownership enhances their work, play, lives, and self-worth. As they might say to Molly Osberg, perhaps it is time to shed your inhibitions and take a little bit of joy from your new-to-you Toyota Tacoma.

Lezotte, Chris. “A Woman and Her Truck: Pickups, the Woman Driver, and Cowgirl Feminism.” European Journal of American Culture 38.2 (2019): 135-153.

Osberg, Molly. “I’m a Truck Guy Now.” Jezebel.com 6 December 2019.

Are you a truck owner? If not, have you ever considered purchasing one? What pickup qualities most interest you? Feel free to comment below.

The Women of Mercedes-Benz

Belinda Clontz’s 1962 Mercedes-Benz 200S Fintail

In my research into the relationship between women and cars, I often come across unique and interesting woman-car stories. I recently read an article in Automobile Magazine about Belinda Clontz – a California female car enthusiast with a particular fascination for Mercedes-Benz. While I expected her passion to be inspired by the luxury car’s prestige, classic style, and noteworthy performance attributes, I was surprised to discover that it was a woman’s contribution to the development and introduction of the automobile that garnered her attention and devotion. As noted by Clontz – the proud owner of a 1962 Mercedes Benz 220S Fintail – it was Bertha Benz, the wife of inventor Karl Benz, who introduced the original Benz Patent-Motorwagen to the world. In 1888, with her two children in the back seat, Bertha embarked on a 65-mile trip and in the process, made history as the first person – of either sex – to drive a car such a long distance. As Clontz remarks, “I admire any woman who is willing to do something that no one else has done. Bertha Benz was ahead of her time and I consider her a significant pioneer in the creation of the automobile.”

In the mid 1970s, feminist historians embarked on a movement to “write women into history.” These groundbreaking individuals challenged earlier traditions of intellectual and cultural history to consider whether historians could learn from other subjects – e.g. female – of study. Scholars began to think about not only about those reputed to have made history but also for those for whom historical events were backdrops to ordinary lives. Women’s history became one of the substantial new fields of study that emerged from this mid-twentieth century development.

It wasn’t until the late twentieth century that historians began to consider women’s influence within the field of automotive history. Scholars such as Virginia Scharff, Margaret Walsh, and Ruth Schwartz Cowan were instrumental in recovering the woman driver from the automotive archives. While Belinda Clontz is not a historian, she recognizes that women’s contributions to automotive history and culture are often overlooked. Her Facebook page is filled with homages to female Mercedes enthusiasts in particular and car lovers in general. She is encouraging to new auto aficionados, particularly young women with a passion for cars. In her posts she often reflects on what Mercedes ownership and being part of the Mercedes car culture has contributed to her identity and life.

While Clontz’s purchase of the classic Mercedes was influenced by the role of Bertha Benz in its introduction and production, female influence was felt in other automotive arenas. In her research into the history of Fintails, Clontz found that Ewy Rosqvist and Ursula Wirth won the 1962 Grand Prix of Argentina in a Mercedes-Benz 220SE Fintail  –  the first women to ever do so. As Clontz confessed, this serendipitous discovery made  ownership of the Fintail even more meaningful.

Although the automobile has a longstanding history as a primarily male interest, women today are discovering new and exciting ways to grow an interest in cars and take part in automotive culture. Although Clontz grew up with a fascination with automobiles, she found a special connection to the Mercedes due to its early – and heretofore unrecognized – female influence. As Clontz asserts, “My love for Mercedes-Benz stems from the fact that it was helped to be founded by a woman. Bertha Benz believed so much in her husband’s Motorwagen that she invested her inheritance money in his business. Although she was not allowed to be named as one of the inventors at the time, Bertha also contributed to the design and engineering of the Motorwagen. She took the Motorwagen on its first test drive and helped put Karl Benz on the map as the inventor of the first automobile. Her role in the history of Mercedes-Benz is influential and inspires me every time I get out on the road with my Fintail.”

Segura, Eleonor. “Meet the Gorgeous 1962 Mercedes-Benz 220S Fintail and Owner Belinda Clontz.” Automobilemag.com 14 Feb 2020.

Do you have an interesting car story? Please share it below.