Sunday, April 7, 2013

Do You Know Any Soccer Moms?

I was listening to the CBC Radio program "Q" the other day, when an interview with Libby Copeland, a journalist from, caught my attention. Her article titled "Baby, You Can't Drive My Car" examines how the auto industry continues to market to and design cars for male drivers when women now account for 50% of all drivers.  

The statistic makes complete sense when one considers the percentage of women in the workforce, and the amount of people who have migrated to suburbia where a vehicle becomes even more important. Women who do choose to stay home with their children as stay at home mothers often have their own vehicles so that they can keep up with the more hectic modern lifestyle.  It also alleviates that feeling of being trapped at home, dependent on the schedule of their significant other.  I don't think that these observations are groundbreaking, but seemed to have escaped the notice of car companies who continue to ignore women from both the design and the advertising perspective. Copeland points out that there is one segment of the female population which does receive a great deal of attention in marketing campaigns, and that is the soccer mother. 

I paused for a moment and tried to think about it, and I, as a woman in her late twenties, don't actually know of anyone in my circle of friends, acquaintances and co-workers that I would put in that category. Society has changed, with more single women, women waiting longer to have children, and shrinking family sizes; and I don't believe that this image is relevant any more. Do women want cars with spacious interiors? Yes, but it is more for camping, shopping at Costco and leg room for road trips, rather than schlepping a gaggle of squirming children around town.  

Another aspect of buying a vehicle that women often complain about is the experience of going to the dealerships and negotiating a price.  A few years ago, we purchased our Toyota Matrix and I remember the experience as being thoroughly unpleasant for everyone involved.  I think that regardless of your gender, very few people actually enjoy the process of purchasing a vehicle and the auto industry needs to reform this aspect most of all. Though women do their research and are often the person charged with balancing the chequebook every month, they feel patronized by sales staff who seem more interested in pointing out bells and whistles. Heated leather seats were a feature that a salesman tried to sell me on. I felt like I had to be overly assertive (bitchy) to simply get basic questions about gas mileage and resale value answered. The amateur theatre at the Ford dealership was particularly noteworthy, with both of us walking out in disgust at their pressure tactics. 

I won't go into any more detail, but would recommend reading Libby Copeland's article in full as it goes into the safety implications of an industry that designs for male bodies.  I think that women are in the position to demand safer vehicles, smarter marketing and an overall recognition of the changing dynamics of our society. 

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