Biases of masculine motorworld
The challenge of being different. The task of becoming respected. The doom of the Toyota Prius.
To begin with, Jeremy Clarkson hates the Toyota Prius.
This is what he wrote in 2007 in his book Don’t Stop Me Now: “… the world is awash with hippies who really do think that by driving around in a Prius they’re saving the world’s water beetles. Think of hybrids as council-run bottle banks: almost completely useless marketing tools designed to make you feel all warm and fuzzy about being green.”
This is what he and Richard Hammond stated about the Prius camper in 2012, which they firstly defined as a monstrous elephant car: “You've got a double bed in the back and then another one in that growth. That is not a car that you could talk to at a party unless you were looking at something else is it?”
Finally, this is what Jeremy stated in 2017: “But the car I reserve a special level of hatred for is the Toyota Prius. Because that is a cynical marketing exercise for the gullible and the stupid … And anyone who likes one, buys one or praises one in any way is a complete and utter imbecile.”
In its stead, the Toyota says that the recent Prius Mk4, launched in 2015, is simply staggering: “… the Toyota Prius is set to take on new markets with ground-breaking environmental performance, a stylish new design, and a fun-to-drive spirit … The new engine achieves a ground-breaking maximum thermal efficiency of 40 percent … The transaxle and [electric] motor have been redesigned, delivering a reduction in their combined weight. The motor itself is considerably more compact and gains a better power-to-weight ratio … The TNGA concept delivers an increase of more than 60 percent in body torsional rigidity, compared to the previous model … Combine these enhancements with its new double wishbone rear suspension and a lower center of gravity, and the result is a hybrid with a sporty ride.”
But the “purist” masculine petrolhead world laughs at these “enhancements” and “sporty ride!”
Actually, the petrolhead world doesn’t even bother reading these lines of the Toyota’s self-admiration!
Indeed, if one had a choice between the ’10 Ford Mustang GT, the ’06 BMW M3 E46, the ’04 Alfa Romeo V6 GTV, and the new Toyota Prius Mk4… the latter would immediately be crossed off the list! The Prius is generally treated as a number two after The Car. It is the quintessential Other of the automotive world, the embodiment of oddness, pseudo-greenery, and underdevelopment.
The owners of the Prius often wish none knew they own one. Regardless of its reliability, practicality, and driver-friendliness; Regardless of its Top Gear’s appreciation as a best city car of the year 2009; Regardless of its market success (6.1 million sales as for January 2017), fuel efficiency, and numerous other virtues – the Prius makes its owners feel somehow ashamed.
In order for the Prius to be widely admired and appreciated, though, it should be completely remade. Super-car-bolized. Or muscle-car-bolized. The petrolhead recognition would come to the Prius if it stopped being the Prius. But this is a very “discriminatory” approach, don’t you find? It leads to the imposition of certain standards onto the vehicle which was made to challenge these standards. The point is that the Prius stands against what is historically accepted by drivers and designers as the benchmark of a proper car. It exists out of the box and struggles with this existence. Majority of petrolheads would like to see it as a “normal” car with few accepting it as the unique.
But the Prius is indeed an artefact in itself. Let us not speak here of how environmentally polluting it is to produce one. With its technological sophistication, the Prius is no inferior to Mustang, M3, or GTV. Actually, it should not be compared to these cars. It is simply different. However, the “purist” petrolheads deny the Prius this right. To be different. To be equal. To be out-standing.
The blatant truth is that in a world dominated by the masculine muscle-and-super cars it is very unattractive to be the Prius. It generates no dreams. Its posters will never decorate bedroom walls.
Moreover, the Prius is not the only “inferior.” It is simply the most outspoken of them. Lada Riva, Morris Marina, Daihatsu Charade, FSO Polonez, Tata Nano, Mazda 121 and others are also on the list. These cars, loved by many, are generally regarded as the chaos, darkness, and dead-end of the automotive engineering. Always the second.
Surely, one can mode the Prius and make it win drag races with Mustang's, M3's, and GTV's. This will probably require the engine swap. But is it justified? Should a decent city car be destroyed to make it do something which it has never been intended to do? I bet, no. Respect the individuality of the Prius and its right to be different.
You may ask why on hell I wrote so many letters on such obvious things. The answer is simple: Imagine that the Prius is a woman in a male-dominated society. And now imagine the imbalance of the so called gender equilibrium. The imbalance which we used to live in and agree to by default. That is, in particular, what Simone de Beauvoir brought to light in her 1949 book Le Deuxième Sexe or The Second Sex.
The Second Sex is often regarded as the Holy Book of feminism as it provided the philosophic and explanatory backbone to the latter. De Beauvoir starts from the point that one is not born but becomes a woman.
Indeed, as the biology is concerned, women are different to men. Women are physically weaker (at least, in the majority of cases) and, unlike men, they are the only to give birth. However, all these biological points do not make up a good reason for men to declare them superior, as it historically used to be. De Beauvoir argues that women are perceived as the “second sex” by men because they are compared to men in a masculine society. By what right this happens? By what right the physical difference predefines the social role of women? By what right the biology influences the gender? This is utterly wrong!
De Beauvoir goes even further than that. She states that men enjoy comparing themselves to women and need this comparison badly. In such a way men “reinforce” themselves in understanding that they are better in everything. Thus, women serve as a quintessential Other on whose background men can assert themselves in a masculine society. To make this self-assertion even more distinctive, women are often gardened away from the majority of social activities. To prevent unnecessary competition. The only niche which remains for women is a biological niche – becoming wives and bringing up children.
Becoming good wives, according to De Beauvoir, remains a “natural” social role for women. A generally regarded dream! However, this is not what make women really happy; family life brings nothing, but a disappointment the next day after the wedding. It is the way to hold away death, but also to refuse life. De Beauvoir concludes that women is doomed to accept with dignity her vassalage which are the bed and housework "services."
This is paradoxical as at the dawn of life every baby is It. Regardless of the sex. A girl becomes She on her first conscious interactions with the society. In a way, a girl is “taught” to be a woman with her "feminine" destiny is imposed on her by society which has always remained under the “masculine” domination. As De Beauvoir put it: “A girl comes to believe in and to worship a male god and to create imaginary adult lovers.”
In social dimension, men will never properly understand women. The first assess problems of the second from their perspective of superiority. Men are fine living within the framework of stereotypes they created to explain and simplify the male-and-female relations. De Beauvoir defines this as a form of oppression and writes that the same hierarchy of identities can be found in relations between religions, races, and classes. In other words, the gender stereotypes is a male excuse to structure society and forge it as a patriarchy.
To break that vicious dependence women should fight for two major freedoms. Primarily, they should gain a right to participate in all men-dominated activities, from mining and engineering to military trainings. They should acquire means of production. Secondly, women should be freed from the “reproductive slavery.” This means that “woman,” "wife" and “mother” should never go as synonyms any more. These two freedoms will allow women to take responsibility for themselves and raise to a point of individual decision-making.
Coming back to our liberal democratic society of the 21st century. Much of what de Beauvoir wanted to see is in place already. Women can enjoy both of the above mentioned freedoms (to a bigger or lesser extent). However, this does not mean that the world became more “feminine.” New paradox emerged: In order for women to be successful they should act as men. Examples? Miranda Priestly as the lady-boss-humiliator (“The Devil Wears Prada”). Margaret Thatcher as the Iron Lady. Lyudmila Pavlichenko as the world's best female sniper. Sabine Schmitz as the Queen of the Nürburgring.
In order to be successful, women should deliver an “I'm here b///tch” message to a masculine world in a masculine way. Then they will be noticed and remembered by men. Like the Prius with the Dodge Hellcat engine.
To make things worse, not all members of the contemporary society accept the new stance of women. In the aftermath of the 9/11, all male fire-fighters, police officers, and volunteers who risked their lives in the Trade Center wreckages were portrayed as “heroes,” while women doing the same were rarely mentioned at all. Traditionally, women were not supposed to do this kind of a job. Then there was President George W. Bush’s State of the Union Speech of 29 January 2002. This speech made clear that the biggest honour for men is to defend their nation overseas. Meanwhile, women should remain at home, remain faithful and loyal. And if a man comes back in a coffin his wife should accept this with humility and dignity. Because this man became the national “hero.”
Let us drop a word now about women in motorsport. Last week a discussion exploded in #Girlpower whether it is appropriate or not to create a separate Formula One championship for women-pilots. Because the latter are not represented in the Formula as we have it now. Drivetribe boys arrived with a counter-argument that such a move would go against the understanding of social equality women fight for so relentlessly. Actually, there is something in it. Why not creating a male-only championship then?
However, the problem is deeper than that. Women are not present in the Formula One because they are “not invited” by the Scuderia's management. Women are not invited because, presumably, they lose competition to men-pilots on a selection stage. And women can hardly win that competition because they have no proper experience as they are never invited. This is a closed circle.
In other words, imagine putting Miyagino Beya, a sumo professional and champion, against Usain Bolt, a very-fast sprinter and Olympic medalist, for a sumo bout. I bet, you know the winner. The sumo skills of both athletes are very different. But the point also is that both are very good in what they trained how to do.
The separate championship would allow women to enrich their experience, become noticed by Scuderia's, and join the competition in the realm which is dominated by men. There are a lot of women who would like to fight in the Formula One as equals at the highest levels possible. Therefore, I have nothing against of boosting the chances for women-pilots.
An alternative solution is a forceful introduction of quotas for women in the Formula One. But you will probably kill me if I continue...
There is another point which should be kept in mind: Formula One is a “gendered institution.” Created by men for men in the times when women were not racing. Therefore, women may enter this realm today, but will they feel good there? Will they feel comfortable in a racing culture which reflects masculine experience? It may happen that becoming a successful Formula One pilot may require a necessity to act as a man in a masculine world. But this is the topic for another discussion.
To end this article on a bittersweet note, Simone de Beauvoir was a great mind of the era, but majority of women never heard of de Beauvoir. Majority are eager today to accept social roles which have been assigned to them by a traditionally masculine society. Majority are fine with using bright lipstick, taking sexy pictures, and wearing push-ups-with-high-heels with one aim: To attract boys. Then to get married. Then to raise children. Because that is what their mothers told them to do.
P.S. Did you know that Simone de Beauvoir herself was never bound by socially “approved” morale and values? She enjoyed freedom in everything and had a lot of lovers. Both male and female (some required psychological therapy afterwards). She never got married and fostered no kids. Now you know!
P.P.S. Personally, I would not buy the Prius. I am a man and the Prius doesn't do broom-broom!
P.P.P.S. Matt Parsons can be reached here: www.behance.net/Matthew_Parsons_SA