What Do Women Want, Automotively Speaking?


Hello, my name is Janaki, and I’m a woman. Probably not what you’d consider a typical one, considering many of my interests, my particular sense of humour, and various other things about me. But I am one, last I checked—and I’m not the least bit interested in “active park assist.” So why mention it? Because a friend attending BlogHer ‘09 mentioned that Ford is there, trying to actively engage and court women and find out what it is they want in their cars. One of the big things they’re pushing is what you see in the video above: Active Park Assist.

To be honest, I’m not sure whether I find this more insulting or frustrating. Step inside and I’ll explain.

First things first, I’m hardly any sort of Luddite. I’ve always been keen on gadgets, and that hasn’t changed at all as I’ve gotten older. Oddly, I’m the sort of person for whom love of gadgetry and mechanics and how things work really extends in all directions, temporally speaking. I’m just as excited to learn about Sansui solid-state amplification from the ’70s (or how double humbucking pickups work, or how Honda first started making motorcycles way back after the devastation of WWII; take your pick) as I am to learn about what Tesla’s got in the pipeline for us lovers of quirky (and yet sleek) FutureCars. I feel as though I have to offer this sort of disclaimer, because otherwise my complaint could potentially be too easily dismissed as one from someone frightened of technology—when that obviously isn’t the case.

What I find alarming about Active Park Assist technology, no matter what name it’s given or by whom, is that it requires no thinking. Perhaps I’m more sensitive to this issue because I like to ride my motorbike as much as possible, and so I have to pay extra-close attention not just to what I’m doing, but to what everyone else within a five mile radius is doing as well. But really—looking at all the news reports about ridiculously stupid things like careless drivers causing wrecks and killing innocent people because they were on the bloody PHONE while they should have been paying attention to the road? It’s made me more than a little cynical. EVERYONE should be paying more attention to what they’re doing on the road, no matter what they’re driving. To me, the notion of “Active Park Assist” offers one more handy excuse to not be paying attention to what we’re doing.

Now, back to Ford specifically marketing this toward women at this event geared toward female bloggers. A small part of me honestly died inside when I found out about it. It can, after all, be read as an incredibly cynical move on Ford’s part. “Oh, silly girls. Girls can’t drive! Girls can’t do something as difficult and detail-oriented as parallel parking! Let’s throw them a bone and make some money off their insecurities, shall we?” Except that doesn’t appear to be it, either, because loads of women (including my friend) apparently think it’s a great idea—hence my frustration. Surely, I can’t be the only one that finds this whole thing more than vaguely offensive?

Perhaps I shouldn’t be surprised, though—I’ve spent the majority of my life thus far being out of step with the majority of what I’m told women are supposed to find engaging. The fact that I find this sort of marketing completely repugnant probably should come as a shock to no one—least of all me.

After all, I do something else that’s apparently “unladylike”—I drive stick and much prefer it that way. Eyes on the damn road, people.