Chris Barker asks: What Gender is My Car?

General Bunk
The talented Mr Chris Barker pens his first PetrolBlog post of 2021 by addressing the subject of gender neutrality in the car world.

I'm at a loss to know what gender my car is. You see, I've been referring to ‘her’ as a ‘she’ for as long as I care to recall, however some people on social media insist that this is very wrong.

Apparently, cars are genderless. Yeah, try telling that to Monsieurs’ Citroën, Peugeot and Renault and see how far you get.

Also, lest I remind you (in an angry man shouts at trees kinda fashion) that the French word for ‘the car’ is ‘la voiture’. The ‘La’ being the feminine precursor to things – et objects – considered of the fairer sex. Not to be confused with the loose Scouse translation, which typically refers to a friend or casual acquaintance. ‘Le’ being the masculine equivalent, if you fondly lament your GCSE French.

And French is the universal language of love, of course. So, it's essentially non-negotiable, should you care to start an argument with me about it.

What do the Spanish have to say about this?

Seat 850 with model

Funny you should ask that. As interestingly/argumentatively (delete as applicable) in Spanish almost all cars are observed in masculine form. Namely, ‘el auto’.

However, SUVs are somewhat perversely seen as feminine. Or ‘la cameoneta’. Just to throw a spanner in the automobilic gender works.

Zut alors! But isn't a car non-binary anyway?

In a world of careful treading regarding binary and non-binary folk, some might say (although not necessarily the Gallagher brethren) that all cars are in fact, non-binary. And who am I to argue otherwise. Yet for the sake of getting to the end of this purported car blog, I'll leave the binary bit to one side for now.

But don't certain cars look, well, you know. More, er, feminine? Obviously, some cars are more overtly female to look at than others. At the additional risk of now sounding a tad sexist. Take for example, the Alfa Romeo 4C. Ergo, it would be odd to christen your 4C, ‘Barry’.

What about Vesper?

Volvo 850 SE car park

Ah, yes. My previous mode of personal transportation. The one thing I do know is that this ‘not naming cars after women’ thing will come as a great shock/blow to my former car: Vesper Volvo. Who, for the first few months of her existence in my social bubble, responded to the aforementioned moniker. By both me, and my (then) 9-year-old nephew.

Although this was hastily usurped by the name, Kiki Gao; as later suggested by my girlfriend. On account of the first part of the registration plate reading, K141; the latter, GAO, obvs. Which instantly made it sound like a dodgy waiter in a low-brow sitcom, yet somehow worked when alternating glances between myself and the 850.

OK. What we really need right now is a random paragraph dedicated to the past. A potted history of aligning gender to cars, if you like.

A potted history of aligning gender to cars (and other mechanical stuff)

In my defence, this christening our cars as either he or she, isn't exactly a new thing. In fact, history is littered with instances of folk calling their inanimate objects after their Auntie Ethel. Or ships, after the little-known patron saint of marine engineering, Boaty McBoatFace.

The tendency among certain members of an evolving society has long been to frequent female names and pronouns so as to reference non-living entities, such as ships and yes; cars. This is technically acknowledged as ‘personification’.

Effectively the process of affording non-human things ostensibly human characteristics.

Think ships...

Renault 21 next to ship

Ships of ye olde traditionally carried women's names, most often inspired by mythical goddesses from ancient times which mariners thought gave them a bit of luck at sea. Some branches of the armed forces continued this theme, with Americans serving in World War II arguably the most recognised example of this. Airmen would not only refer to their aircraft in female terms, but also have images of movie pin-ups of the day painted onto the fuselage of their weapons of war.

Uncle Sam evidently hadn't sent his troops the memo about sexism.

Men and motors

As the motor car increased in popularity yet further after said war, some menfolk became dependent on them. They also viewed their cars as an ornament to take pride in and festoon with care and attention. While others adopted the mentality that the automobile must be tended and ‘coddled’ with a gentle hand.

And therefore, was perceived as being ‘feminine’ in a somewhat chauvinistic social landscape, which reflected a bygone age.

Does a car deserve a name?

Chevrolet Spark and couple

If so, who decides whether it should be male or female? One particular school of thought is that if and when car-owners lavish their vehicle of choice with a moniker, this usually leads to them taking better care of said vehicle.

By giving their cars a name, some males might look at their pride and joy as they do their significant other. Subsequently developing a relationship with it for any number of reasons. It's not unheard of for some men to develop a touching/unhealthy (again, delete as appropriate) affinity for their cars. Perhaps they've enjoyed some beautiful experiences together. Poignant road trips, for instance.

Naturally, there's nowt circumspect about being close to your car, despite the presence of some people (those I personally like to call, heathens) who readily believe that as a soulless mechanical device, cars don't merit having names.

Is there a generational swing with regards to naming our cars?

Fiat 500 with Millennials

Well, yes, there appears to be. Surprisingly, millennials can become rather attached to their cars, according to an article published in Fortune magazine.

It found that some 40 per cent of Millennials name their vehicles, compared to just 25 per cent of all other age groups. That said, should they call them Kanye, then I'll be forced to immediately rethink this entire opinion piece.

The upshot

The upshot is, affording your car a gender is entirely up to individuals. To the best of my knowledge there's no laws against it, nor talk of punishments metered out against those who choose to personify their beloved vehicles.

Of course, certain quarters of Twitter will always seek to demonise those who don't comply with their personal agenda/crusade; or indeed, detract from the accepted norm. But they're usually tucked up in bed by 9pm with a glass of milk, so we shouldn't unduly fret about what they think.

As it should be in life, it's very much a case of ‘to each, their own’ when it comes to the gendering of our cars.

In the interests of transparency, it should be noted that PetrolBlog is aware that a sextant is a navigational instrument and hoes nothing to do with gender issues. Still, Citroën Visa and all that.

Follow Chris Barker on Twitter. Do it.

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