Journal of Economy Culture and Society
Driving against the Power: Sexism in Automobile Culture and Female Drivers in TurkeySefer Yetkin Işık, Birgül Koçak Oksev
This article’s aim is to understand the socio-historical factors behind sexist judgments against female drivers in Turkey, based on written and visual media, social media content with the theme of “female driver errors,” and everyday male conversations in which being a woman is equated with novice driving. The article seeks to answer whether the increase in the number of female drivers is a symptom of a feminization of the driving profession and automobile culture. It is based on interviews with seventeen middle-class drivers (academic, teacher, doctor, psychologist), three of whom were men. In Turkey, the automobile is still an object with connotations of status, power, prestige, and competitiveness, and historically men have been dominant in automobile-related professions. Meanwhile, the normalization of women walking around the city without a man is a relatively new development for a significant part of society. The recent expansion of conservative and/or religious middle classes seems to support the increase in the number of female drivers. Automobile manufacturers’ market-expansion strategies and efforts to produce new models for each type of user also support this trend. However, production and sales strategies that try to catch up with the diversity of demand by considering the diversity of consumers are also effective in reproducing sexist stereotypes, such as some car models being labeled as “women’s cars”.
İktidara Karşı Sürmek: Türkiye’de Otomobil Kültüründeki Cinsiyetçilik ve Kadın SürücülerSefer Yetkin Işık, Birgül Koçak Oksev
Bu makalede yazılı-görsel medyada yer alan haberlerden, ‘kadın sürücü hataları’ temalı sosyal medya içeriklerinden ve kadın olmanın acemi sürücülükle eşitlendiği gündelik erkek sohbetlerinden hareket edilerek kadın sürücülere yönelik cinsiyetçi yargıların arkasındaki toplumsal tarihsel etkenlerin anlaşılması amaçlanmaktadır. Makale, kadın sürücü sayısının artışının sürücülük mesleğinin ve otomobil kültürünün kadınlaşmasının bir belirtisi olup olmadığı sorusuna cevap aramaktadır. Makale üçü erkek olmak üzere orta sınıftan (akademisyen, öğretmen, doktor, psikolog) on yedi sürücüyle yapılan görüşmelere dayanmaktadır. Türkiye’de otomobil günümüzde de statü, güç, saygınlık, rekabetçilik gibi yan anlamları olan bir nesnedir ve otomobille ilişkili mesleklerde de tarihsel olarak erkekler egemendir. Öte yandan kadınların yanlarında bir erkek olmadan kentte dolaşmasının normalleşmesi, toplumun önemli bir kesimi için görece yeni bir gelişmedir. Yakın tarihte, muhafazakâr/ dindar orta sınıfların genişlemesi olgusu ise sürücü kadın sayısının artışını destekler görünmektedir. Yanı sıra, otomobil üreticilerinin pazarı genişletme stratejileri ve her kullanıcı tipine göre yeni modelleri üretme gayretleri, sürücü kadın sayısındaki artış eğilimini desteklemektedir. Ancak tüketicilerin çeşitliliğini dikkate alarak talep çeşitliliğine yetişmeye çalışan üretim ve satış stratejileri de ‘kadın arabası’ gibi cinsiyetçi klişeleri yeniden üretmede etkilidir.
This paper, based on data about the increase in the number of female drivers in Turkey in the 2000s and on implicit and explicit discriminatory statements about them in traditional and social media, seeks to answer whether we can talk about a feminization of driving and automobile culture, a profession and occupation dominated by men from the nineteenth century to the present. In Turkish society, where we can talk about an automobile culture shaped by androcentric language and patriarchal culture, there is not a long history of either a large increase of women going into public space alone with their cars or of the emergence of female drivers of public transportation vehicles. It is observed that the use of automobiles among women has tended to become widespread due to significant political-economic developments which have been decisive in Turkey’s recent history. These developments, in which technology has also played an important role, have helped women be both more present in the public sphere and more active in all areas of life, and many professions have ceased to be exclusively men’s. On the other hand, cultural resistance is observed in the driving profession and in its practices. One reason for this resistance may be that the production, distribution, and consumption processes of automobiles and all kinds of motor vehicles remained entirely under the control of men for many years. This situation makes resistant to change the illusion that the relationship between automobile and men is natural rather than historical. Indeed, the many references to the car and gender or the car and sexual relationships in Turkish slang and the many car stories in literature and cinema show that the car is both a complement of masculinity—a strong symbol of the power, status, and dignity of men—and a feminine image, taking the place of the horse that is ridden. Therefore, they show that automobile culture is surrounded by masculine discourses. This cultural background underpins both the reproduction and perpetuation of claims that men are naturally more successful at driving and that women are less skilled drivers as well as the mansplaining of men from all educational levels and social segments on traditional and social media platforms, including academic discourses. On the other hand, considered together with elements constituting the masculinity crisis—such as traditional boundaries between male and female becoming more obscure in late-modern societies, the normalization of the contingency of sexual identities, and the abandonment of the understanding that men are considered more respected and more valuable in the family and society because they are men—— the conflict created by the participation of women in traffic may also be one aspect of cultural change. In the interviews, it clearly appears that, although the impact of technology (facilitating driving) and automobile market strategies which direct women to automobile consumption increase the number of female drivers in traffic, there is no strong indication about the feminization of automobile culture. In the interviews conducted with seventeen middle-class drivers, three men and fourteen women, we asked the interviewees about their attitudes and behaviors in traffic, thoughts and reactions in driving practices, expectations from the car, and the meanings they attribute to it. In general, female drivers noted functions like “dropping a child off to school,” “shopping,” or “commuting to work,” and the comfort and freedom offered by it, a partial freedom to set the time for all these works. However, based on the interviews and comments on media, successful driving is still associated with qualities like courage, speed, power, prestige, wealth, which are identified mostly with men and masculinity in the dominant culture, and female drivers who claim and strive to be good drivers imitate the existing masculine style. We can say that women drivers are still trying to “exist” in today’s conditions, that cars and driving practices are not interpreted by them, that there is no language change, and that production and/or marketing strategies labeling women’s cars and appealing to female consumers also serve to maintain the dominant sexism in this context. However, when we consider that the masculine meanings and/or connotations attributed to driving and that masculine culture both play important roles in traffic problems, more general change is necessary for feminization to be possible in many areas of life, from urban planning to automobile design, from public transportation vehicles to automobile repair centers.