Monday, January 7, 2008

The Car is a Man: On the Gender of Automobiles

This is actually a comment I did some months back (with some edits), on this post, but I think it is an interesting question. Do we instinctively apply gender to the industry around us, and what does that gender application mean to us, especially women? Is it a man's world? How long can one survive in machine city? And how important have our machines become that they have taken on the life of a human, or at least an animal ("my car died" "she's having trouble with her engine" "Gotta get her oil changed") and why are we always calling cars shes?

I have a drawing of mine on my wall of a red car. Next to the red car, in childish script, are the words "the car is a man." My parents came to visit my NY apartment some months ago, and my father looked at it and said, "the car is a man?" in way of looking for an explanation. I looked at my father and shrugged.

The truth is the thought came to me as if a message from god on a walk home to my apartment in Manhattan one summer night. I was crossing at a red light, thinking about how much faith I had in the driver who was stopped there, how one could choose to step on the gas and I would be at their mercy. True, if I survived I could sue them and make a pretty penny, but I was overwhelmed in that moment by the trust I was placing in this driver--HE wasn't going to do that to me. I couldn't see him as I passed in front of his car and it wasn't until I was stepping safely onto the other curb that I glanced back to look at him. HE was a SHE, and at that moment I thought, yeah, sure, the driver is a woman, but the car is a man. I have never figured out whether that statement--the car is a man--was global, or specific to this incident, but I think about it a lot. There are a lot of cars here in Manhattan, and some trucks too, and I don't know the gender of most of them. It takes an intimacy (placing your life in a car's hands by driving it, riding in it, walking in front of it) to know a car like that.

In New York, the car is a stranger; an ever-present, loud stranger, of indiscriminate gender. The people here a much the same.

No comments: