Does “lady-driven” still sell cars? There are reasons to tighten the brakes on the term

Used vehicle ads can be impactful and effective, and some even go viral for their cleverness, but others miss the mark.

Some are so misguided that they veer into sexism and misogyny.

Enter driven by a woman – for decades the term has come to mean that a car has been “smoothly driven”.

Today, it is considered by many to be an outdated term.

Born in Sudbury, Ontario, Sarah Pelletier, who lives in Ottawa, was browsing the used vehicle section of the Kijiji online marketplace in the Greater Sudbury area, curious about prices and availability.

Her search turned up dozens of ads, and some of them left her frustrated.

She posted the following tweet, saying it made her “angry for so many reasons”.

In a subsequent email to CBC News, Pelletier said, “This language got under my skin because conduct cannot and should not be gendered.

“Driving, following the rules of the road, paying attention to obstacles, are not skills, traits, qualities inherent in a particular sex, but perhaps stem from the way people might learn drive differently and have different expectations placed on them because of their gender or the way they present themselves.”

The term focuses equally on women and men, leaving people of diverse genders out of the conversation.

‘Clear is the new evil’

CBC reached out to the four Kijiji ad posters that Pelletier tweeted about and asked them about the condition of their vehicles and what they meant by the term female driving.

Two of the four ignored the message.

Sarah Pelletier was frustrated after seeing the term “woman driving” pop up in her search for used vehicles on Kijiji. Pelletier, who was born in Sudbury and now lives in Ottawa, thinks it’s sexist, old-fashioned and leaves out people of diverse and non-binary genders. (Submitted by Sarah Pelletier)

However, the third replied, “Apologies for phrasing the statement that way” and explained the condition of the vehicle. And the four-poster said that to them, driving a woman means, “Grandma never four-wheeled her in bush racing or drag racing.”

Half of the ads are still on the site.

So is the term an effective marketing strategy?

Not really, according to an expert, according to experts.

“As we progress, learn and grow as a society, this term [lady-driven] may not necessarily be the right one to use for some people,” said Jean Beauchemin, a business professor at Cambrian College in Sudbury. “I suggest you get to know your customer base and really engage in those discussions, and that might create some long-term partnerships for you.

“Clear is the new evil.”

Beauchemin said product strength trumps gimmicks when it comes to making a sale.

Dispelling female driver myths

There are two conflicting myths about female drivers: they are gentler with their vehicles than men and they are bad drivers.

Neither really matters when a mechanic opens the hood.

Photo by Jean Beauchemin.
Jean Beauchemin, a professor at Cambrian College, says that while the term “women-centric” was an effective marketing term years ago, it is no longer widely accepted. Instead, he says, clear is the new smart. (Submitted by Jean Beauchemin)

Stefanie Bruinsma, an auto service technician from Kitchener, Ont., said it’s “ridiculous” to associate gender with the type of shape a vehicle has or its suitability for certain people.

“It’s not even correct. So most of the time it makes me laugh and kinda sad that we’re still here,” said Bruinsma, who works at the University of Waterloo’s Waterloo Center for Automotive Research, where she is responsible for industry engagement.

Bruinsma runs a company called Auto Cate, which aims to educate vehicle owners to prevent them from getting scammed at an auto shop.

Recently, her 72-year-old mother had a car accident with her Toyota Matrix. Bruinsma said that although her mother felt fine, she complained of severe knee pain after her legs slammed into the dashboard on impact.

Bruinsma’s mother drove with her adjustable seat all the way forward to reach the gas and brake pedals and to see over the dashboard. Her injuries are common among women who have been through a crash.

“When the engineers are designing the interior, all the functions around the car in terms of the height of the engine for an average person and how do they get in and out of the car, how do you have to make the seat for the height and the average weights of a person – all of these constraints and numbers are based on the average male body,” Bruinsma said.

“Which means, quite literally, cars are not designed for the average woman or the average human. So women are statistically injured more in car crashes.”

The big and the small

In addition to being more prone to collision injuries, shorter people face inconveniences and driving challenges even when it comes to otherwise mundane actions like braking and accelerating.

One of Bruinsma’s friends, a short woman, complained to her that she hates driving. When asked why, she told Bruinsma that she had to physically lift her foot and move it to the brake pedal, then to the gas pedal.

“One, it exhausts her poor leg muscles, and two, it would make her 100% more jerky,” Bruinsma said.

The size of the friend, of course, was not taken into consideration when designing the vehicle.

The alternate action for someone taller is to keep their foot on a pedal and pivot at the ankle, since that person’s feet are bigger and their legs are longer.

Bruinsma herself is tall for a woman and never even thought shorter people had to find a workaround.

Lady-Driven fails to encompass small-driver issues like design, safety and jerky acceleration.

It might not even help sell the car, experts note.

As Beauchemin said: There’s no need to resort to gimmicks or catchy but inaccurate language – just be transparent.

LISTEN | Up North Producer Bridget Yard talks to host Jonathan Pinto about the term “female-driven”:

North9:20A Deep Dive into the Term “Lady Driven”

You see it everywhere in Kijiji’s car ads: driven by a woman. It is meant to convey that the vehicle in question was driven gently, but it has gender implications. Up North producer Bridget Yard was intrigued after reading a tweet about the term and did some research. She spoke to host Jonathan Pinto about what she found.

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