Which car is suitable for men
"Why It's Hard to Sell Self-Driving Cars to Men"
Why did you want to find out how German media portray the topic of autonomous driving?
It was about the fascination for autonomous driving. If you look at ideas of the future in advertising, for example, then in addition to 3D printing, virtual reality and drones, autonomous driving is always part of it. It's not just about the fact that then maybe nobody is at the wheel anymore. Perhaps this technology would also make private mobility completely obsolete. You don't necessarily have to park autonomous vehicles. You could also always drive around taking people from A to B like taxis. There are very different utopias.
And what does that have to do with the gender roles being conveyed?
Driving is a big part of our culture. Therefore, autonomous vehicles would massively change our society. My starting point was that our automotive culture is and has always been strongly shaped by gender roles. Driving has always been a symbol of masculinity. With the advent of autonomous vehicles, where active driving is no longer an essential feature, the question arose what that does to gender roles in our automotive culture.
How do you determine that driving is considered male?
Our society is generally shaped by the idea that there are two - and only two - genders. Because of their gender, people are generally assigned many different characteristics. For example, the idea that men are tech savvy and women are more suitable for social professions, that women have no spatial imagination, that men are good at math, and so on. Quite often the qualities that are assigned to women are devalued. Going back to theorists like Judith Butler, however, we as researchers do not assume that gender is something innate, but that these are all practices that are brought about in the daily negotiation process. Gender is a social thing to break that down. And this social role of gender is constantly being performed.
Played, so to speak?
Yes. There is a line from the sociologist Erving Goffman who said, "We all play theater." our research is based on this. On the stage of everyday life, the car is like a prop that makes it possible to play one's manhood. Because you can race with it and thus exercise power and because you have control over the technology.
So women have a different relationship with the car?
There are even sayings like “woman at the wheel - monster” that make it very clear how women are placed in this context. Contrary to all accident statistics, women are considered worse drivers, even though most fatal accidents are caused by men. When you think of motorsport - it's a male domain. That has little to do with the fact that women are less suited to it. Or if a family of man, woman and child is sitting together in the car, it is usually the man who drives. The job of truck driver - that is also mostly done by men and the job of taxi driver is also male-dominated. The same applies to chauffeurs ... In general, one can say: The driver's profession is dominated by men.
So cars are a man's toy on the everyday stage. How did you research how this relates to autonomous cars?
First of all, I did a discourse analysis, i.e. analyzed media articles in German-speaking countries. In addition to Spiegel or Zeit, also car, computer and IT magazines. I looked to see the context in which autonomous vehicles are dealt with. It quickly became clear: It's always about the same things. Security is a recurring topic, as well as questions of ethics and technical feasibility. Then I looked at how the subject is being written. On the one hand, the authors saw the autonomous car as an inevitable development that will inevitably come our way. Most thought that was good. On the other hand, there were also doubts about the safety of the technology.
Doesn't that contradict the assumption that men are looking for the thrill of driving?
Exactly! And it was even more paradoxical. A recurring statement was: We enjoy driving a car, which is why we only want the autonomous functions when driving is boring. So when you're stuck in a traffic jam or for rush hour traffic. But on the country road and the autobahn, we think driving it ourselves is great, so the tenor of the article.
But most fatal accidents happen on country roads and highways ...
That's the absurd thing. The safety argument, which the auto industry often puts forward as an argument in favor of autonomous driving, is immediately canceled out in the media discourse. The sense of autonomous driving in dangerous situations is thus reduced to absurdity. The situations in which autonomous driving is rejected are also those in which masculinity is portrayed on the road. For example, through frenzy, risky maneuvers or testing the performance of the car.
Did you notice any difference between the men and women who wrote on the subject?
I couldn't because almost none of the articles were written by women. I evaluated 101 texts, only six were from women. And only two women were quoted in the texts. With over 100 quotes - traffic experts, professors, industry representatives - that is a separate statement about who is discussing the future of driving. Namely almost exclusively men.
Are automakers interested in your results?
Yes, I notice that the topic is attracting interest in the industry and that I am invited to workshops by car manufacturers, for example. Some of the previous advertising strategies are quite interesting. Audi only speaks of piloted driving, for example. You can see from the choice of words that the industry is trying to mitigate a possible feeling of threat from a self-driving car. “Co-pilot” sounds more like a partnership, while in other scenarios the drivers are completely degraded to passengers. Many automakers also claim that their research only serves to develop assistance systems.
Are manufacturers afraid that it could reduce their income if they can no longer emotionally inspire men, i.e. their largest customer group, for their vehicles?
Sure, because the emotional bond with cars is waning anyway. Young people get their driver's license less often and own fewer cars than previous generations. In rural areas, where local public transport is less common, many still drive by car. There are still youth cultures today in which the car is very important for living out one's own masculinity. For example the tuning scene. But in large cities more are switching to car sharing or local public transport. There, private mobility is being phased out. I believe that autonomous vehicles could fill a gap there in the future. Suppose that they really drive autonomously and are continuously on the move within the cities. But these developments and ideas show that automakers have to rethink anyway.
Could the connection between driving a car and male self-image disappear in the future?
I don't think we will completely overcome this. Today some collect vintage cars. At some point, the cars that we still drive today may be collected. It is possible that you have your old Astra in the garage and drive it out at the weekend and let your autonomous vehicle drive you through the area during the week. In the texts about autonomous driving that I have looked at, the idea prevails anyway that you can also switch off the autopilot - driving and being driven a hybrid, so to speak.
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