Subliminal Sexism Or Tradition?

By | September 22, 2007

We had a bit of a shock today. Suze took her car in for MOT and the bloody thing failed. Badly. The cost of the repairs required now and within the next six months are about twice what the vehicle is worth, so we went out looking for a new car.

Finances are stretched already. However Suze and I need a car each to get into work due to the differences in our working hours, place of work and total lack of effective public transport. So the decision was made. I’ll not bore you with the details, but we think we’ve found a car and negotiated a price with the salesman. Nice guy, about mid twenties, no bullshit, no fancy deals just straight. The way we like business to be conducted. However he made one faux pas, both when he presented his final deal to us, and when we departed to think about the purchase before committing he addressed me, not Suze. I corrected him when he pushed the quote across the desk to me, but a few minutes later he still handed me his business card.

The guy wasn’t a sexist at all, but I think he’d been conditioned into thinking that a car purchase is controlled by the male half of a couple. True, that is probably the case in the vast majority of instances, but I quite plainly said “I’m not buying the car, Suze is”. It’s her car, her repayments, her choice. Like I said the guy wasn’t being deliberately sexist and was listening to Suze, discussing the purchase with her and addressing both of us when he responded.

We don’t make large purchases lightly, even when we really need something so we spent the rest of the day touring car showrooms to look at alternatives.

As we drove around I noticed something. Certain businesses are male and some are female. One local skip company I’ve seen is “Mr Skip” (inventive huh). Then there’s “Mr Exhaust” the national exhaust fitting chain. But when you come to sandwich shops they tend to be “Mrs J’s” or “Mrs B’s”, I looked up domestic cleaning companies on and found six different “Mrs Mop” domestic cleaners.

The gender may be part of the advertising/image maker’s shorthand for the business concerned but why do all cleaners and sandwich shop proprietors have to be female, and are there no female motor engineers?

Strangely there is a female building contractor based about four miles from where we live. But she hides her gender by naming the firm using her initials as the name of the firm. I.E. “JS Contractors”, not “Mrs Joan Smith The Builder”

It really did start me thinking, would I be less likely to buy a car from a dealership with an identifiably female name?

Insurers have picked up on the gender of a firm. For example “Sheila’s Wheels” is actually a trading name of HBOS, specifically aimed at female drivers (With, I might add the most appallingly stereotyped advertising campaign with kangaroos in spangly pink frocks).

For those of you who aren’t Simpson’s fans, Homer once started a business called “Mr Plough”, when he bought and hired out a snowplough. Hence  the image 🙂

Late edit: It looks like the good people at YouTube have been forced to remove the “Mr Plough” episode from their service, a small matter of copyright I suspect, however this German version is still available “Mr SneepFlug“, Gutten Aben meine freundin.

Tags: sexism, marketing, gender, gender stereotypes