This ‘woman-proof’ car shows why we need to challenge the stereotypes about female drivers

If we keep telling women they are useless behind the wheel, the idea gains currency

It reads like an April Fool. In perhaps the most offensive PR campaign since the conservation charity WWF decided to highlight the death toll of the Asian Tsunami by showing scores of jets heading for the World Trade Centre, a company has dreamt up a “woman-proof car”.

It’s pink, obviously. There’s a “swivel seat” so you never need reverse and extra large bumpers to “ensure that any accidental scrapes and bumps whilst parking don’t generate damage.” Remarkably, the “designers” (read: sexist prats) somehow resisted giving it a cupcake holder and a tampon distributor. The company that commissioned the images - just for black-listing purposes - is, a car parts supplier. Its founder has said the idea is “slightly tongue in cheek”.

Sometimes, such sexist hokum is better spared the oxygen of publicity. But in this case, the stereotypes about women drivers are so pervasive that they should be addressed. A 2011 study by the Institute of Advanced Motorists showed that men are more likely to be in crashes due to careless driving.

Yet if we keep telling women they are useless behind the wheel, the idea gains currency. Strangely, if unchallenged, sexist assumptions - such as the notion women can’t park – can start to have an element of truth in them.

In Delusions of Gender, a potent attack on the sexism masquerading as psychology that has enjoyed a renaissance in recent years, the academic Cordelia Fine quotes a male-to-female transexual: “The more I was treated as a woman, the more woman I became. If I was assumed to be incompetent at reversing cars, oddly incompetent I found myself becoming.”

I have my own - rather embarrassing - example of this too. Parking a car some years ago, a group of men on the pavement started watching. At the time, I could park well. But as soon as I over-heard a remark about “woman drivers”, I became flustered. When I failed to line the car up correctly, one of the men ambled over and started giving me instructions. Feeling I was letting the feminist side down, I drove off and found another space.

The idea for the “woman-proof car” was based on the fears raised in a survey of 1,421 women who already classed themselves as  “non-confident drivers”. I’d posit that a survey of 1,421  “non-confident” male drivers would have spawned the same vehicle. Except, of course, that it would come in blue.

Twitter @RosamundUrwin