A Voice For Female Petrolheads

Story By: Tryphena Wardlaw

Tryphena Wardlaw and her 2015 Volkswagen GTI Autobahn.

A woman in a bikini lying on a Ferrari. It is easy to picture, because it is not uncommon. Now try and think of a woman, fully clothed, being successful in the auto industry…without having to take her clothes off. Now THAT is a rarity.

There is no doubt that sexism is present in the auto industry and this issue hits close to home. I am a woman and I like cars. Yet when I tell anyone, man or woman, that I am a ‘Petrolhead,’ their expressions end up looking like I just told them I came from Mars.

The auto industry is one that is predominantly male and the women who do follow their passion for cars often end up being sexualized or easy targets for ridicule. I am not saying women are forced to pose on a Ferrari and those that do may not be interested in cars at all. But NASCAR driver Danica Patrick’s talents tend to take the backseat due to her gender.

“I’m not here because I suck and I’m pretty or something like that. I’m here because people think I can go out there and win races for them and I fully believe them. There’s nothing I don’t think I can do,” she said at an Indycar Series Media Day in March 2005.

Patrick has received negative feedback, been belittled for her driving, and faced one gender stereotype after another. It is because of her motivation to be recognized for the right reasons, that she is my motivation to break down the gender barriers of the car world.

When my father realized I took a liking to cars as a youngster, he gave me a remote control Ferrari 355 GTS for my Barbies. It was then that my passion for cars grew and could not be stopped.

For those that know me well, my passion for cars is anything but secretive. Trying to hold a conversation with me outside at a coffee shop on a Sunday morning in Newport Beach…yeah, just forget it or try to pretend you’re interested in the Lamborghini Huracan that is purring past us. 

My car passion — well really it’s an obsession — is something I used to be embarrassed about. I used to hide it for fear of being seen as weird. At the beginning of college, I realized that it did not matter if I was different, I should explore and expand my car knowledge without the fear of rejection. It was then that I realized I would encounter a number of obstacles based purely on my gender.

If a woman does break into the industry, she is viewed as an exception or a success story. Take for example, General Motors CEO Mary Barra, the first female CEO of a major global automaker. Many men have achieved the same position yet she is considered to be a ‘success story.’

As a female, I appreciate that she is recognized for her success. As a female car enthusiast, I am inspired by her success in such a gender-unbalanced industry. That being said, I feel as though this acknowledgement is done so in an unfavorable light.

The fact that she is viewed as an ‘exception’ just goes to show how skewed the auto industry is.  In my future, I hope to use my passion for cars to break stereotype after stereotype until little girls who dream of engine startups can feel accepted and no longer ashamed of their passion for cars.

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