chapter  13
40 Pages

Our Love–Hate Relationship with the Car: Masculinity, Industry, and Environmental Sustainability

Teaching sociology to undergraduate students, we have noticed a dis - tinctive trend when discussing the topic of the car: many male students tend to give a lot of thought to car purchases. While women often have specific ideas about their future wedding dresses (see chapter 8), men in our classes frequently have elaborate ideas about the kind of car they might one day own —both in their fantasy future life where money is no object, and in a more realistic future where they have to make their own car payments. In one of our classes, a student named Gvinder stated that his dream car would be a Ferrari. When asked why, he explained how his father immigrated from India with virtually no money, but with big dreams for his son’s economic future. When his son was born, he gave him the name Gvinder-deliberately dropping a vowel in the spelling (i.e. Govinder) so that his name would fit on the personalized license plate of his future Ferrari. While Gvinder shares his father’s dream of owning a Ferrari, he is also realistic; he tells the class that he will probably buy a Honda when he saves up enough money. The other male students nod approvingly. Gvinder’s female classmates have very different ideas about cars. One woman imagines a car that would fly like the car in Harry Potter. Another says she focuses mainly on the color of the car, one says she would let her brother pick her car, while another says she would like to have a car to match each of her outfits. (The men in the class laugh uproariously at this last comment.) While the women take the car discussion less seriously than the men, they realize the high stakes of car ownership-especially since most of them live in a suburban setting with minimal public transit options. Car decisions matter-both practically and financially, even if one isn’t deeply invested in car aesthetics. For example, one student, Mindy, whose parents don’t speak much English, described how she became very involved in the family’s recent purchase of a Toyota because her parents needed help negotiating with the car dealer and the insurance broker to get the best deal possible.