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Home 4X4 Hey men. About women and 4X4s…
Hey men. About women and 4X4s…

Hey men. About women and 4X4s…

6

Blokes, we need to fix this.

Women are around 50% of the population, but a small fraction of the 4X4 world. Now why is this? Nature, or nurture? We don’t need to aim for 50%, but we do need to ensure that all who want to have a go, can have a go. So I posted this question on my Facebook page:

Why are so few women interested in 4X4 touring?

It sparked a huge number of well thought out comments. I read every one, and it didn’t take long for common themes to emerge. The tl;dr summary is:

The 4X4 community isn’t as safe a place for women as it should be.

Now if you’re a man reading this – and that is my intended audience – put your brain in low range because there’s some surprising information to follow. Probably harder to grasp than my explanations of winching physics and car dynamics. Because when you read it, you may think; well, is what they’re saying *really* a problem? I don’t see it myself.

I get that. Hard to believe a problem when you can’t see it. As an instructor, I’ve dealt with this problem every time I’ve taught anything – whether that’s winch rigging forces, how diffs work, how to recover from a skid or why aircraft stall. It’s actually an adult learning problem; kids take it on trust what they’re being shown is right, adults need convincing there’s a problem that needs their attention before they’ll even begin to look at a solution, and if the instructor’s definition of a problem doesn’t mesh with their observed experience, then students don’t accept the existence of a problem. Sometimes that convincing takes a broken car.

Now my usual method of proof is direct and physical; I build models, use loadcells, do experiments, demonstrate driving techniques….kind of hard to argue with that sort of proof (for most people, some are steadfast in the face of evidence). But that approach won’t work here; human behaviour is too abstract.

So here’s the proof.

What you read below is consolidated from the voices of many, many women from different states and countries, who by and large have never met. They’re all 4X4 and car lovers, like you. But, they’re explaining problems to do with men, loud and clear.

So let me ask you this.

What do you think, are the chances of all these unrelated women managing to come up with statements and views that are similar enough for me to identify common themes?

Pretty low, I’d say…unless they have a set of experiences which are consistent. I can’t think of another explanation, can you? Do tell me if you can.

And, why do you think they say it’s a problem?  What motivation would they have to make all this stuff up? Attention?  As if females lack male attention!  I can’t really think of any motivation unless….it’s actually a problem. Can you? Serious question.

And a third point. There are many female-only groups for 4X4s, camping etc. There are no male-only groups to my knowledge. Why is this the case? Again, the only explanation I can think of is the one given by women for creating those groups; they don’t feel safe in the mixed-gender groups. Same reason why there’s female-only gyms, and why Shebah exists.

Finally, a commenter on the Facebook posted added this very good point:

“To any men saying there is no problem, ask yourself this…have you ever restricted your wife/partner/daughters movements or actions? If your daughter or wife wanted to go camping on their own in the bush would you happily encourage them or would you outright tell them no, or just easily convince them that they shouldn’t for their own safety? Or for that matter even worried about them on a solo camping trip to a caravan park or other staffed campground? I bet you have!

I think that establishes the case for the existence of a problem, don’t you?

So if you agree there’s a problem, and you’d like to help fix it, then please read on.

And in the summary above I used the term ‘safe’ intentionally. The reason ‘safe’ is appropriate is because safety is when you fear harm of some sort, and that is exactly the situation women are in. Not just physical safety, but confidence to be part of something without lots of defensive, proactive measures.

Of course, not all women have had bad experiences and there are many very well run clubs out there, but more than enough have for the problem to exist and me to write this article. Same way not everyone suffers from depression, but enough do for us to focus on it.

Below are some – but not all – common themes I picked out from all the comments on that original Facebook post, then there will be a solution which involves you. The italics are direct quotes.

Discouragement

We don’t get a chance to learn; men do it, and we aren’t confident

Men sometimes monopolize certain activities, like driving, and this prevents their partners from becoming actively engaged.  I think more women would be involved if the men would just step aside and let them actually do something.

The girls usually drive well but lose confidence when the nitpicking starts!

Some men feel that the 4wd is theirs and don’t encourage their partner to be a full partner in the 4wd journey.

I find men insulting on recovery. I will suggest something that I’m told is wrong, won’t work as I’m pushed off to the side. Then the recovery will be done as I originally suggested. I will not ask for help on recoveries because of this. I know what I’m doing.

This is a huge complaint. The discouragement varies from outright refusal to permit participation, to subtle discouragement which may even been unintentional. Why do women feel this way? Because it happens. It’s overt or sometimes subtle criticism. Now I have seen this by experienced men on novice men too, but it’s acute with women. It’s also related to the male need to show off I think. Don’t ask me how I know this 🙁

Pressure to get it right

I sometimes feel the pressure of representing all women.. if I’m doing something that typically would be done by a male, and I make a mistake, I feel it may further reinforce the belief ‘see, women can’t do this stuff’.

If a male cocks it up, it can simply be he is a twat, but he’s not carrying the whole gender

It is assumed that if a woman needs recovery, she can’t drive very well and probably shouldn’t. It is assumed that if a woman drives hard and breaks something, she can’t drive very well and probably shouldn’t. If a man drives hard and breaks something it is almost laughed about as they share similar stories together, discuss how to fix it.

I think we’ve all seen this. It’s not actually a problem unique to women; it can be a problem with any ‘outsider’ on any activity, for example the only Aussie in a group of Brits.  But, it’s something women live with all the time in 4X4, and that doesn’t make them very willing to risk doing anything. So there’s a vicious circle not doing it, not getting the experience, and not building the confidence to do it.

Harrassment

Some of the interactions with general public out on the tracks or in dealerships and aftermarket part installers leave a LOT to be desired.

For me personally, (I’m in the US), I can say we get tired of being “mansplained” and patronized. Many women I know have left Facebook Jeep groups because of online harassment/inappropriate messaging (I don’t have that problem, I’m not a cute young thing).

We’re here, but we’re tired of the harassment, questioning, belittling, and misogyny on many pages and in many groups.
It’s limiting attitudes like some of those expressed in these comments that have turned off many women to publicly participating in motor enthusiast groups.

I have visited caravan and tenting sites where people can chat and ask advice. Have been loathe to join as unfortunately their fame precedes them. Many women have been slagged, insulted, and the general advice is make sure your user name is male in gender.

Would love to see if you get some stories about predatory behaviour in men that run clubs. As a single female, and friends have similar stories ,I have seen women get “removed” from clubs when they hook up with an admin or members and things don’t work out. One 4wd club in particular has a reputation for it!! I am always careful not to get involved with anyone in my clubs just to ensure I’m “safe” from eviction.

There are four common reactions to this:

  • It was just a joke – the words weren’t meant, weren’t true.
  • False equivalence – here’s an example of something else that was as bad, or someone made this joke about me and I didn’t care.
  • Toughen up – just laugh it off, don’t let it affect you, respond in kind.
  • That’s the way us tough/rural/masculine blokes are, deal with it.

To address them; first, underneath almost every jokey sex comment is actual intent, and we all know it. There’s not a bloke in the world who hasn’t used the joke line when trying to pick up…because if there’s rejection you can save face by pretending you never meant it, and we all know if a woman actually took a bloke up on the intent of the joke he’d most probably be quite willing. Now if this sounds like a dream then a really good technique is reversal; if you’re straight, imagine big gay bodybuilders were saying the same to you, and you knew they’d be totally up for it should you show any sign of being willing…or worse, not actively running away. Then when you’ve done that, tell me it’s harmless – and it also gets rid of the ‘toughen up’ issue – why should women have to put up with this crap?

The false equivalence is a simple but stupid logical fallacy – two wrongs do not make a right. And “that’s just us” is a poor excuse, like “oh yeah we do get drunk all the time and rampage around campsites ripping things up, that’s just the way us blokes are, haha”. Well, no. Be a less shit person. You can have fun without annoying other people.

Now consider this. On average, women are significantly shorter and lighter than men, and have less upper body strength. Therefore, the average man is physically intimidating.

And a question. When was the last time a woman, or man, attempted to touch you, intimidate you, or make any overt advance? What steps do you take, on a daily basis, to avoid such situations?

The answer is likely to be can’t remember, and none.

Now this is the tough part. Women tend to have experience of actual unwanted touching and advances – look again at the evidence at the start of this article. It does not take much imagination to see how that can easily escalate into something like rape. Blokes find it hard to understand this. We do not live with a constant background fear in our minds.

Or how about this. A single woman who lives alone told me that she has hired a lawn guy. Right from the start, before she even met him, she dropped into conversation her (non-existent) partner.

Think about that.

She’s living her life such that she feels the need to take proactive measures like that to feel safe. And that, it seems, is absolutely typical. She’s not a neurotic headcase, or a an out-there manhater, she’s just a normal, professional, successful human being. This is not a reality for blokes, but it is for women. It really is a parallel universe they’re in, and it’s quite difficult to comprehend.

Here’s a suggestion; try asking the women in your life about the steps they regularly take to avoid harassment. Go on. Drop them a message, right now. Here’s a template:

“Hey, read something that made me think. Have you had to take any steps to avoid harassment by males? Have you ever been made to feel uncomfortable?”

Not all men

You probably don’t drink-drive, do you? You’re not one of those idiots who gets hammered and then drives home, risking everyone’s safety.

So when you see a message about drink-driving, do you think it applies to you, or not?

If you know you’re not a drink-driver, you shrug off the message. You don’t whinge about it. You hope it reaches those that do drink drive.

You can apply the same logic here…except, just before you do, how do you know you’re not acting sexist, by accident? Check the list at the end of this article first. And remember, even then nobody’s perfect. Personally, I certainly cannot claim to have never made any of these errors I’ve listed above and no doubt will do so in future. We can all get better, right?

And if your first response to “this is a problem” is “but not all men” then that invalidates the complaint; you’re saying actually, there isn’t really a problem. Why not just face up to and address the actual problem?

Why are these memes a problem?

Here’s a collection:

All the memes are meant to be harmless, amusing jokes. But not all are, and it can be hard to understand why.

Think about the last sports event you saw. Doesn’t matter whether it’s motor racing, football or whatever. You will have noticed there’s lots of logos there, right? The advertiser is just getting their name out, associating it with a particular experience and culture. The message doesn’t need any words, it’s just an association your mind builds. You may not think it’s effective – “I’m special, I’m clever, I’m not swayed by advertising” – but ask yourself this. Why do advertisers pay big money for the rights to show their logos and slogans? Because it works, and works well. Every time you see their advert, you slowly form awareness, and association in exactly the way they want you to.

Now for these memes. It’s exactly the same principle. Every time you see one, there’s a tiny little reinforcement in your brain of the message they’re sending.

Oh but it’s amusing and fun?

So too is a lot of advertising…because that’s how you get people to accept the message. That’s what gets you shares and likes. That’s why advertisers are searching for the next viral hit. The amusement is the sugar coating so you swallow the pill, you don’t even notice the real content because you’re so enjoying that taste.

So what message are these memes sending? For each of them, at least one of the below:

  1. False definition of masculinity – males can drive manuals, females cannot. Somehow, manual driving becomes a measure of masculinity. This is toxic for men because whatever a male is, it shouldn’t hinge on the ability to drive, but also for women, because it implies they can’t, or shouldn’t, and associates the weak, simple choice with women. That starts to translate everywhere, and it knocks confidence.
  2. Women as trophies – collect women for the purposes of sex only. Reduces women to sex objects, but also pressurises men to rack up their ‘conquests’. This is I think is where the misguided MGTOW/incel thing comes from, pressure to ‘conquest’ with inability to do so leading to self-esteem problems because the false ideal of masculinity isn’t lived up to.
  3. Women as stupid – unable to comprehend things like how manual cars work.
  4. Apparently lesser objects associated with females – the V6, not the V8. And I said ‘apparently’, before 6 fans fill my inbox!
  5. Reinforcing women as unable to do jobs like mechanics.

The same principle works on safety signs like this:

Every time you see it, the message is built, little by little.

Now a lot of humour is based on mickey-taking so offence may be taken, and that’s fine – no doubt someone unable to grasp nuance will strawman this and then set fire to it. The problem here is not offence, as it can be fine to offend. It is that the humour perpetuates stereotypes which erode women’s confidence and status. Kick up, not down, and generally humour is safer if it mocks what people do, not what they are.

There’s no ban

“I really don’t get it . How women are being kept out of 4wding sport or camping. Is there a ban on selling equipment to women . Just gather friends and go on a trip .”

No, there’s no ban. There’s no ban on lots of things which are legal and people like to do, but don’t feel they can properly enjoy because of judgement; lots of sexual or relationship preferences. Again, read the intro, and ask yourself if there is no problem, why all those female-only groups, why all those comments?

So what do we do?

I never like to lay out a problem without a solution, and to be honest I find a lot of the writing on this subject heavy on the problem, and light on actions to be taken to fix it. Have to say, some women think men should automatically know what to do. Be that as it may, we generally don’t, and we like specifics. And I’ve had two views put to me by a woman – “it shouldn’t be up to women to fix this problem” and, quite literally in the same breath, “why do men always go into problem solving mode for us, how patronising”. Can’t have it both ways, so here’s my crack at a solution with a non-exhaustive list of things to do:

1. Normalise women in 4X4s

Part of the journey forward I think is men seeing women being involved and interested and learning and capable leaders and they will just get used to it.

It’s said that familiarly breeds contempt, but familiarity can also destroy prejudice. There’s very few women in visible 4X4 leadership positions, so that leads to an assumption that they can’t do it. The more you see of something, the more you accept it as normal – it’s a well known human trait.

So what we need to do is to build female confidence, skills and knowledge. Skills and knowledge is the foundation of confidence, but there’s a lot of barriers to females acquiring either. One of the best ways, it seems, is to remove men from the equation – which is one reason there are female-only 4×4 groups, training courses, and groups.  So there needs to be more of that. And then let’s see more female trip leaders, presidents, trainers, industry figures, and in the media. For me, the late Sabine Schmitz was an great exemplar – she just did her job really well, and was just there, acting as inspiration for all, sending that message ‘women can do it too’.

2. Refocus advertising

Give women a part in 4X4/camp advertising which isn’t limited to demonstrating showers or removing items from fridges. This is part of the normalisation which leads to acceptance.

3. Men – stop the jokes and sexist language

You know, when you call someone a big girl’s blouse. Or “drive like an old woman.” Or any one of more directly sexual remarks. Each time that happens, it’s a tiny little chip away at confidence, a tiny barrier built.

Think of it this way. You get into a car with someone. They start it up, and cane it. You cringe, knowing the engine is cold. Then you notice they’re resting their hand on the gearshift. And, riding the clutch. Gearchanges….rough. No rev matching. Harsh braking. You get the idea, no mechanical sympathy, we’ve all sat there in silent agony on those rides.

So you tell them. You explain about cold engines, clutches, gearboxes.  The response?

“Aww, c’mon. The car can take it. What does it matter? Car’s not broken, harden up!”

But you know that car will break, and need repair much sooner than it otherwise would have done. But how do you explain that to someone who has no idea, no experience on which to draw, and far as they can see their actions are entirely harmless? And it’s the same way with sexism; the apparently insignificant tiny comments and actions eventually breaks something. Hence, all the comments on my post.

4. Men – step back and let them do it

We all have to learn. Let women (and inexperienced men for that matter) learn. This applies to recoveries in particular. Personally I struggle with this one, I can almost always see a way to do it safer or quicker or both, and I have a strong aversion to faffing around.

5. Men – call it out.

This is the hardest thing for men to do. When you see and hear sexism, you can’t let it slide. You have to actively discourage it. I don’t really know the best ways to do this. I doubt making it into a massive confrontation will work; people tend to dig in to their views. But equally, silence won’t work either. Maybe just a quiet “not cool” would do, even after the fact. Interested in views, and this is worth a read.

6. Share the fun, and the workload

So if you have a camping work split that’s working for you, and the lady starts to do more of say the vehicle prep, driving or navigating, then there’s a danger the work split might skew too far one way. How that split is managed is very personal, and so long as all concerned are happy, then all is fine. Just consider it.

7. Women – please drop the self-demeaning language.

It’s common for people to say “excuse the dumb question” or similar, but sometimes women prefix it with “excuse the dumb girly question”. You have a question, gender is irrelevant. And, generally, there are no dumb questions but I’ve seen a LOT of dumb answers! This will also improve when the actions above are taken, so hopefully we can get a virtuous circle going.

So what next?

Change, which means doing the above and more. I wrote this because I see a problem (arguably slow on the uptake, but better late than never), and change needs to be started. It can happen. I don’t have all the answers as I don’t fully comprehend the problem, so I hope this work will be picked up, refined, expanded and improved…that’s how change starts.

Thank you to all who read drafts of this article and suggested improvement. I’ve probably spent more time rethinking and drafting this than anything else I’ve ever written. Not naming anyone as ultimately the words and opinions are my own. Here’s the post on my Facebook page sharing this article to my readers.

Here’s a video which covers the common themes from the Facebook post:

And if you like podcasts, this is worth a listen.

Milena Issler is a Brazilian 4×4 instructor and after reading this article, sent me a video she made. It should explain quite a bit…

Robert Pepper Automotive journalist specialising in 4X4s, sportscars, camping and future tech.

Comment(6)

  1. Nice one Robert. l did a Recovery Training course the other day and l was the only male besides the instructor. He made several sexist and demeaning comments about ‘females’ throughout the day – particularly when he saw either some minor weakness or, surprisingly, some evidence of prior knowledge or experience. Must admit that l have rarely witnessed this sort of thing first hand as opposed to just hearing about it. My partner is encouraged to drive our FJ Cruiser any time she wants to – particularly where new skills may be learnt. After the recent training day l will be doubling down on making sure she gets every opportunity to get into 4×4 action mode whenever she wants while we are out bush. Thanks for taking the time to write this article.

  2. I can relate to everything on your post. I love 4wding, trips and touring. Do stuff on my own and also in groups. Every time I do it with a group, without exception, I have to explain, justify, and watch my back. On recent trip, I was asked to look after someone child by another member, what? I had to justify a stop request by me, to put some fuel in my tank, I suspected I would have enough but on a very windy gravel road was sick of checking my fuel gauge, then another member literally forced me aside ‘to let him help me’ put the fuel in, which I did not need, nor asked for, nor was it welcome. I was expected to accompany a member to a hospital visit- I’m a nurse- for a dressing change! Get real I am here as a driver, not someone’s mother! What! Again. I have had my bum pinched by someone I used to consider a friend. I am grey haired and retired and my solo status draws lots of less than subtle pigeon holing. I just keep pushing through it. Recently on a narrow beach on hot day, pulled off track to let others through. When they were all passed my car didn’t get traction in, soft fluffy sand. I got my shovel out and as we had plenty of time just started clearing in front of my wheels. Another member of group -3 of us- said I’ll just snatch you, quickest way! I said no you don’t snatch a Pajero and I’m not stuck. Why not ?but he didn’t want to know from me, so got in his car and drove off. The other chap said just back onto beach and drive along, I told him ‘no, tide coming in and waves just came across there.’ So he walked back to his car.Both made it clear I was taking their advice so I was on my own. By now there was room on track so backed a little so was parallel to track on slope, instead of diagonal, and was able to gain momentum needed to get through soft cut up area. Later I raised the subject, the snatch chap refused to discuss it, the other said he didn’t see the waves were that high. I continue to be amazed at ongoing demeaning resources of male attitudes to women. Many who have done little on their own, need the group situation before heading out, but will not give an inch in support and constructive comment. I don’t have any answers to the prevailing attitude and prejudice but it is not imagined , nor is it going away anytime soon.

  3. Thanks Robert. I have a friend, who is female, she has experienced many times men thinking she can not back a trailer. This is the situation – She has a small sailing boat that she is learning to sail. When she takes it to the boat ramp to launch it to the water and whilst doing this she has had many negative experiences from men stopping in their tracks and standing there with their jaws open, to others asking her “does she need help?”. The later is nice in itself, but when her brother does exactly the same that is backing the boat in the water, he does not get the same responses. She has even had a guy reach into her car window, while she is reversing, and grab the steering wheel when she had just politely thanked him for his offer to help but declined that help, as she could do it fine and was happy doing it herself. What stands out to me is that her brother observed and said they experience different reactions doing exactly the same thing. He puts it their different experiences down to that he is a guy in the drivers seat and she is a female because that is the only difference. He emphasised this has happen many, many times to her.

  4. Excellent article Robert, the 4×4 world is full of micro aggressions from men who don’t even realise they’re doing it. BUT, your point about women undermining themselves comes from learned behaviour. If we seem unthreatening we are not seen as a challenge to overcome.

    I think the 4×4 scene will always be male dominated, it’s a shame, because achieving that tough climb or recovering yourself and your truck from a bog is so empowering.

    I wonder if it’s about the way women learn. In general we like to share and discuss our experiences from a perspective of trust and support.

  5. When I first read your article I was definitely in denial.
    I run a few pages including a suzuki jimny page.
    The female participation rate was quite high so I thought maybe it isn’t the way women are treated, but more the vehicles that were a barrier.
    I believed that the jimny was cute, small and less threatening so appealed to females.
    To test this theory I put a post up on the jimny page asking 2 questions.
    1) why is the jimny more popular amongst females.
    2) what can we do to encourage female participation.
    While I didn’t get as many responses as I would of liked, there was a definite pattern emerging.

    Women often receive unwanted advice and even men saying just let me do it.

    Men would assume that females had little to no experience and often talked down to them.

    There is a huge problem with men creeping on women online.
    Especially inboxing them with pictures, sexual advances etc.

    There was a word used a few times “mansplaining”
    I really wanted to get to the bottom of what mansplaining is.
    One reply to my question was that men often come over and gave their opinion on how they would do the recovery etc.
    My reaction was “ hang on, I’m a bloke and I get the same thing happen”
    What I haven’t figured out yet is it that the men talk differently to the women, or is it women just take it a different way to men?
    Or perhaps a bit of both.

    Car choice definitely played a part but not as much as I first thought.
    The jimny is seen as cute, small but still a capable car.

    Another thing that popped up was guided tours or tag alongs.
    A few commented that they wished there were people offering this service a lot more.
    Perhaps the clubs should advertise this on 4wd groups etc, it may encourage females to give it a go.

    I’m still thinking about the results and what it means.
    But we as men definitely have work to do.
    We need to understand women better and adjust the way we communicate.
    Ask if assistance is required rather than assume they need it.
    Keep an open mind and think before speaking.

    1. That’s amazing Gavin, thanks so much! Yes it’s really hard to shift mindset so good on you for being open minded enough to think it through.

      For me, mansplaining is unnecessary and/or unwanted explanations. Some would of course erect a strawman and say well that’s it I can’t explain anything ever, but that’s of course not the case. It can be a fine line, especially with safety where I think it is better to err on the side of caution and say something rather than not. Or if you can see a better way. For example I once saw a female instructor dropping pressures using a twig…I pointed out the tyre pressure gauge she had in her hand had a little knob exactly for that purpose and if she was using a twig, well I’d guess she didn’t know. I wouldn’t say that’s mansplaining. But if I’d have said “make sure those go down to 20psi” that would have been as she was probably going to do that anyway and I would have no reason to think otherwise.

      Men absolutely mansplain to men too, and even women to men. So I’m not a massive fan of the term ‘mansplain’ but it does seem to be more prevalent male-to-female.

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