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Secret Diary of a Female Petrolhead: Does This Warranty Come In Pink?

2011 June 28

I’ve just read a book on cars. It’s called The Girls’ Car Handbook: Everything You Need to Know about Life on the Road. It was pink, and had a purple convertible on the cover.

On the surface of it, I am this book’s target audience. I passed my test recently (send plaudits and flowers to the usual address), and was immediately filled with the urge to run out and buy a car. Not a simple, sensible car that can lug my marshalling gear from racetrack to racetrack, or even a smart, neat little city runabout to get me to meetings on time. Cover of the Girls Car Handbook, illustrated with a purple convertible. A blonde white woman with sunglasses on her head leans out of the driver side. Against a pale pink background, dark pink curly lettering spells out the title. No, I wanted a swooping, curving, monstrously beautiful beast of an Alfa 4C. It’s not even out yet. They’re only making a handful of them, and they’ve probably all already been sold. I wouldn’t be able to afford the deposit, let alone the monthly repayments, let alone the insurance, let alone keeping it fed and watered on UK oil prices. It’s not a car, it’s petrolhead pornography.

Couple the above unnatural lust with a penchant for heels and pearls, and surely I would jump for joy at a book with a back cover featuring a girl in a miniskirt and thigh-high purple boots bending over a car? Why, add a tasteful hair accessory or two and it could even be me!

Anyway, the pertinent point is that I did indeed read it (albeit borrowed from the library rather than sending my hard-earned cash to the pink publisher). Not just little bits. The whole damn thing, cover to cover. And I hate to say it, but I think the writer has been stitched up.

I’ve read Maria McCarthy’s columns in the Telegraph, and went in, despite the cover, expecting much the same: sensible journalism with an eye to problems faced by female drivers. It’s… not that. It’s actually rather like  – and when I say ‘like’, I mean ‘this is what I reckon happened’ – someone took McCarthy’s manuscript, looked at the proposed cover, and said, “this should have more ‘girlie’ things in it.” And then picked up the editing pen and wrote in said girlie things, whether they made sense or not.

For example, McCarthy opens her chapter on car insurance thus:

Sorting out car insurance can be a bewildering experience for many of us.

Except she doesn’t. What actually opens the chapter, in full, is:

As far as disagreeable but necessary obligations go, sorting out your car insurance is right up there with filling in tax returns, going for gynaecological check-ups or visiting dreary in-laws. But as with all these experiences, the best approach is just to grit your teeth, remind yourself that it’ll be over soon and plan a nice treat for afterwards.
Sorting out car insurance can be a bewildering experience for many of us.

Yes, that’s right. It reads like someone went back in and added in an additional, wholly unnecessary introductory paragraph. It doesn’t stop there. On choosing a new garage:

It’s a bit like trying out a new hairdresser – you’d probably go in for a trim or maybe a few highlights first and check out the way the hairdresser worked before asking to have your waist-length chestnut hair transformed into a blonde urchin cut.

On using car magazines to research a car before buying:

Unlike Autotrader, which feels like something your dad might read, What Car? is an attractive glossy that’s easy to flick through when you’re having your highlights done.

On washing your car:

If you want to experience the Middle England lifestyle to the full then you’ll hand-wash your car every Sunday morning. If you want to live out your boyfriend’s fantasy then you’ll do it wearing your bikini while he watches, nursing a cold beer.

And this from a writer who recently wrote about the benefit of PassPlus courses for older female drivers returning to the road after a separation or bereavement.

Or is it? Because the thing is, I’m not convinced the above extracts of pink vomit are actually McCarthy at all. Maybe, at a stretch, it’s McCarthy under duress; McCarthy with a metaphorical editorial gun to her head to make the book more appealing to young women browsing in Waterstones. Certainly the ridiculous inserts drop off mid-way through the book, and by the time you’re on Chapter 8 (presumably having shelled out the £7.99) with a car in your driveway and insurance to secure, they’re largely gone.

The question is, why on earth are they there in the first place? The book is screamingly successful, rated 10,102 in Amazon (which is pretty impressive for a specialist manual). Once you get past the purple passages it’s also – whisper it – really rather good. It has typical labour rates in major cities in the UK. It has suggested insurers if you want to be added to someone else’ insurance and still rack up a no-claims. It has helpful suggestions on how to avoid being ripped off when buying a used car. All of these things are useful for any novice, and I was making notes whilst reading. No wonder it has garnered such glowing reviews!

And yet… click on the Amazon page. Go on, I’ll wait. Click on it and scroll down to Customers Who Bought This Item Also Bought, and tell me that at first glance you didn’t think they were showing you little girls’ toys. The Pink Car Wash Kit. The Pink Fluffy Furry Dice. The Pink Toolbox.

I have a strong feeling that if Maria McCarthy is ever presented with any of these items and told to change a tyre, the pink wrench from the pink toolbox will disintegrate the first time it is used. The pink car wash kit will be useless in actually washing a car, unless used when wearing a bikini, and the pink fluffy furry dice will distract her from safely driving her lovely new Alfa 4C and she will plough it into the back of a horsebox on the M4, whereupon everyone passing will tut and say under his breath, “bloody lady drivers.”

Photo of pink fluffy dice against a white background from

There's just no excuse.

2 Responses leave one →
  1. Russell permalink
    June 28, 2011

    I find it bizarre that when publishing a book of this type, an author, editor, or publisher will choose to insert patronising elements such as the ones you describe, rather than studying the actual linguistic differences that have been observed as correlating with gender, and try to write a book that appeals to the target audience in that way. If you were to do that you would still have a product that broadly has appeal to the target audience, but you would avoid perpetuating stereotypes, and also avoid isolating at least half the potential audience with an “it’s not FOR me” and probably most of the other half by patronising them. Of course, doing so would no doubt be far too subtle for the marketing machines that drive these things, alas.

  2. November 9, 2012

    The thing I like most about life, is the diversity of people. You could ask a dozen people to taste the same product and then ask for their opinion on it. I frequently do this and the range of the responses never ceases to amaze me. It’s the same with cars – I happen to drive a pink one (!) and the reactions to it range from “Let me know if you ever decide to sell it” to “Did you actually pay good money for THAT!”
    I have to say that I LOVE Maria McCarthy’s book :-) I don’t find it at all patronising and the chapter about the car insurance caught my attention straight away – it’s SO true!! I enjoyed her light-hearted and very amusing writing style, but then again I am a ‘girlie girl’. I have to confess that I haven’t tried hand-washing my car, whilst wearing a bikini! I much prefer to pay the fit young men in the local garage to do it!

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