Road sows

Why do women drive SUVs? Could it be that they believe that size matters -- in the driveway?

Published May 24, 2000 8:00AM (EDT)

So now it's official: Sport utility vehicles pollute more than cars do, they
consume more fuel and they pose an exceptional danger to cars due to their
exceptional size and height. We already knew this (though some of us were
in denial). But it certainly is bracing news coming
from the Ford Motor Company, the same company that recently began
selling a 4-ton, 19-foot-long family truck that is called the Excursion but is
known to some as the Ford Valdez. ("Have You Driven a Tanker Lately?")

For me, the real news isn't that SUVs are environmental hazards, or even
that Ford has chosen to overlook this compelling detail. What surprises me
about SUVs is who drives them.

Not long ago, if you found yourself being tailed within an inch of your life
by one of these monsters, you could be reasonably sure that testosterone
poisoning was at work. But now I don't even bother to check my makeup --
the macho creep back there is as likely to be the soccer mom next door, or
even her mom, as the beefy working guy with the big strong arms and a tiny
... oh, you know.

So what is this, grown-up grrrl power? Does this mean we've finally
achieved parity with men? Is it a question of women having the same
God-given right to be road-hogging, gas-guzzling, accident-causing,
environment-polluting assholes that men can be?

Apparently, yes, yes, and yes. Automotive journalist Ingrid Loeffler Palmer,
writing in says, "Women of the '90s are as rugged and
self-reliant as the SUVs we operate." She quotes female SUV owners who
say things like "You feel like you've got all this power," and "If I was driving
a small car, I'd feel like people could stomp on me," and especially, "There's
nothing better than a hot chick in a sporty SUV with big tires, tinted
windows and a snowboard on the roof rack ... Cool chicks drive SUVs."

And then there is the beloved safety issue, now a convenient smokescreen
for SUV buyers, in particular the aforementioned chicks. I could see how a
woman might sleep better at night knowing that her children are more likely
to survive accidents; but how does this woman snooze through the idea that
she is more likely to kill children in cars? Maybe she thinks, "Those kids
don't stand a chance, but you can't save the world." Call it an evolutionary
approach to mothering.

I can begin to understand the motivation here. I want my kids to reach
adulthood, I don't want to be stomped on and I consider myself cool. Ain't I
a woman? Yet I manage to meet all my travel and psychic needs quite
happily with a car. (Remember those?)

So what separates me from the ever-growing horde of SUV chicks?

Maybe it's our size. I know that Americans are getting fatter -- perhaps these
mamas can't fit themselves and their progeny into passenger cars anymore.

Or maybe it's a different attitude toward family. I just want for my kids what
I had growing up -- to never be so far away from my siblings that I couldn't
pinch or slap them when they said something stupid or invaded the
ever-changing limits of my personal space with one of their body parts.

Of course I had the advantage of growing up with a very cool, and very
confining, family car: a black VW Bug. Witness one woman, humming
absentmindedly, and six children under the age of 11 piling in. Witness the
six-way fist fight over which two kids will get to sit in the "way back," where
our heads will constantly knock against the slanted glass and our legs will
get tangled up, but we'll be able to give "We're No. 1" signs or other finger
signals to the cars behind us. Seat belts you say? Don't be a downer -- this
was the '70s!

For long trips, or if we had friends or stuff to bring along, we'd borrow a
delivery van from my dad's job. Dad would indulge us by swerving all over
the road so we could fly around back there. It was a rare treat, though taking
the odd box or stray metal tool against the side of the head could be painful.

But maybe what separates me from my high-riding sisters is a different
understanding of size and perspective. Yes, I know that it is finally OK to
admit that size matters. But not in your driveway! (Unless it is very late at
night and you don't mind tar-burn.)

By Beth Gallagher

Beth Gallagher is a freelance writer in Philadelphia.

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