Why can’t men cope with seeing women like us behind the wheel of US$250,000 supercars? High-flying females suffer tailgating, petty insults and bitter jealousy
Company boss Maya Hartge is used to attracting attention when she’s driving her Porsche 981 Spyder convertible — and never more so than during the current heatwave, when she’s zooming around with the roof down
But for every person who casts an admiring glance or makes flattering comments about her expensive wheels, there are others who don’t take kindly to seeing a woman driving such a high-performance car.
And most often it’s male drivers who don’t even attempt to hide their resentment.
Some try to race or ‘tailgate’ Maya — incredibly dangerous behaviour.
Others make a point of winding down their window to shout abuse or cliched comments about women drivers, sharing their incredulity that she can reverse park such a powerful car, let alone buy it with her own cash.
Men who take on events director Henrietta Sauleek (pictured) are not amused when she’s at the wheel of her bright blue US$100,000 Audi RS4, which can go from 0-100mph in 4.1 seconds
‘There are men who just appreciate a great car when they see one, but others wrongly assume that I’m a WAG or that it’s been bought with daddy’s money,’ says Maya, who is single and lives in Kent. She also owns an Aston Martin, a McLaren and a Ferrari. ‘They’ll make comments such as: ‘Your husband is brave to let you drive that!’ or ‘I bet you can’t park it without scratching your alloys.’ They wouldn’t make those remarks to a man driving the same car.’
Maya, who owns a successful retail company, believes the reason men so often feel this way boils down to social conditioning. Historically raised to be the providers, they can’t cope when faced with evidence of a woman who provides very well for herself.
‘It’s all a bit confusing for them now that so many women are successful and have their own money to spend and enjoy,’ she says — adding that the cars she drives have even affected her personal relationships.
‘Men I’ve dated are generally interested in my cars to start with and acknowledge that I’m a good driver.
‘But, as time goes on, they’ll often try to buy a car to compete with mine. If they can’t afford to, though, or they drive a company car, then it starts to become a problem for them.
‘I think a lot of men feel emasculated by a woman in a powerful position, whether that’s in the boardroom or behind the wheel of a car.
‘I don’t rise to the comments I get when I’m out driving. I generally reply with a witty putdown to make it clear I’m not just a WAG in a shiny car with no clue how to drive it.’
While the idea that a man might find it hard to cope with a woman driving a fancy car may sound dated, according to John Groeger, Professor of Psychology at Nottingham Trent University, who has a particular interest in motoring, what Maya experiences is a common reaction.
Even in 2018, some men find it hard to cope with the idea that many women are now big earners — and savers — and can splash out on whatever car takes their fancy.
‘One of the things we’ve noticed in our research is that people will get angry and behave aggressively towards drivers they believe are of a lower status than themselves,’ says Professor Groeger.
‘Sexism is still rife in all areas of life — and there’s plenty of it lurking in the traffic system, too. We know from experimental studies that others make assumptions about our wealth, status, personality or competence based on the vehicle we drive.
‘We carried out one experiment using two identical white vans, one of them bearing the livery of an emergency services vehicle. Other drivers drove with far more care and respect around the latter than when it was an unmarked white van.
‘We also compared reactions to vehicles with and without L-plates. We are quicker to blame, and act aggressively, towards people we feel are lower status — those whose cars carry L-plates, for example. We forgive them less easily, yet are quite prepared to exonerate people we feel are more like ourselves.
‘So, we have a clash between the apparent status of the vehicle and the assumed characteristics of the people who drive them.’
According to statistics released in April this year by the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT), female car ownership is at a record high, and more women than ever are buying into the luxury car market.
In recent years, Porsche alone has doubled its sales of vehicles to women. Meanwhile, convertibles are now most likely to be bought by women in their 50s, with sales to this demographic quadrupling in just 15 years.
Maya bought her Porsche two years ago as a limited edition, meaning it’s a collectors’ item unlikely to depreciate in value.
Her first car was rather different, though.
‘It was a Fiat Punto HLX 16 valve which cost just over US$18,000 when I was 18,’ she recalls. ‘I worked like a dog, six days a week for a year, in my IT technical support job to save up for it. My friends were out spending their money on having fun and holidaying in Ibiza, but my heart was set on that car.’
By the time she was 24 she had her own successful business and had saved enough money to splash out on her first ‘supercar’ — an Aston Martin DBS coupé that cost around US$240,000 and which she still owns.
‘I buy high performance cars because I love driving them, especially on tracks in the UK and abroad,’ says Maya, who says she inherited her love of fast cars from her father, a former racing driver. She puts her collection of cars to good use by charging for rides in them at events in aid of The Children’s Trust.
‘I do think it’s a shame that men tar all women with the old stereotype of us not being able to drive or park. When I take my cars on track days, I can see that men there think they’re going to be better drivers than me. I just keep quiet and let my driving prove how wrong they are.’
While Maya aims to respond to putdowns with wit and charm, men who take on events director Henrietta Sauleek are less amused when she’s at the wheel of her bright blue US$80,000 Audi RS4, which can go from 0-60mph in 4.1 seconds.
‘On one occasion, in a car park, a man aged about 60 drove slowly past me as I got out of my car. He wound down the window on his family saloon and said to me: ‘That car is not for a woman.’ What I was thinking is unprintable, but I didn’t give him the satisfaction of a reply.
‘I’ve had men of all ages cut me up, or they try to stop me joining a lane of traffic if two lanes merge into one. A lot of them are tradesmen in their 30s, driving vans. I doubt they’d do it to my husband if he was driving my car.’
Henrietta, 33, who lives in Basingstoke with her husband, a company director and their children, aged four and one, adds: ‘I’ve had a passion for cars since passing my test at the age of 19, but I’ve never had hassle from men until I got the RS4 a year ago.
‘I started to think that perhaps it was all in my own head, until last month when the car went into the garage for general maintenance.’
She was given a standard Audi A5 saloon as a courtesy car for a couple of weeks while the work was being done.
‘Suddenly, I was anonymous and invisible on the roads again and didn’t get any aggravation from other drivers,’ she says. ‘It cemented the fact that I really had been getting derogatory comments from men because I was driving a sports car. I can only assume it’s because they are jealous.’
Since getting her RS4 back three weeks ago, she’s again having to put up with sexist assumptions.
‘We were out as a family a few days ago and were just getting out of the car when a guy walking past said to my husband: ‘Nice car, mate!’ assuming that it must be his,’ says Henrietta. In fact, her husband drives a rather less flashy VW Golf, albeit top of the range, and says he never gets any trouble at the wheel of either car.
It was after spotting a woman at the wheel of a ‘stunning Porsche’ in a traffic jam 12 years ago that Henrietta vowed to save hard to one day own a sports car herself.
‘I chose the RS4 purely for me — not to show off but because it’s a stunning car,’ she says. ‘I’ve worked really hard, we don’t spend much on our social life, and I really appreciate cars.
‘It’s a fun and empowering car. I love the adrenaline rush I get when I accelerate and the engine roars, but clearly it aggravates certain men. I’ve never experienced any animosity from other women.’ Professor Groeger explains that this sort of reaction is indicative of the human tendency endlessly to compare ourselves to others. It also reveals that many men still see themselves as higher up the social pecking order than women.
‘Sometimes, when we come off badly, we’re not that upset by it, for example if the other person is a talented sports person driving a great car,’ he says. ‘But in other cases we feel resentful if we assume that a person has had success in a way that we haven’t, or that we feel is underserved.
‘So, if a man is well educated, has worked hard and done quite well for himself but sees a woman driving a car he could only dream of being able to afford, he might feel irritated by that, though it’s obviously sexist.’ Zipping around in her Porsche Boxter convertible, Ingrid Lewis frequently finds herself up against men keen to prove they are kings of the road.
‘Men sit at traffic lights and look at me while revving their engines in anticipation of the lights changing to green, but I tend to be a bit naughty and deliberately leave them standing,’ says Ingrid, who’s now retired from the company she owned and lives with her partner Richard, 62, in Hertfordshire.
‘They can’t resist overtaking me. If I’m doing 120kmh, they want to do 110kph. They glare at me and I can see they’re thinking: ‘How dare you be in a car like that?’
A youthful 70, Ingrid bought her five-year-old Boxter earlier this year (they cost over US$50,000 new). Unlike Maya and Henrietta, she says she also encounters aggression from women drivers — and it annoys her because she feels it’s ‘not sisterly’.
‘Last week, I was on the motorway in a variable speed area and there was a woman right behind me trying to edge me out of the way so she could get past. Others try to cut me up.’
Ingrid’s love affair with sporty cars began when she was 20 and her father bought her a coveted Austin-Healey Sprite.
With the roof down on her Boxter, she often attracts admiring glances from men. ‘Men seem to think me driving a car like this gives them a licence to flirt with me, and even young guys smile at me,’ she says. ‘I guess those sorts of glances are flattering.
‘And I do see why some men feel they have to compete with me when they see me in the Porsche. I think it stems from cars having been a traditionally macho item.
‘But they’re just going to have to get used to more women, in better cars, overtaking them in the fast lane.’