Abstract: Women and the American Automobile Industry: Changing the Gendered Landscape of Car Consumption after 1945

Margaret Walsh


This paper examines the consumption of American automobiles, the product of one of the largest twentieth-century industries in the United States. It focuses on one demographic segment of what has been a largely undifferentiated national market, namely women, by using both textual archival and secondary sources and iconography as pictured in the advertisements and photographs produced by the industry. The emphasis in the post-World War Two period will be given to the years 1945-1980, though reference will be made to subsequent years. The questions addressed are varied, but they include when and how women came to be recognized as important participants in the purchase of American cars; what sort of female consumer did automobile marketers address? What, if anything, does the position of women in car imagery suggest about manufacturers' appreciation of women's position in society and of women's relationships to automobiles? When did women's insights into driving become important in the design and the purchase of vehicles? How and when did the automobile cease to become a masculine technology? Has it become impossible to ignore or to marginalize the female car market?