Battling gender stereotypes in the world of female mechanics

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A woman in high heels works on the undercarriage of a car.

Perhaps not the most practical shoes for automotive work, but who cares if the job gets done? (Photo Credit: CC BY-SA/Colby/Flickr)

While modern society is generally more enlightened than ever before regarding gender equity, the truth is that when it comes to female mechanics, stereotypes still exist. An online search of stock photography and other popular media sources using the term “female mechanic” turns up countless images that are more appropriate to a men’s magazine or bad pornography. Consider some examples of women mechanic stereotypes, then embrace the reality.

Sweating with purpose

There’s nothing wrong with being sexy and working up a sweat, or just working up a sweat. But when a glistening woman in cut-offs and a crop top – or tires and nothing else – leans back for the camera while holding a wrench, that doesn’t automatically make her a mechanic. It makes her a sex object with the manual dexterity to grip objects. Posing tends to distract from the idea that women can transcend gender stereotypes and be working mechanics who are as competent as men, or better.

Removing a transmission while in heels

This is not to say that women can’t wear a dress and high heels while deconstructing an engine. But the flowing nature of a dress makes it less than practical for under-the-car work. Plus, the ubiquitous shot of a woman’s bare legs flowing out from under the body frame suggests that the woman hasn’t actually done any work. If she had, those legs would be smudged with grease.

[Financing a car with bad credit?]

The incompetent ‘ditz’

When it comes to negative stereotypes, if women aren’t merely sex objects for “real” male auto mechanics to leer over in the Makita Tools pin-up calendar on the wall of the garage, then they’re portrayed as being too stupid to know how to use a wrench or jumper cables. Don’t fry that perm, honey! Female mechanics – or real women in general – aren’t like this.

Embracing what’s real

CBS News recently told one of many stories of female mechanics who have beaten back the negative stereotypes that continue to pervade society. Sarah “Bogi” Lateiner, 32, of Phoenix, Ariz., graduated Phi Beta Kappa with a double major in pre-law and women’s studies. She originally planned to go to law school and champion women’s rights as a lawyer. However, she chose to become an auto mechanic. Not because it was her fallback or she couldn’t cut it in the white-collar world, but because she loves working on cars.

Lateiner, who owns a Phoenix garage called 180 Degree Automotive, told CBS News that she wants to empower women to consider working in the field.

“Who doesn’t go on to become a mechanic after pre-law?” she said, jokingly. “I got over my fear of this big piece of metal and plastic that is our cars, and it became my passion for me to take that empowerment I got from learning about cars to teach it to other women.”

Zen and the art of gender equality

Jennifer Leung of the Calgary, Ont.-based The Bike Shop, forged a similar path in the world of motorcycle repair. Her path to zen came with its own challenges, but she has managed to dispel negative women mechanic stereotypes nicely.

“The first couple years I worked here, I’d have people coming in all the time saying, ‘YOU can fix bikes?'” Leung said.

Of 12 mechanics at The Bike Shop, Leung was one of only two women. To help clear things up, the women had T-shirts made. The message “Yes, chicks can fix bikes” is emblazoned on the shirt.

Auto repair classes for women


Calgary OpenFile

CBS News


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