Volkswagen's 'sexist' 1964 ad: the data
In 1964, "sexism" had yet to enter America's popular lexicon -- and nor its list of taboo behaviors. So there was no national uproar when Volkswagen started running ads, which would now be considered politically incorrect and sexist, in newspapers and magazines. The Germany automaker's target audience: America's budget-conscious husbands who fretted about their wives' lousy driving skills.
"Women are soft and gentle, but they hit things," declared the ad picturing a Volkswagen Beetle with a crunched fender and missing headlight. "If your wife hits something in a Volkswagen, it doesn't hurt you that much. VW parts are easy to replace. And cheap."
As it turns out, the ad may not have been completely sexist after all. Women are more prone than men to having certain types of finder benders that Volkswagen apparently had in mind -- at least according to a study just released by the National Traffic Highway Safety Administration titled: "Pedal Application Errors."
"Females were the drivers in nearly two-thirds of the pedal misapplication crashes identified in both crash databases and in the media scan," the study reports. "Possible explanations might include greater exposure by women where these crashes occur most often (parking lots); a poorer "fit" in their cars due to shorter stature, which may increase the likelihood of a pedal application error; or a disproportionately high rate of one or more functional deficits that contribute to pedal errors, such as neuropathy. Explaining this anomaly may be important as a starting point in designing crash countermeasures."
Fender-benders aside, the NHTSA also noted that "males of all ages accounted for 61 percent of all vehicle crashes and females 33 percent (where sex was reported)." Also, men are three times more likely than women to be killed in crashes.
All of which highlights the dangers of making generalizations about driving skills -- if not who suffers the most fender benders after misapplying the accelerator and brake pedals.
Incidentally, Volkswagen's ad provides a fascinating glimpse into auto repairs in 1964 for the economical Volkswagen Beetle. Touting the benefits of the car for wives who suffer more than their share of fender benders, the ad stated:
A fender comes off without dismantling half the car.
A new one goes on with just ten bolts. For $24.95 plus labor.
And a VW dealer always has the type of fender you need. Because that's the one type he has.
Most other VW parts are interchangeable too. Inside and out.
Which means your wife isn't limited to fender smashing. She can jab the hood. Graze the door. Or bump off the bumper.
It may make you furious, but it won't make you poor.
So when your wife goes window shopping in a Volkswagen, don't worry. You can conveniently replace anything she uses to stop the car.
Even the brakes
Recently, the New York Daily News ran an article about AMC's smash hit "Mad Men" --- about a 1960's New York ad agency -- and published a number of sexist ads it dug up from that decade. For lots of laughs, click here.