The way in which we view both the automobile and gender is radically changing. Car shows are not.
This photo has been viewed, shared and commented upon more than any other published as part of my reporting on the 2018 Geneva International Motor Show.
I had included a caption that remained largely unnoticed:
“This is 2018, rather than 1978. So for all its aesthetic merits, this frame stands for an era that’s firmly in the past.”
To be honest, the decision to post this photo was not an easy one. These days, I feel slightly embarrassed by the attendance of young women adorning automobiles. I also respect personal rights and don’t have the habit of publishing photos of people without their consent. And yet there was a significance to this photo I couldn’t ignore.
First of all, there are quite a few aesthetic considerations. Above all else, the woman pictured is very beautiful indeed. Then there is the fact that her attire, coupled with the original Lancia Stratos in the background, makes for a rather consistent retrospective frame – which could be seen as an ironic comment on the archaic nature of such a presentation. Or just a lame excuse for posting a picture of a pretty girl.
Almost all comments made in this context later on concerned the looks of the woman, sometimes including a bit of innuendo, sometimes in straight fashion. ‘Eva looks gorgeous’ was among the more noteworthy statements, for it means that its author either knows the woman or decided that ‘Eva’ would be fine generic name for any attractive female being.
I don’t know ‘Eva’s’ name, I don’t even know her nationality, as I didn’t talk to her. My younger self may have seen great allure in talking to hostesses at motor shows, but nowadays, I just hope I wasn’t too intrusive or even sleazy back then. As a result, I’m very hesitant to strike up a conversation these days, even though I’d usually consider it rude to be ignorant of people simply because they fill out a role I consider anachronistic.
So ‘Eva’ may be a student earning a bit of extra money on the side at motor shows, or a full-time model. In any case, I’m convinced she’s sufficiently self-confident not to mind having photos of herself taken and then published. After all, this is what she’s getting paid for. I probably have more difficulty with this than she does.
There is a grave danger of being patronising toward ‘Eva’ and her colleagues. Motor shows like the one in Geneva offer them the opportunity to earn decent money. They certainly aren’t exploited in the classical sense. They don’t need to be ‘saved’ by the likes of me. And yet there’s an element of guilt in having taken that photo, not to mention the realisation that the sight of ‘Eva’ was as aesthetically pleasant as it is an utter anachronism.
It would be foolish and even downright repressive on my part to suggest ‘Eva’ ought to be prevented from using her looks to earn a living. Yes, structural sexism and discrimination need to be fought in earnest, but the dangers of fundamentalism are to be found at each extremity of the spectrum. Ordering ‘Eva’ to do a ‘serious job’ would be like telling a builder to do something more ‘intellectual’. People simply are fully entitled to exploit their physical attributes, if they do so by their own choosing.
Yes, the automotive industry lags behind when it comes to many social developments, gender equality being high on the list. ‘Eva’ and the others also act as excellent symbols of this failing. And yet it’d be too easy to simply ban ‘car show birds’, despite all the patriarchal condescension even the term itself entails.
Yet the problem isn’t so much ‘Eva’ and how much leg she exposes. The problem is decades, generations of stereotypes that simply won’t go away by way of a simple decree.
A case-in-point at Geneva was an unnamed lady – quite clearly not on the payroll of Lamborghini – who chose to pose next to a Urus SUV, despite the fact that, what with it being press day, a handful of cameras were already pointed at the car. Her facial expression and body language suggested that she very much intended to be taken for a ‘car show bird’ – despite the fact that this anachronistic self-expression was no source of income for her.
Sexism is still everywhere, including the minds of men and women alike. But as long as it doesn’t entail outrageous injustice, we might as well accept it and reserve our outrage for those cases that truly deserve it.
In the meantime, that lady may enjoy her sixty seconds of fame next to that yellow Lamborghini. And ‘Eva’ may earn herself the cost of a nice holiday at another motor show until she’s bored with it.
The author of this piece runs an obscure motoring site of his own, which you may or may not choose to visit at www.auto-didakt.com