Virginia Scharff's Femininity And The Electric Car

1626 words - 7 pages

Virginia Scharff's "Femininity and the Electric Car"

In "Femininity and the Electric Car," Virginia Scharff examines the electric car, its history, and the targeted customers at which it was aimed.

Five hundred electric cars were produced by the Pope Manufacturing Company in 1897. According to Scharff, this was after Colonel Albert A. Pope, the president of that company, decided not to concentrate "on noisy or smelly gasoline-powered cars, but instead, on clean, quiet electric vehicles." ("Femininity and the Electric Car" p.75) The Pope Manufacturing Company clearly targeted women as customers. This is evident in their advertising strategy. For example, Scharff says, "As Pope ...view middle of the document...

Perhaps husbands liked the restricted range that their wives would have because maybe they didn’t trust them enough to go on longer trips. In this manner of using the electric car nearly exclusively for chores, the technology seemed more oppressive to women rather than liberating.

In addition to a limited range, Scharff mentions a number of other disadvantages that the electric car had. It was more expensive than a gasoline-powered car. It was difficult to drive on bumpy roads and was unable to climb steep hills. The battery was a constant hassle to recharge. There were considerably fewer stations throughout roads where the batteries of electric cars could be recharged than there were gas stations. Also, the recharging of batteries was more frequent and time consuming than filling a gas tank. Scharff said that "the General Electric Company asserted , ‘any woman can charge her own electric with a G-E Rectifier,’ advertising with a photograph of a woman charging her car, using a machine that occupied most of one wall of the family garage." (p.78) Such a large apparatus, which is unnecessary for a gasoline-powered car, seems like a waste of space. Although Thomas Edison had hoped to devise a better battery that would enable electric cars to travel a greater distance, no substantial improvements have been made in that area to this day.

Despite its obvious disadvantages over a gasoline-powered car, the electric car continued to be marketed toward women because it had some advantages over alternative means of transportation. For example, the electric car was considered to be more effective than the horse and buggy, while offering more privacy than mass transportation. It was a cleaner means of transportation than a gasoline-powered car. However, that doesn’t mean that there was an absence of any pollution resulting from the operation of electric cars, since the electricity to power them was produced at electric power plants by burning fossil fuels. Even so, they are probably safer for the environment, especially now at a time when more is known about rising pollution and atmospheric carbon dioxide levels.

According to Scharff, there were three "forces" that limited the future of the electric car. Scharff says, "All three forces – female nonconformity, technological innovation, and economic competition – were very much in play in the first third of the century." (p.79) Scharff backs these "forces" with further evidence. Many women did not want to receive a slow car with limited range as a wedding present. Rather they wanted to drive gasoline-powered cars, which were made easier to drive, while few changes were made to electric cars. Gasoline-powered cars also were a more economical solution to the need for transportation than electric cars. They were more competitively priced and as a result of changes in production techniques became even less expensive.

Scharff says that "The electric car, marketed primarily as a woman’s vehicle, provides...

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