When I got my first job at Carand my second at Autocar, I had two more serious problems than being female: I didn’t know anything about journalism and I didn’t know anything about cars.
In fact, I didn’t have a driving licence.
You could probably argue that this was due to a bit of cultural sexism. I always preferred Matchbox cars to dollies, but back then children’s books talked about mother’s kitchen and father’s car. Boys were taught to drive at 16 and allowed to use Dad’s car; I wasn’t.
My mum and sister still can’t drive, and that’s a pity because my dad is probably the most frightening driver I’ve ever shared a car with. My mum is definitely the worst navigator. We were never invited anywhere twice after my parents arrived, shaken and bickering while my sister and I were covered in sick.
I got my job at Car and Truck by accident. The ad just said ‘person Friday required for busy publishing office’. The last thing they wanted was a geek crashing the test cars. I filed, organised photo shoots and got to know all the motoring PRs as I rang to ask about parts prices in those days before the internet.
Thinking I’d never catch up in the motoring world, I applied for a job at What Hi Fi. The geniuses at Haymarket saw Car on my CV and gave me a job as road test assistant at Autocar.
I finally learned to drive, having tootled around Millbrook and the off-road track at Peter’s Pit on L plates. It was as if someone had opened a little door in the wall, and, like Alice, I’d stepped through into a wonderland. I loved the cars, the people, the trips and the writing. I bought my own classic cars and got lots of grease under my nails. (link to the car page on my website http://www.liz-turner.com/my-cars.html)
Yes, I was pinned to the filing cabinets most days by an older member of staff who pretended jiggling his body against mine was funny. Yes, I had booze breathed over me by sozzled old hacks on press trips, and inappropriate propositions from male PRs but I was only bored, never threatened.
Later on, I did occasionally burn with fury because I felt I should have got a job or promotion instead of some man, but most members of the Western Group have probably felt that, too. It’s hard to prove it was simply because of my gender, and anyway I feel I’ve done OK.
Being a woman actually has its advantages. As there are lots of chaps and only a few women, people remember who I am. And it gives me a niche. I’ve written for countless women’s magazines from She to Shortlist. I chose the name Woman Driver Blog to make sure Google could find me. And it works; I get quite a bit of radio and some TV work from people who want a woman’s view.
I’ve also have the huge privilege of being a patron and Chairman of WOMAC. I’ve got to know lots of fantastic women, and had lots of laughs while fundraising for a cause I believe in.
Enough about me, though. It does make me uncomfortable that there are still so few women or people with darker shades of skin around me on trips and at events and shows. I spent four years working in the States, and found that, although the publishing companies were even more ruthless than they are here, I enjoyed working with far more women, black and Asian people and a sizable gay mafia.
It was interesting to learn that there are several car magazines for the black, Hispanic and gay communities. The writing is pretty much the same as in the mainstream titles, but readers could envisage themselves in the cars, having seen the journalists in the photographs. There are a few websites aimed at women, too, including Jean Knows Cars, but attempts to persuade women to part with money for a print magazine about motors have so far proved fruitless over here.
Fact is, I don’t know why the British motoring press remains so very middle class, male and white. I tend to think it’s not because of their treatment once they are working, it’s because, like me, they don’t know they would be welcome here.
Maybe more needs to be done at the level of schools? Is it something the Western Group could help with by going in for careers talks in our local area? Or simply by making sure daughters can drive and have access to a car. Does it even matter?
Let me know your thoughts and suggestions, I’d really be interested to hear them and could possibly write a feature about it for my blog on my website.