The 'Dainty Female Toe' and the 'Brawny Male Arm': conceptions of bodies and power in automobile technology



Publication Details

Clarsen, G. W. (2000). The 'Dainty Female Toe' and the 'Brawny Male Arm': conceptions of bodies and power in automobile technology. Australian Feminist Studies, 15 (32), 153-163.


Cars, as one of the central technologies of twentieth-century industrialised life, have generated countless histories in a wide variety of media. Histories of automobiles, however, are more than they seem. Like all histories, they exceed their avowed subject matter to tell a great deal more besides. Beyond their manifest concerns, they provide a dense array of metaphors, images and progressions through which other stories have been told. This article considers the ways that ideas of sexual difference were articulated through narratives of automobile technology, and focuses particularly on the application of electricity - in the form of batteries and starter-motors - to petrol-driven cars in the first two decades of the twentieth century. At that time, the use of sexual difference as a structuring principle in automobile narratives was particularly pervasive. It enshrined specific versions of difference and bodily experience as an unexamined resource for the production of meaning within that domain, and provided a discursive counterpoint in the complex material effects of automobile technology in the lives of women who aspired to be motorists.

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