Women as props at Paris Motor Show
A sultry blonde in a black mini-dress with a plunging neckline smiles through scarlet lipstick as she leans fetchingly against a bright red Kia Rio at the Paris Motor Show.
Despite ardent denials, and to the dismay of feminists, many image-makers in the auto industry still prefer leggy lasses to peddle their cars at the industry’s shows.
“This sexualisation of the car, associated with male power, is intolerable,” said Florence Montreynaud of the feminist group Les Chiennes de Garde, which means female watchdogs.
“You have the impression that for the same price, you get the girl with the car!” Montreynaud told AFP.
“When car makers try to make us believe that this is essential for doing business, it’s a joke.”
Carole Francois, a client relations official for Penelope, an agency that recruited around 300 hostesses for the Paris show, insisted the time-worn auto-show tradition of girl-as-eye-candy “no longer exists”.
While she acknowledged that some of her clients wanted hostesses with “impossible” measurements, she said “you don’t see as much flesh” as before.
A 21-year-old hostess who gave only her first name, Mathilde, is working on her second Paris show, this time at the Volkswagen stand.
“We are equal to the salesmen,” she said, “not decoration for the radiator”.
Wearing heavy makeup but dressed modestly in a light blue shirt with dark blue jeans and white sneakers, the student recalls her first experience with a different carmaker.
She says she learned how to take salacious remarks from “the older customers” in her stride.
“One of them asked me, ‘are you as hot as the motor?’” she recalled. “Another time it was ‘can you climb on to any chassis?’”
These days, hostesses receive between one and three days of training aimed at helping them to tackle such advances.
And several constructors have opted this year to have their hostesses wear longer dresses, or trousers with flat shoes.
“But it’s still macho,” said another recruiter. “The Italians are the worst.”
At the stand of South Korean carmaker SsangYong, two hostesses in body-hugging minidresses teeter on stilettos as they pose for a selfie with three Asian visitors.
Unlike their male counterparts, they aren’t touting tablet computers to deal with inquiries — and no car is in the background for the picture.
That is all right with Irina, who says her job is to “introduce” the new Liv2 model and “be a showcase to attract clientele”.
– ‘1950s mentality’ –
“These practices typically both hyper-sexualise women’s bodies and exploit them commercially,” said Raphaelle Remy-Leleu of the group Osez le Feminisme (Dare to Be Feminist).
A French Senate panel on women’s rights issued a report to coincide with the Paris show calling for an end to the woman-and-car cliche.
It called for an end to “sexist messages” in automobile advertising and spoke out against scanty clothing which “reduced the status of the woman to car-enhancer.”
It also said the car show, which opens to the public on Saturday, should have as many male hosts as hostesses.
Citroen, the only French carmaker that is headed by a woman, Linda Jackson of Britain, observes gender parity at its stand.
“It’s only fair,” said Riwan, a 19-year-old Citroen host wearing red trousers and a beige jacket.
Montreynaud of Les Chiennes de Garde praised Citroen for the “egalitarian” move.
But, she said, the industry remains in the grip of a paradox: “An egalitarian mentality coexists with the archaic mentality of the 1950s, with the provocative dress.”