The road has often been coded as a masculinized space. It has been presented as a space of violent competition, a space of dominance and submission. It is a space where one must struggle to get ahead of one's peers. Road rage, a common result of this struggle for dominance, is thought to be a predominantly male behavior. Obviously, though, the American road is not gender-restricted. Men and women share the space as both drivers and passengers. Nonetheless, constructions of male mobility and aggression persist.
As a result, it is most common in car advertisements for women to appear as passengers or observers, rather than drivers. While ads depicting male drivers invite their viewers to conquer the road or win the daily race, ads depicting female drivers have a much different tone. These ads employ visual rhetoric and language of leisure and fashion. When advertisements show women as drivers, these women usually appear as The Chick or The Incompetent. These two tropes function similarly in that they infantilize and trivialize female drivers.
The trope of The Chick depicts a young, playful, professional woman. Her mobility is not serious, it is about fun and youthfulness. She is a discerning consumer and a car buyer, but she is more concerned with style and luxury than she is with technical details or the thrills of driving. She is very interested in her own appearance and uses her car as an accessory.
The Incompetent dismisses female drivers in a much less subtle manner. This trope depicts silly women who do not understand their vehicles. These women are poor drivers, or they take poor care of their cars, or they are flummoxed by the complicated technicalities of the automobile. Advertisements that employ this trope attempt to sell cars that are particularly easy—so easy, the ads suggest, that even a woman could drive them.