When I was a kid, I believed I could do anything.
Luckily, that’s the message my parents drummed into my brain. There were no limits to what I could do – astronaut, engineer, or president of the United States. I didn’t feel that anything was off-limits for me as a girl. However, that’s definitely not true for many girls around the world. For instance, the girls of Athena Racing have experienced bullying by boys in their class for having the moxie to be interested in things with motors. Women get bullied all the time in the auto industry. It’s not a straight path yet, but here’s to those trying to change that…like Mercedes-Benz and Mattel.
Working Together to Erase Stereotypes
Mattel and Mercedes-Benz are working together to combat the idea that cars are only for boys. The “No Limits” initiative was created to raise awareness about the impact of gender stereotypes on young children, especially girls. Alongside the National Girls Collaborative Project (NGCP), the No Limits project will engage 50,000 elementary-school girls across the country with the goal to help them see that they, too, can be anything and anyone they want to be. The vision of the NGCP is to bring together organizations throughout the U.S. that are committed to informing and encouraging girls to pursue careers in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM).
National STEM Day kicked off on November 8 with activations in Atlanta, New York, and Los Angeles, and it’s not stopping there. Through February 2020, Mattel, Mercedes-Benz, and the National Girls Collaborative Project have set up events during which girls will engineer toy racetracks, design cars, speak with female role models, and attend STEM workshops. And they’ve recruited more than 100 organizations to help.
By the way, did you know that the creator of Matchbox made the first toy car for his daughter, who was only allowed to bring toys to school that fit inside a matchbox? Yep. Matchbox cars were originally designed for a girl.
Ewy Rosqvist: Rally Driver and Role Model for Girls
At the heart of this movement is Ewy Rosqvist, who was the first woman to enter and win one of the toughest rallies in the world. Young Ewy grew up on a farm in rural southern Sweden, and after completing high school, she enrolled in agricultural college with the encouragement of her father. She gravitated to livestock husbandry and veterinary science, and she took a part-time job as a veterinary assistant. As such, Ewy spent hours on the road, traveling to widely-spaced farms to check on and treat animals in her care. Every day, she drove 150-200 km (90-120 miles) to reach patients.
Her father introduced her to the Mercedes-Benz brand, gifting her with a 170 S to help her get from farm to farm on the narrow dirt roads. Pretty quickly, she racked up more than 120,000 miles, picking up efficiency and speed on every trip. This sparked Ewy’s competitive side, which was honed by being the only girl in a family with four brothers.
When Ewy was in her mid-20s, she married engineer Ingve Rosqvist, and she accompanied him in 1954 to the Swedish Rally to the Midnight Sun. Her new husband gave her a turn behind the wheel and she enjoyed it so much that she knew she wanted to compete in a rally herself. Less than two years later, she signed up with a co-driver for the very same rally. The Argentinian Grand Prix was one of the toughest, most grueling rallies on the planet at the time. It required traversing tough terrain over the course of three days, and in 1962, Ewy knew she was ready. The public, however, especially men involved in the sport, mocked her, making it clear they thought she would fail.
But Ewy paid them no mind. Not only did she finish the rally, but she was also the first person to win every single stage and set a speed record for the course, beating the previous champion by – wait for it – THREE HOURS. Ewy competed in what was widely considered a man’s world and she prevailed.
Girls Can Be Anything They Aspire to Be- No Limits
No Limits will provide 50,000 Matchbox replicas of Ewy’s race-winning Mercedes-Benz to participants in the program to remind them that girls can do anything. The idea is to change the idea that cars are for boys and not for girls. The A Girls Guide to Cars community knows that, and spreading the word to young girls will enhance the industry by improving diversity.
“Whatever they aspire to be – an astronaut, engineer, judge, nurse, even the President, we want all children to dream big, dream bold and never give up on that dream,” said Mark Aikman, general manager of marketing services, Mercedes-Benz USA. “We’ve seen that stories like Ewy’s – championing women trailblazers and achievers – can have a big impact by calling into question the gender stereotypes that children may inadvertently adopt.”
Today, more women are setting the stage, like Hailie Deegan, the first female to win a NASCAR racing series and Shea Holbrook, who by drafting ahead of bicyclist Denise Mueller-Korenek on Utah’s Bonneville Salt Flats, helped to set the world bicycle land speed record. However, the reality is that we have a long way to go to bridge the gap in history. According to the National Science Board, women represent only 29% of the current science and engineering workforce. When asked their reasons for not majoring in STEM, many said a lack of encouragement and role models.
If you talk to women who like cars or are pursuing a career in the auto business, many of them were introduced by fathers, husbands, or boyfriends. Imagine the impact when girls see women breaking down gender stereotypes and opening the doors wide for them to join the wave.
Girls: There are no limits. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. Cars are NOT just for boys.