Lady Parking

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In the lull between Christmas and New Year's Day, I read the droll news of a special parking lot for women in the city of Shijiazhuang, Hebei Province, with spaces a meter wider than normal and painted in pink and light purple "to appeal to female tastes."

Today, Nathan Hopson sent me an article from Le Monde that shows pictures of this wondrous parking lot, leaving me even more in awe of the lengths to which the proprietors have gone to satisfy their customers:

The overhead sign reads nü3xing4 ting2che1chang3 女性停車場 ("female / women's parking lot"), rendered in English as "Women Parking."

Beneath that sign is another which attempts to be even more elegant: nü3shi4 ting2che1chang3 女士停車場 ("ladies parking lot"), rendered in English as "Lady Parking."

This Lady Parking area is located in a glitzy shopping center called the "Wonder Mall". It is truly a lavish establishment, with all the right name brands, as can be seen from these descriptions.

The BBC reports that "Official Wang Zheng told AFP news agency the car park was meant to cater to women's 'strong sense of colour and different sense of distance'", where presumably "different sense of distance" is code for the Chinese version of the "woman driver" stereotype.  So it's only fair to counter with an American woman's joke, which asks "Why can't <insert your favorite nationality, region, or university> men parallel park?", and answers, holding up a thumb and forefinger about four inches apart, "because they think that this is eight inches".


  1. Nathan Myers said,

    January 5, 2010 @ 9:37 pm

    I thought it was a place to park the women while you went about your business. But maybe that's the whole mall.

  2. Sarah said,

    January 5, 2010 @ 10:09 pm

    Hey, Nathan Myers, why can't you parallel park?

  3. efunkamericana said,

    January 5, 2010 @ 10:12 pm

    we need them extra wide parking down here in florida so every guy in their triple wide truck can park in less than 10 minutes

  4. Reinhold {Rey} Aman said,

    January 5, 2010 @ 11:39 pm

    Here is a typical "Women Only" parking lot:

  5. Nathan Myers said,

    January 6, 2010 @ 1:37 am

    Um, because "parallel park" isn't an intransitive verb phrase? I give up.

  6. Popup said,

    January 6, 2010 @ 3:45 am

    Not just in Asia!

    There is actually a part of the biggest down-town underground parking lot in Geneva, Switzerland, that's dedicated for women at night.
    As it says on here:
    > Places sécurisées réservées aux dames le soir dès 18h aux niveaux 1 et 2 (surveillance accrue)

    Apparently they're worried that women may feel unsafe, so they've dedicated a part of the parking for unaccompanied women, where they claim to increase the surveillance!

  7. Alex said,

    January 6, 2010 @ 4:13 am

    In Germany there are lots of Frauenparkplatze, precisely for the reasons Popup has given.

  8. Adara said,

    January 6, 2010 @ 5:23 am

    Yes, sexist jokes are hilarious and completely appropriate on an ostensibly academically-minded blog.

  9. Nick Lamb said,

    January 6, 2010 @ 6:59 am

    Frauenparkplatze seem poorly conceived for all the same reasons as the "women can't park" meme. I get it that this is security theatre (women feel disproportionately unsafe, so make them feel safer with a sign and extra lighting, whereas young men are at more risk from actual violence, so you'd put actual police numbers up in areas with more young men) but why focus on women? There are lots of groups that feel unsafe, and there must be some form of words that would emphasise the notionally increased surveillance without heightening fear by implying that all other car parks are dangerous or gender stereotyping.

  10. TonyG said,

    January 6, 2010 @ 7:25 am

    Frauenparkplätze are always located right by a pedestrian entrance, which obviously minimises the danger of being attacked inside the car park. It's not just security theatre.

  11. Lance said,

    January 6, 2010 @ 7:29 am

    Bloggers in a different discipline considered a similar situation in South Korea, with the same "pink for women" and "wider lines because women can't drive" features.

    (And I agree with Adara: some of those comments above really need to be deleted.)

  12. Alex said,

    January 6, 2010 @ 7:36 am

    AFAIK the women parking spaces in Germany are exactly the same size as the others. They tend to be better lighted, nearer the exits etc

  13. J. Goard said,

    January 6, 2010 @ 7:40 am

    Yeah! Remember, you only getta put funny stuff in your concocted examples of grammatical phenomena.

  14. uberVU - social comments said,

    January 6, 2010 @ 9:19 am

    Social comments and analytics for this post…

    This post was mentioned on Twitter by languagelog: Lady Parking: In the lull between Christmas and New Year's Day, I read the droll news of a special parking lot for …

  15. David Cantor said,

    January 6, 2010 @ 10:16 am

    When we visited China last spring (Xiamen), I was struck by how truly awful most of the drivers (both men and women) were.

    A local resident explained that just a few years earlier, there were hardly any cars in the city. So basically, EVERYONE is a beginning driver.

    Yep, I think wide parking spaces is a very good idea.

  16. Theophylact said,

    January 6, 2010 @ 10:35 am

    Peter Hessler has written a book, Country Driving, on driving (and, presumably, parking) in China. Judging by his articles on the subject in the New Yorker, I bet it'll be worth reading.

  17. xyzzyva said,

    January 6, 2010 @ 4:56 pm

    Back in November NPR did a story on the history of parking garages. Apparently women's-only parking is not at all a new idea.

  18. Nathan Myers said,

    January 6, 2010 @ 6:15 pm

    Sexist jokes are a legitimate subject for academic study, and to the extent that they exhibit linguistic oddity, here. The whole parking lot amounts to a sexist joke, but LL didn't build it. Still, the "American woman's joke" in the original posting, and Sarah's and Rey's comments lacked linguistic context, and so probably don't belong.

  19. Kenny Easwaran said,

    January 6, 2010 @ 6:51 pm

    Are men not allowed in the lot? Or are they too macho to park in pink or purple spaces? If not, then I imagine that this lot would become the popular one, because everyone wants to have bigger spaces to park in.

  20. Mark Liberman said,

    January 6, 2010 @ 8:20 pm

    According to Martin Wachs, "The Gender Gap", in the Institute of Transportation Studies Review, 1997,

    One of the most persistent themes in American culture was the stereotype of the woman driver. With absolutely no reputable empirical evidence to demonstrate that men were better drivers than women, for more than fifty years – until the women’s
    movement changed public perceptions – women were portrayed as mechanically inept, indecisive, erratic drivers who caused accidents.

    The remarks of "Official Wang Zheng", and Rey Aman's comment, suggest that American culture is not the only one subject to such stereotypes, and that not all public perceptions have been changed.

    In fact, according to a page on "Sex differences in driving and insurance risk" at the Social Issues Research Center,

    Differences between male and female drivers in terms of crash rates are evident in a wide range of countries, including the United States, Europe, Asia and Africa, with males being significantly more at risk than females.

    That page devolves into an evolutionary-psychology just-so story about aggression and sensation-seeking, but I take it that the facts about accident rates are valid. My 30 second of web search didn't turn up any studies of sex differences in rates of fender-bending while parking, but the truth is doubtless Out There. I'd be somewhat surprised to learn that women actually have higher rates of parking mishaps than men do.

    The cruel little joke about the estimation of small distances is of course not a plausible candidate for the cause of any difference that may exist, but IMHO it's roughly as good a theory as the stuff about "stone-age brains".

  21. Mark Liberman said,

    January 6, 2010 @ 8:33 pm

    Well, I still haven't found any studies of sex differences in parking accident rates. But I did find Claudia C. Wolf et al., "Sex differences in parking are affected by biological and social factors", Psychological Research, December 2009, which does show a modest male advantage (among 30 German men and 35 German women, all apparently university students) in parking accuracy and (especially) speed:

    Their proposed explanation:

    Taken together, differences in self-assessment and mental rotation skills seem to contribute to an average sex difference in parking performance. Although there is an overlap between the performances of the sexes and average differences do not allow any conclusions about a single individual, a differential base level in mental rotation ability could affect parking skills in a sex-specifc way. As parking is trained, women and men would accumulate an unequal history of failures and achievements, resulting in differences in self assessment and a gender-specific expectation of future success.

  22. Mark Liberman said,

    January 6, 2010 @ 9:03 pm

    OK, one last blast of nonlinguistic fact, and I'll get back to my chores. According to Paul Green et al., "Desired Clearance Around a Vehicle While Parking or Performing Low Speed Maneuvers", Technical Report UMTRI-2004-30, there's not much difference between males and females in how close they choose to park to a wall, and the differences reverse with age:

    In general, young men wanted the smallest clearances (18.0 in or 45.7 cm), older men wanted the largest (22.6 in or 57.4 cm), and younger women and older women were in between (19.9 and 21.7 in or 50.5 and 55.1 cm respectively). This pattern of means and significances has been found in many prior UMTRI studies (for example, Green, 2001). This outcome reflects capabilities (young subjects can see better, older men have the poorest health) and risk acceptance (young men accept greater risk than young women). To put this into perspective, averaging across genders, younger subjects wanted distances about 3 in less than older subjects (18.9 versus 22.1 in).

    Here's the graph:

    As you can see, there's weren't a lot of subjects, but they were pretty thoroughly mixed by sex at each age, mean differences aside. Anyhow, since the age difference was larger and more consistent than the sex difference (though still not especially large or consistent), maybe the malls should consider old folks' parking areas with wider stalls. The thing is, though, all of this is nothing compared to the difference between a subcompact and an oversized SUV.

  23. Reinhold {Rey} Aman said,

    January 7, 2010 @ 3:34 am

    Last night, someone at LL rejected twice my second set of genuine photos showing some women's parking skills — perhaps to prevent hurting "sensitive" and humorless readers.

    [(myl) Actually, your comment was caught by an automated spam filter, though in fact it also was gratuitously sexist, in the sense of promoting stereotypes as facts. The spam filter didn't care about that, it just reacting to the number and type of links, and perhaps some of the words.]

    Since Prof. Victor Mair posted his material under the topic "Humor," I considered it appropriate to show the widely circulated "sexist" gag photo, but then balancing it with links to five factual parking photos in my second post (censored by LL).

    @ Adara: "Yes, sexist jokes are hilarious and completely appropriate on an ostensibly academically-minded blog."

    I apologize for penetrating your sensitive, sterile, über-p.c. personal sphere and demand that all humorous material and cartoons possibly upsetting the professionally Offended Ones be verboten on this ostensibly academically-minded blog. In addition, such sexist and racist linguistic terms as clitic, fricative, and affricate should be banned from LL.

    @ Lance: "… (And I agree with Adara: some of those comments above really need to be deleted.)"

    If I had my druthers and advocated LL censorship, I'd recommend that at least 50% of all comments be deleted, beginning with yours.

    @ Alex: "AFAIK the women parking spaces in Germany are exactly the same size as the others."

    Here is a recent photo of a German parking garage for women only (if LL permits the link to it). The spaces are wide, but obviously not wide enough for some Frauen:

    I don't know where the following photo was taken (if LL allows the link to it):

    but you can see clearly that the parking spaces for women are twice as wide as those for men and even wider than the spaces for handicapped/disabled/whatever drivers.

    The difference of widths is real, not caused by perspective or photo angle.

    @ Nathan Myers: "… Still, the "American woman's joke" in the original posting, and Sarah's and Rey's comments lacked linguistic context, and so probably don't belong."

    Had I known that linguistic context is a requirement, I would have avoided "Women Only" and instead used "Nur für Frauen" or "Frauenparkplatz" and wondered why in German-speaking countries such women's parking lots are not more politely called "Nur für Damen" or "Damenparkplatz" and whether in French- and Spanish-speaking countries they use Femmes or Dames and Mujeres or Damas or Señoras in their parking lots.

  24. Finally, a car park for women. « Feminist Philosophers said,

    January 7, 2010 @ 6:56 am

    […] under: gendered products — Jender @ 10:55 am With pink! And wider spaces! Language Log writes: The BBC reports that "Official Wang Zheng told AFP news agency the car park was meant to […]

  25. IrrationalPoint said,

    January 7, 2010 @ 7:14 am

    Shorter Language Log thread: sexism is totally hillarious!


  26. symbol shift said,

    January 7, 2010 @ 10:10 am

    I guess this is too funny to generalise:

  27. SueSimp said,

    January 7, 2010 @ 10:34 am

    Slightly longer Language Log thread: Why are women so sensitive! They whine about everything, and their feelings are hurt so easily. It's ridiculous. Now let me write five or six huffy paragraphs about how I am being unfairly persecuted by those sensitive, overreacting womenfolk!

  28. IrrationalPoint said,

    January 7, 2010 @ 11:23 am

    In fact, what's disappointing about this post and this thread is that it presents that it presents the rather tired old dichotomy that the analysis of language can be either fun and interesting, OR (that's XOR) it can be non-sexist.

    There are genuinely interesting things to say about language in this situation, and the way that language interacts with political realities (cf, for example, the difference in affective content between "female", "woman", and "lady,"; as immortalised by Peggy Seeger's song "I'm Gonna Be An Engineer"). Instead, the entry is filed under "Humour" and described as "droll", and a comment thread ensues which is dominated by a discussion about how incredibly funny it is that women supposedly can't drive. I find it interesting, BTW, that, if one is going to take a light-hearted view of women-only car parks, the words "humour" and "droll" were chosen, rather than, say, "ridiculous" or "absurd", since to me the former two suggest something harmless, quaint, or charming.

    (Also interesting: once the sexism is pointed out, it's clear that those who are so keen to call women hypersensitive and humourless, are themselves reacting pretty strongly to their posts having been called sexist. Poor ickle men, who are vewy sensitive to having their social privilege pointed out to them, have to deal with being called sexist! Life is hard.)

    "The whole parking lot amounts to a sexist joke"

    It's less of a "joke" if the stereotype that women can't drive is used as an excuse for people to routinely harass you while you are driving your mobility scooter (which yes, I can drive just fine, thanks very much). But hey, let's not worry about whether sexism has actual real-world consequences.

    It's pretty disingenuous for linguists, and a linguistically-aware readership, to pretend that language use has no real-world effects.


  29. Richard Howland-Bolton said,

    January 7, 2010 @ 1:24 pm

    Since All and Sundry (and their dogs) are posting pics of bad parking this essay has some of a bad case of Repetitive Missing Syndrome I observed in Texas. The pics are in the footnote.

  30. Richard Howland-Bolton said,

    January 7, 2010 @ 1:30 pm

    btw I have no idea of the sex (if any) of the driver

  31. Jenno said,

    January 7, 2010 @ 1:54 pm

    Could it be that the wider parking spaces aren't there only to allow for "bad parking jobs"? When out and about with my two young children, I hate parking in lots with narrow spaces because it makes it difficult to open the doors all the way. Loading children in and out of car seats and wrangling all our stuff is far easier when you can have doors on both sides open all the way. I'm sure my husband has the same complaint when he is transporting the children, but honestly, car-door-opening was the first and only benefit that popped into my mind when I read about the wider spaces.

  32. Athanassios Protopapas said,

    January 8, 2010 @ 4:09 am

    If I may point out a linguistic alternative to parking stereotyping, here's another putative gender difference: Ask a man what car he has, he'll say something like "a Camry"; ask a woman, and you get "a blue one." Laugh all you may, but the latter option may be more useful if you're looking for it! Okay, now I'm game for the PC squad, I guess.

  33. GAC said,

    January 8, 2010 @ 12:10 pm

    I'm sure I'm not the only male reader on this blog who identifies the cars of his friends and relatives by color and general type (sedan, pick-up, minivan) rather than make and model. Fact is I don't care too much for cars, hate driving, and don't pay enough attention to recognize the model type without looking at the name.

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