Fort Wayne, Indiana’s Kelly Nikolic, 27, is a lot of things: Independent, sharp-witted, stylish. And her passion in life is cars. She tunes them, races them, modifies them, and details them, but there’s one thing she just won’t do: Girl Stickers.
“A lot of girls my age, we’re just in the minority at these racing events and car shows,” Nikolic says, “and most of them try really hard to stand out even more than they already do. To each her own, but I find it a little obnoxious.”
Ms. Nikolic is referring to what’s known in the enthusiast community as Cis-Stickering, or overly representing one’s own gender through the use of his or her vehicle. Studies show that female Cis-Stickering takes many forms, but usually includes bright colors (often pink or purple), as well as expressions like “Silly Boys, ____ are for Girls” where the blank could represent Jeeps, Trucks, Hondas, or many other diverse, historically male-dominated automotive pursuits.
For male enthusiasts, such Cis-Stickering tends to be less overtly gender-specific, but more socially or morally disruptive. Expressions like “Dapper” or a hand demonstrating an obscure sexual gesture called “The Shocker” tend to dominate urban male sticker choices; while hunting-related buck heads and “Bone Collector” stickers tend to adorn suburban and rural vehicles (usually trucks and SUVs).
“Ever since Bertha Benz took the world’s first car on a roadtrip, women have sought to stand out from mainstream male car culture,” claims Dr. Kelly Saronno of the National Highway and Traffic Safety Institute, or NHTSA. “As soon as she returned home to Karl [Benz, inventor of the car], she immediately printed up an order of FrauerPower stickers to encourage more women drivers.”
For their part, male enthusiasts are generally supportive, yet indifferent to the use of female Cis-Stickering. “Yo, at least I know where the chicas at, amiright brah?” quips Derek Cavanaugh of Riverside, California at a recent Cars & Coffee show. “At least I know when to get that [girl] ready for tha shocka!” he continued, gesturing to the misogynistic stickers that diagonally adorn his Subaru’s rear window. “Hold on, mom’s texting me and I gotta be home for a church thing.”
Shortly after we spoke with her, Kelly Nikolic drove her 2004 Honda Civic Si to a first-place finish in the Indiana SCCA autocross championship. She was immediately featured on the cover of the SCCA’s national magazine as “America’s Best Female Stock Class Racer under 30,” a moniker that is bittersweet to Ms. Nikolic. “I just want to be the best stock class racer there is. I may be a millennial, but I don’t want some esoteric trophy every time I wipe my [self].”
Ms. Nikolic has since gone on to win two additional regional championships and is now the founder of Esoteric Racing, LLC, which focuses on gender equality in motorsports and providing sticker leveling services to a mostly-male clientele – including her own father, who often complains about driving his wife’s BMW 435 with crooked stickers saying “Princess,” “Spoiled,” and a large calligraphic monogram that obstructs his view of traffic through the car’s already tiny rear window.