Friday, 3 April 2015

Grid Girls

In  my last post, I spoke about Bernie's ridiculous idea to start an F1 championship for women only. I cited several problems which I feel were hindering women's attempts to be taken seriously within the motorsport world, one of which was the continued use of grid girls throughout different world championships, and the general objectification of women within motorsport. Well, yesterday the World Endurance Championship announced that they will no longer have grid girls at their races. This is, I think, excellent news, and largely this has been received positively. However, there are a number of people who disagree, and feel that grid girls don't cause any problem and are an integral part of motorsport. Without wishing to be sexist myself, most of the people saying this are men, who most likely don't feel the effects of female objectification (although perhaps they might experience this in some way when they look at Lewis Hamilton's - frankly ridiculous - posing on the cover of a recent magazine!). Let me explain why the banning of grid girls is a positive thing, and why it won't end motorsport as we know it.

As I mentioned previously, women are now making strides towards getting into the motorsport world - a world which is largely dominated by men. We now have two F1 team principals, several reserve drivers in F1 and a small number of drivers in other motorsport series who happen to be women. Undoubtedly there are a number of women who wish to become mechanics and have a greater direct involvement in the running of a motorsport team. If we accept that we're moving (slowly) towards gender equality in motorsport, then grid girls have no place in this world. Many promotional shots of female racing drivers ask them to pose sexily - something the men aren't asked to do. This is problematic, as it encourages individuals to think of the female racing drivers in terms of their physical appearance, rather than their abilities in the car. If we think take the view that this is unacceptable, and women should be rated for their skill, talent, and literally anything else beyond physical appearance alone, then why should grid girls be objectified at the same time? Objectification of women in many other areas of society is - rightly - condemned, and motorsport has managed to escape this for many years, proudly accepting this outdated practice.

Now, maybe I'm less qualified to speak on the opinion of the female racing drivers (and other motorsport personnel), as I'm not a racing driver myself. However, I can talk about the effect that grid girls has on female fans of motorsport, as I clearly fall within this demographic. I often attend motorsport events at circuits - I like looking at the cars, watching the racing, and generally getting involved in the atmosphere of it all. When the grid girls come out, there are always a group of men who leer, and grab their waists to take photographs. This is not a nice environment to be in. It sends a message that the women present at the event are just there to be looked at. Do you really think that the people engaged in the leeching are going to ask whether any of these women have any other attribute than looking attractive? Do any of these men even stop to ask the names of the girls?! No. These women are here to look good for the blokes - and that's something that is unacceptable in this day and age.

I can already hear the argument of  "Well, these women choose to be grid girls". Yes, this is true, and they're absolutely free to do so. However, these women also have lives and attributes beyond looking pretty, and these attributes should be celebrated just as much. There's also the issue of the grid girls being pushed on to those who don't actually want to see this side of the world. People can choose to see models at fashion shows, but I don't go to Brands Hatch to look at the girls.

I've also heard the argument that 2grid girls are just as much a part of motorsport as the chequered flag". Erm, no. This is nonsense. The chequered flag exists to mark the end of a race. The chequered flag doesn't objectify 50% of society. The presence of the chequered flag won't offend anyone, or support an attitude making it difficult for individuals to be taken seriously in motorsport. But seriously, the point here is that motorsport has been around for an awfully long time. Maybe when the sport started it was perfectly acceptable to exclude and marginalise great swathes of society, and to see women as either housewives or sex objects. However, this is no longer the case. Indeed, if grid girls are an integral part of motorsport, then I would invite people to name at least half of the girls present in the WEC. Or F1. Or the BTCC. Or MotoGP. I bet you could do so with the drivers, and I'm sure you could name the team principals, engineers, and maybe even some mechanics. The WEC certainly isn't going to end by removing the grid girls, and in fact this may attract a portion of the audience put off by constant objectification.

The world has moved on, and the motorsport world's attitude to women has to move with it. The World Endurance Championship has started the movement, so let's hope the other sports follow suit.