On Being a Woman Who Loves Racing

Being a woman who loves racing is exhausting.

Being a woman who loves racing means wanting to go to a race but not wanting to go alone, because going alone means subjection to harassment.  When I went to the 2015 Pirelli World Challenge race, I had men ask for pictures with me because they “try to get pictures with sexy little things at every race they go to”.  During that same weekend, a man sat next to me in a grandstand, his three friends surrounded me, and he proposed a bet: we choose a car, and if his car wins, he gets my number and a kiss.  At the Indycar race in Toronto, during the two hours I was at Friday practice by myself, the man who approached me confused Indycar with Formula 1, protested when I tried to correct him, and wouldn’t accept me trying to leave until I told him a made-up boyfriend was waiting for me to bring him his tickets at the gate.

Being a woman who loves racing means constantly being questioned and second-guessed.  The round of questioning a woman is subjected to feels more like an interrogation than a friendly conversation.  When I’m asked how I got into racing, it’s because I need to prove my worth as a longtime fan and not just as some silly girl who decided to show up to a race one day.  There’s almost a set script.  Who’s your favorite driver?  Team?  Why did you choose them?  Why did you travel for a race?  You really like racing that much?  And on and on and on.

Being a woman who loves racing means that if you fail any one of the many qualifications and requirements you’re supposed to meet, you can’t be a real fan.  I can see the disdain – the exact moment where I’m written off – when one of my questions falls short of expectation.  Oh, you haven’t been a Formula 1 fan since you left the womb, well… Oh, you don’t understand the complicated engineering terms I’m throwing out to you, well…

Being a woman who loves racing means being constantly undermined.  When I told men I was a Marussia fan, they wanted to know if I was aware that they were the worst team on the grid.  When friends told men they were Mercedes fans, they rolled their eyes and wrote it off as the woman choosing the team they saw at the top of the time sheets.  When I express support for a driver, more often than not I’m asked if I support him because he’s cute.  

Being a woman who loves racing means having to choose between being vocal about the problems in motorsport – and they are many – and being silent, subjecting both yourself and your fellow women to more of the same.  It means being branded a rabid feminist if you criticize.  It means hours of arguing.  It means stating your point over and over and over, to one man after another.  It means no one listening to you, to the case you’re making, to the logic you’re presenting.  It means standing up for yourself, and having your experience undermined in the face of the status quo.  It means “can I just play devil’s advocate for a second?”  It means ‘tradition’.  It means men scrounging for every example they can to shove in your face and say, “See?  This one single woman doesn’t believe in what you’re saying, stop being so sensitive!”

Being a woman who loves racing means you don’t have the luxury to get to see yourself in motorsport in a non-visually appealing way.  It means grid girls holding signs on the grid.  It means women with sponsor logos branded on crop tops and booty shorts.  It means women posing next to cars.  It means women as decoration next to the drivers at events, on podiums.  It means albums of photos on Motorsport.com titled “Paddock Beauties”.  It means seeing the exact moment when a man stops seeing you as a person and starts seeing you through the heart-eyed lens because “wow, you like racing?”  It means a barrage of unanswered DMs from men who all want to get to know the girl who watches Formula 1.

Being a woman who loves racing means some iteration of the above, every single day, for as long as you exist as a visible feminine presence in the sphere of motorsports.  And y’all, I am tired.

Which only makes it worse when shirts like the “girls who love racing are rare.  Wife ’em up” make their rounds, and you have to watch the people you admire – drivers, pundits, fans, and friends alike – take part in perpetuating a stereotype that you spent every day trying to reverse.  For them, it’s a justification for their behavior, justification to not have to think about what it means to reinforce the objectification of women in a male-dominated sport, justification to sit back and let the status quo run its course.  For women, it’s a step backward that we now have to redouble our efforts to overcome.

I know that these things aren’t done intentionally, or with malice.  I know that for many, it seemed an innocuous enough shirt.  But that doesn’t negate the fact that this kind of thing is Not Okay and does more harm than good.  It doesn’t negate the fact that the people spreading this kind of message are the ones who have the power to be heard and taken seriously and therefore need to be more conscious of the things they’re saying.  It doesn’t negate the fact that it creates a climate detrimental to female race fans – and yes, even female race fans spreading that same message.

The group of fans that I attend races with is entirely female.  We’ve met, traveled the world, and watched races together – all of us women.  It’s one of the most passionate, well-informed, friendly, funny, and incredible groups of race fans that I know.  And yet not a single woman in that group has been afforded access into the world of motorsports fandom with the same ease as a man would have.  Not a single one has been free from criticism, ridicule, questioning, or objectification.  It breaks my heart that such a talented group will have to fight tooth-and-nail just to achieve a fraction of the respect they deserve.  This is not the kind of welcoming committee I want to see represent my sport.

I don’t treat racing events like parties of the eighteenth century.  This is not me presenting myself in my quest for a husband.  I don’t attend to be “wifed up” by starry-eyed men seeking their manic pixie race car dream girl or ogled by those who think any woman at the track is there for their specific entertainment.  I don’t attend because I want to steep myself in an a testosterone-drenched atmosphere where I am exclusively singled out, objectified, or harassed because of my gender.

I go to racing events for one reason, and one reason only.  I am woman who loves racing, and I’m just here to watch race cars and have a good time.  I only ask that I be respected for that.

Susie Wolff, MBE

What a better way to wave goodbye to 2016 than with just one more talking point in Formula 1 (always, inevitably, tied to Mercedes)?  This time around, we have Susie Wolff, MBE to thank.

The response to Wolff’s being awarded an MBE has been a mixed bag.  While some are ecstatic at the bestowal of the honor, many others are highly critical.  Fingers are pointed at her lack of results, at a career influenced and impacted by her marriage to the executive director of a Formula 1 team.  We have been not-so-gently reminded that Wolff hasn’t actually driven in a Formula 1 race, and that her most notable achievements have been the odd practice session behind the wheel.  There are other drivers out there, they say, more worthy of an honor than Susie Wolff; and what about Bernie Ecclestone, John Surtees, Paddy Lowe?

Had the honor been awarded to Wolff for career accomplishments or performance, I would have been skeptical.  My immediate predilection to wholeheartedly support women in motorsport doesn’t overshadow my ability to look at the facts: that Wolff’s career in motorsport – her actual results scored behind the wheel of a car – are not worthy of an MBE alone.  

The MBE, though, was not awarded for her performance, but rather her service to women in motorsport.  And this is an accomplishment I will stand my ground in defending.

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2016: A Year in Pictures

My lovely friend Catherine recently made a post compiling pictures from 2016 to celebrate the positives of her year (which you can check out here!)  I loved the concept; it’s easy to get caught up in all of the negatives that this year has slung at the world, but I also got to experience a lot of really incredible moments.  And, as the past few weeks have been tough, I thought it would be lovely to do as Catherine did and go back to re-live those memories in visual form.

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On Watkins Glen and What It Means to Have Dead Heroes

“How close are we to where… it happened?”

A quick consultation to a track map, a moment to orient myself with respect to the pit lane, and:

“It was right there.”

It was a beautiful day at Watkins Glen International, my first time actually seeing the track itself.  We’d paid our $25 and had lined up our car near the gate by the Red, White, and Blue grandstand – the grandstand that we promptly mounted to the satisfaction of a view of the beautiful upstate New York countryside: in the distance, rolling hills; thick, puffy clouds dancing around the sun; a dark strip of asphalt ribboning through the greenery.  To my right, turn 1.  To my left, the Esses.

To my left, the place where one of my heroes died.
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