We’ll Be Okay Without Grid Girls. I Promise.

The theory of the double bind was introduced by Gregory Bateson in the 1950s.  The concept is pretty straightforward: in it, a person or group is subjected to two conflicting messages.  Both messages negate one another, but both result in an unpleasant outcome.  In 1983, Marilyn Frye applied the concept of the double bind to the experience of being a woman.  To put it into an effective example, a woman can neither have sex or abstain from sex.  If she has sex, she’s called a slut; she’s easy and loose.  If she abstains, then she’s frigid, she might even be a man-hater or a lesbian.  In both cases, she endures an uncomfortable, negative outcome.

Women who agree with F1’s removal of grid girls are facing a similar situation.  We’ve been accused of putting women out of work, of thinking “we know best”.  We’ve heard that we’re ruining tradition, that we’re blowing things out of proportion, that we don’t see women as people, and that somehow we’re the ones objectifying them.  We’ve heard that we’re ugly, that we just don’t like looking at women more attractive than us.  We’ve heard that we’re jealous, bitter killjoys.  We stand in the face of criticism and objection and disapproval.

But all of that is a welcome change from what would happen if we advocated for the continued use of grid girls.

Before we start, it’s important to note that this is not about hating the specific women who hold the grid girl position.  No one is posting photos of girls holding signs on the grid captioned “fuck these women in particular”.  Instead, this is about the concept that grid girls represent.  I’ve discussed before the importance of positive representation of women in motorsport with the specific intention of drawing more female drivers in the recent past.  

Representation is crucial.  In “Television and the Self”, Michael Johnson Jr. asserts that, in popular culture, the majority is celebrated while the minority is merely tolerated, that ‘tolerance’ “simply acknowledges that the minority exists and that claims acknowledgement as an act of generosity”.  Think of the “token black/gay/Latino” characters you see in movies, who have one line and that’s it.  Think of J.K. Rowling claiming that Dumbledore is gay without ever including it in canonical texts.  In essence, people who aren’t straight, white men are not the focal point of popular culture, but everyone is supposed to be happy with whatever roles they do get without asking for more.

How does this tie in with grid girls?  Geena Davis uses the phrase “if she can see it, she can be it” to refer to her quest to bring more prominent female characters to cinema.  From a young age, children are taught what their projected path in life should be.  Boys play with trucks and have adventures and  wear blue, girls play with dolls and stay at home and wear pink.  When they see TV shows where the husband works and the wife stays at home, where men are CEOs and women are secretaries, where men have fun and women play the tangential love interest role, they pick up on that and they imitate it.

A similar concept applies to grid girls.  In a sport where morphological differences between men and women are unimportant, only a handful of women have ever even attempted to take part in a Formula One race, and a handful of others have been test drivers, sim drivers, or I-suppose-we’ll-send-you-out-on-a-Friday-practice drivers.  It is genuinely very rare to see a woman in a firesuit pulling on her helmet on race day.  Instead, you’re far more likely to see a silent, smiling woman holding a sign in front of a driver’s spot on the grid as cameras pan over the pre-race chaos and as journalists weave through the crowd conducting interviews.  That’s what the women, the young girls, the teenagers watching at home are going to see.  And if they don’t see a single woman performing a task beyond Eye Candy, it’s hard to imagine herself in that role.  But women are still supposed to be happy, because, hey – women are being gainfully employed, right?  They’re still kind of sort of a part of F1, right?  That’s all that matters, right?

I ask the men reading to think about it.  Just put yourself in someone else’s shoes for a moment.  Men, you see yourselves everywhere in motorsport.  You’re engineers, mechanics, drivers, designers – you name it.  Imagine that the roles are flipped.  Imagine how you’d feel watching, say, a fashion show, or if you chose to be a nurse instead of a doctor.  Imagine how you felt when there were grid boys in Monaco, where there were still clear differences in the ways the grid boys were dressed compared to grid girls.  If you wrinkle your nose and feel uncomfortable – that’s the point.

Grid girls reinforce the beauty standards that have been in place for decades.  Women are valued when they’re conventionally beautiful, when they smile for cameras, when they take pictures with men, when they’re objects to be consumed instead of people to interact with.  This is the only role women have held in a mixed-gender series because of the sheer level of opposition and resistance that one runs into on the ladder up.

Grid girls reinforce that “ugly” girls don’t have value.  They reinforce that women are not seen as equals.  They reinforce that young women on the ladder to F1 need to be objectified to be sponsored.  They reinforce the system that means women are photoshopped smaller on magazine covers, that women need makeup to leave the house, that women have to be skinny.  They reinforce the same marketable insecurities that encourage young women to develop eating disorders, that have 40% of 7- to-10 year olds feeling shame about their bodies, that make 97% of women have moments in their life where they think nothing but “I hate my body”.

This is not about the jealousy of ugly women.  This is not about shaming scantily-clad models or sex workers.  This is about requesting that women be valued according to the same skillsets as their male contemporaries in mixed-gender sports.  This is about assigning value to women that does not have to do with their looks.  This is about questioning if it’s really actually appropriate to only use women as props.  This is about sending a message to half of the world’s population that you are unwelcome if you don’t look like a grid girl, if you don’t agree with the utilization of grid girls, or if your ambitions are not to become a grid girl.

This is about creating a hostile atmosphere for female fans, another topic I’ve written about before.  I have had my picture taken and distributed without my consent.  I’ve been touched and kissed in the grandstands without my consent.  I’ve been harassed by men who work in certain racing series to the point where I don’t feel comfortable walking through that paddock alone anymore.  I shouldn’t have to consider swapping a pair of shorts for a pair of jeans so that I feel a little bit safer when I go to a race in Dallas in the middle of summer.  I shouldn’t forego attending a MotoGP race because I just don’t feel safe going by myself.  I shouldn’t be standing on a grid before the race, working, and have to watch cameramen pan over womens’ breasts.  I shouldn’t have to worry about my own picture ending up in compiled galleries of sexy women.  And while not every woman will have these same experiences, the fact that it can happen to me and that it can happen to other women I know and love is a sign that it’s time to change.  Many women aren’t aware that what they face is a form of harassment (re: the women, including myself, who never knew that their experiences were sexual harassment until the #MeToo movement came to light).  The fact that similar issues have happened to women like Kayla or Katie or Kelly Brouillet and countless others should be enough evidence.

Not every woman has the support system that Leena Gade mentions.  Around age 11, girls’ interest in STEM fields begins to fade and rapidly declines by age 15.  This is due to a perception of gender roles and feeling as though something traditionally ‘male-dominated’ is an undesirable field to aspire toward.  This is because there are not enough visible women in these roles for a young woman to say “I can make it”.  And while it’s important that there are women like Leena Gade or Janet Guthrie who smash through those boundaries to pave the way for other women, the fact of the matter is that it is necessary to have them in those roles for even more women to follow their path, and that we start removing the obstacles that might trip them up.

Which means it’s also necessary to remove grid girls.

Grid girls will be okay.  We’ll be okay.  The grid girls’ agencies will rebook their weekend, and they’ll bring home the paycheck that funds their careers and passions.  We simply won’t see a beautiful woman holding a pole on a spot of asphalt.  Formula One will still be glamorous and luxurious.  No angry radical feminist made that decision – it was a group of conservative men who thought that hiring grid girls may just not be in their best interests anymore.  And, really – are pretty ladies what anyone is watching Formula One for, anyway?

A lack of grid girls is not going to solve every gender inequality in Formula One – not even close. But it is a perceptible, tangible step in the right direction.  It’s an opportunity to highlight the women in the paddock who work as equals with their male counterparts instead of enabling the perception that only beautiful women are welcome.  It’s one less obstacle for a young girl to see and become disheartened by.

And that is a crucial first step to make.

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A Women’s Only Championship is a Bad Idea. Period.

Motorsport is not made for women.

 

Motorsport is a world run by men, designed only for men to participate.  It is an area that glorifies testosterone and masculine apathy in the face of danger.  In motorsport, we call our cars “she”, and they’re the only ‘women’ allowed to actively participate in an event; all the other real, human women are dolled up and silenced, artfully placed like decorative objects in key places around the circuit.  Seen, not heard.  Men get to attend races unbothered; any women who show up must simply be there as a pretty accoutrement for a passionate boyfriend/husband/brother.  Motorsport is a “gentlemen’s sport”, a “boy’s club”.  Motorsport is not made for women.

 

And, yet, women are still passionate about it anyway.

 

And that is exactly why motorsport needs to change.

 

___

 

Rumors of a woman’s F1 championship have been floating around for months now.  Vague hints here and there, but no real plan to enact it – until now.

 

On November 28, the DailyMail announced that plans are in the works for a potential all-female F1 championship to emerge in 2019, despite public backlash surrounding the idea every single time another rumor leaks out.  The series would consist of six races – five in Europe, one in America – with the ever-so-desirable championship winner to be awarded with… an F1 test drive.

 

The all-female sport is intended to rival F1 in prestige and significance, they say.

 

Which is why it only makes sense that women are to be awarded with what is, potentially, the least significant opportunity in Formula One.  They are not offered a chance to race an F1 car – no, they only get to test one.  And, as F1 fans have seen time and time again, talented drivers who are relegated to a test driver role have a hard time being guaranteed a full-season drive if they aren’t specifically contracted to earn one.

 

If this championship is supposed to be an equal with Formula One, then why is Formula One still ranked higher than them on the motorsport hierarchy?  If two CEOs of a company are considered to hold equal share and sway in that company, one of those CEOs should not still have to strive to reach the level of control of the other.  That is not the definition of equality.

 

If this championship is supposed to be an equal, why do the women only get six races to F1’s twenty-plus?  Why do they keep calling it equal, and then claiming it would be second only to F1?  Why can’t women just race a goddamn Formula One car?

 

The Implications

 

An all-female championship would be historic, and it would be groundbreaking.  But it would still be an Exceptionally Bad Idea, for an exceptional amount of reasons.

 

This is, above all, an excuse to stop having to strive for diversity within F1.  The Powers That Be are so horrified by the thought of having a woman compete alongside – or beat – a man that they’re willing to hook a woman’s championship up to an IV and pump millions of dollars into it, when it would be far simpler to support women from the ground up (which I’ll detail later).  It is a much more appealing option to cobble together a Frankenstein’s monster of a championship for women than it is to actually just sponsor a woman on her way up to the top, and that is an incredibly disturbing mindset.

 

Segregation has, historically, never been a Good Thing.  Segregation is the portioning-off of a minority group into a neat little box that can be shoved into the back of the cupboard and forgotten about while the majority gets to enjoy everything else in the pantry.  If the majority is in charge of creating “equality” for the minority, they won’t.  Simple as that.  When America segregated their schools, all the best resources were poured into the white schools, and black students were supposed to be grateful that they even had a school at all.

 

It is a similar concept here (albeit with much, much less institutionalized violence).  A female-only championship isn’t going to be equal.  It’s going to be a way for the men of F1 to say, “stop complaining, you already have your little championship, so let us have ours”.  It’s a very effective way to never have to worry about being bothered by a woman again.  You just smile when the Ladies’ Champion takes your car out for a test drive in the off-season, maybe a Friday practice, and you never have to worry about them again.

 

And that is Not Okay.

 

Motorsport generally and F1 specifically has fallen under criticism in recent years regarding their approach to women.  Calls have been made to end grid girls, to stop using women as podium décor, to make sure women don’t have to endure the very-unsubtly-coded spraying-with-champagne, to end random shots of women in garages on the broadcast, to quit upskirt photos and tit shots and images of rows of butts, to delete albums of Paddock Beauties.  Calls have been made to recognize successful female drivers making their way through the feeder categories, to acknowledge the hard-working women behind the scenes in the paddock, to aim for more equality and less general discrimination against women.

 

Somehow, that has been a very difficult prospect.  And I see a women’s championship being a very convenient way out for the men who don’t want to have to change.  If women don’t like the sexism they’re seeing in F1, well, they’ve got a whole series where they have exactly what they want, so go watch your little female drivers and let the men ogle underdressed women here in F1.  This thinly-veiled claim of feminism is just enabling the same old bigotry by a different name and a higher moral purpose.

 

Logistically, there are still many questions to be asked.  With only six races, is the women’s championship going to function as a feeder category, the quaint opening act before the Real Men Go Racing?  Are these women going to be contractually obligated to cater to pretty pink sponsors; will they end up falling victim to oversexualized demands?  It seems as though F1 has a very hard time taking women and their demands seriously.  One must be critical that this pursuit will just be a repetition of the same old patronizing behaviors.

 

The History

 

It is, currently, difficult to get women into motor racing because women have been excluded from motor racing for a long time.  The few attempts at women taking part in F1 races were duds; most didn’t qualify, and those that did (like Lella Lombardi) were talented but not given the means to show their mettle.  No woman has ever been a full-time series participant since the introduction of the F1 Championship.

 

As such, women and their success are unknown variables – at least in F1.  It seems ridiculous to use the logic that, “well, all the F1 champions have been men, not women…” when making a decision on who to sponsor, but the simple fact is that it is easier to justify sponsoring a man knowing that the sport is structured in such a way that he will have more opportunities to succeed than his female counterpart.  She, on the other hand, will face criticism, doubt, scrutiny, and pointed hostility every step of her way, all of which can impact her morale or the opinions of potential other sponsors and thereby mar opportunities for success.

 

So, it seems easy to argue that women just aren’t as successful.  Maybe there’s a reason they’re not in F1, huh?  Maybe women just aren’t capable of competing with men.

 

But this narrow-minded view does not consider other forms of motorsport where women are successful.  It does not consider the history of motorsport – of F1 – and the factors that have systematically discouraged women from racing.

 

Women have found success in NASCAR, IndyCar, sports cars, and drag racing.  While only one of these is technically an open-wheel series, it is still worth investigating what has enabled their participation in these categories as opposed to Formula One.

 

Danica Patrick is often the first woman who comes to mind when one mentions “female race car driver”.  She is visible and has been quite successful with a professional career spanning nearly two decades.  She holds the IRL record for most consecutive races finished, the only women’s victory in IndyCar, and the highest finish for a woman at the Indy 500 with a third place.  She was the first woman in NASCAR to win a Sprint Cup Series pole.  She has received criticism for her rise to success and for posing in risqué photoshoots for sponsors, thereby illustrating the double standard that women in motorsport have: you have a better chance of gaining a sponsorship if you take off your clothes, but then no one will take you seriously if you do.

 

Patrick’s path was paved by other brilliant women in American motorsport’s history.  Janet Guthrie was the first woman to compete in both the Daytona 500 and the Indianapolis 500, in a NASCAR race in general, and she is tied with Patrick for the highest NASCAR finish by a woman with a 6th place.  When Guthrie broke into these two sports, the hostility against women was fierce.  Guthrie wasn’t even initially allowed in the pit lane of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway because it was a male-only zone.  But there were people out there willing to give her a chance, who knew that she was a capable driver and tried their best to subvert the gendered norms of racing.  And in doing so, by breaking every masculine rule of motorsport, a path suddenly cleared.  It was no longer so strange to see a woman behind a wheel, to see her being competitive, to see her even outshining the men.

 

Since Guthrie’s first attempt at the Indy 500 in 1976, there have been ten women to compete in the race; since her entry into NASCAR, there have been an incredible number of women to compete in every aspect of the sport.

 

In drag racing, women have been a prevalent, dominant force since Shirley Muldowney burst into the scene.  The first woman to receive a racing license from the NHRA, the first woman to win eighteen NHRA national events, and the first person in drag racing to win two – then three – championships.  In 2017 alone, there were nine women competing across four NHRA drag racing championships: more women than in F1, IndyCar, and NASCAR combined.

 

Women and other minorities have been systematically barred entry to F1 for close to five decades – those that have participated have been given the bare minimum.  There was no historical precedent – but why could some motorsport categories see a breakthrough of women while F1 didn’t?

 

The big answer here, as pointed out by @NotNamedErik on Twitter, is money, and how that played into the culture of motorsport.

 

There was a period of time in the history of every motorsport where the point of racing was the cars, and making them go fast.  There was no glamour, no destination races.  If the car looked ugly but it went fast, perfect.  If you wanted to race but could only make it to a local track, then you raced.  This kept the sport affordable for the average person, and you could be competitive if you were willing to spend a little more than your competitors.  Janet Guthrie, for example, raced in the SCCA and was successful in a car that she bought and cared for with her own money.  It was entirely possible to do that.  And, beyond that, black American women raced in the 1940s.  Many women contested Le Mans throughout the 1930s.  

 

American motorsport retained that grassroots mindset for longer than many European motorsports, long enough for the low-cost do-it-yourself-because-you-have-money-and-no-one-can-tell-you-no racing to meet up with shifting social conventions.  Women contested NASCAR races for years before Guthrie came onto the scene, but it’s no coincidence that her appearance during the midst of the feminist movements of the 1970s played a part in how women were perceived in NASCAR in the future.  Drag racing is still very much about the cars and the racing, and women are more successful there than anywhere else.

 

Formula One has been a high-cost sport for decades.  While it was still possible to build championship winning cars in a woodshed throughout the 1970s, it was one of the few forms of truly international and intercontinental racing, which raised a whole different set of barriers when F1 solidified into an official championship in 1950; you might be able to build a car, but could you afford to fly it out to South Africa?  Prior to that, in the years of Grand Prix racing, women like Hellé Nice, Elizabeth Junek, and Kay Petre could fund cars and compete on equal grounds to men.  Since their time, the two most successful female F1 drivers were Maria Teresa de Filippis in the late 1950s, and Lella Lombardi in the mid-70s.

 

The cost barrier has gone hand-in-hand with the social boundaries.  Rich white men who can afford success in a horribly expensive sport are the only ones who can make it into the modern climate of F1, where the emphasis is on glitz and glamour and very, very expensive cars, so that we often even see talented men passed over in favor of those who have more money.  Women, POC, and LGBTQ athletes have a much harder time breaking into that atmosphere, no matter their talent, because these groups have historically endured economic oppression that has not enabled them to set a precedent in Formula One.

 

The answer to the question of equality, then, is not to ignore historical precedent set by other forms of motorsport, or to pretend as though a segregated series will solve these problems.

 

The Solution

 

The answer is, instead, to support women from the ground-up, and to restructure the masculine culture of Formula One.

 

Here, I believe that a blend of something similar to the Mazda Road to Indy feeder program and MotoGP Talent Cups.

 

Ryan King alerted me to the existence of the Talent Cups on Twitter.  In this system, riders from underrepresented countries are given a chance to prove themselves.  With age restrictions implemented from 12-20 and all costs of competing covered, all these riders need to worry about is proving their worth.  The top five drivers from each regional Talent Cup are guaranteed a spot in the Moto3 Junior World Championship with the hope of progressing to Moto3 and then up through the ranks to MotoGP.  He argues that the existence of a similar concept but for young women looking to break into European single-seater categories would be a reasonable and very successful competition.  We would still have a woman-only championship, but at a lower rung of the ladder to F1, with F1 still being the ultimate goal for both young men and women with the intention that F1 will become more diverse.  And I think he’s right… to a certain extent.

 

I 100% agree that the existence of a Talent Cup-style competition would be a great way to specifically showcase female talent and to give them no-holds-barred access to opportunities in the F1 ladder.  But I also do not think that the climate of F1 would enable these young women to find much success past that point.  Which is where I feel the Mazda Road to Indy format could add a guarantee of success.

 

In the Mazda Road to Indy, drivers who win a championship at a lower level of the ladder to IndyCar are guaranteed a drive in the next level up.  If they win IndyLights – the F2 equivalent of IndyCar – they’re guaranteed to drive in the Indy 500 as well as a certain number of regular season races.  In this way, they have a chance to make it to the highest level of the sport, to go out and show their talent in a professional field, and are guaranteed, at minimum, a chance to make themselves appealing as a full-time driver if they don’t get signed after their last season in IndyLights.

 

I believe that a scholarship program similar to this would not only be beneficial to women, but also essential.  By giving them a chance to break into the ladder to F1 through a Talent Cup, women drivers will be given more exposure.  But they still need a guarantee that they’ll be able to move up the ladder and not just dropped once their guaranteed season on, say, an F3 team ends.  It would require a restructuring of the way F1 currently conducts itself, but would be well worth the fielding of a few extra cars a few times a year.  If F1 is willing to construct a whole new series just to run six all-female races a year, they should be able to find a way to provide a woman with an extra car a few times a year.

 

And, finally – we need to stop making F1 so masculine that it becomes inaccessible to women.  It is very difficult for women to be taken seriously in a field where they are predominantly viewed as sex objects or decorations.  We do not need grid girls or photos of breasts.  We don’t need podium girls or shots of the pretty ladies in the garage.  We need to join the rest of the world in the twenty-first century and stop treating women like dolls for men to gain enjoyment from

 

And most of all, we sure as hell don’t need a separate-but-unequal F1 series just for women.

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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