I find this argument about grid girls very tricky and I don’t think it’s as simple as yes we should have them or no we shouldn’t. I recently spoke about it on BBC radio and I think the host wanted me to take a stance one way or the other but I couldn’t.
Firstly, I find the whole concept of grid girls horrendously outdated. They were put into motorsport to make it more appealing to men and, back then, the only point of those women was for decoration.
Young motorsport fans (mostly men, back in the day) grew up seeing these women as objects there for their viewing pleasure. This, coupled with men’s general entitlement to women’s bodies, is troubling because, whether they are aware of it or not, they are being taught to objectify (and in many cases sexualise) women.
This is a complex sociological issue that very few of us are able to intelligently grasp, let alone discuss. The concept of not sexualising women is very hard for a lot of people to get their heads around. When I say there’s a problem with the sexualisation of women in motorsport I don’t mean that men should stop finding women attractive because there’s a huge difference between being attracted to someone and seeing them as a sexual object. The fact that so few people can grasp this troubles me deeply.
My experiences of discussing this with men leave me frustrated and no matter how many studies and essays on the subject I send, the gentlemen I speak to don’t seem to be willing to educate themselves. They’re so sure they’re not sexualising me and other women that they don’t listen when I tell them I feel offended by their behaviour.
The introduction of grid kids (a fantastic idea!) to Formula One shows how ingrained the sexualisation of women in this role is.
I have seen multiple different people on a variety of platforms say that grid kids will be targets for paedophiles. Suggesting that children will be preyed on and sexualised just for being in that position is an overwhelming indicator that there is a problem with the way the world views grid girls.
To a lot of people, removing grid girls and replacing them with children is abhorrent because that is a position of sex. Those people are there for men’s viewing pleasure and nothing more.
No matter where you sit on the grid girl debate, I’m sure you can agree that’s a horrifying concept.
I feel that this affects women working in other roles within motorsport (perhaps we’re seen as more ‘accessible’ than grid goddesses). I have found that men seem to have a sense of entitlement to my body that I haven’t seen anywhere else – not even in other male-dominated industries. The amount of unwanted kisses, touches, approaches and inappropriate hugs I’ve had to battle in the paddock is astounding. To the point now where I feel uncomfortable hugging my friends (male and female) lest it be seen as a sign that I enjoy hugging as a greeting.
In every walk of life, you find men who don’t understand how to treat women. I’m not saying that motorsport is the only place where this happens. However, in my experience, and from speaking to other women working in the sport, it seems unwanted sexual advances and inappropriate comments and behaviour are rife.
This is why I feel the archaic concept of grid girls needs to change, but I don’t think the way to do that is necessarily getting rid of them in the sport.
Again, this is a difficult discussion because much of the uproar has been around grid girls in the British Touring Car Championship, at least within my community. Formula One is very different.
The women fulfilling these roles in F1 are agency models hired by the sport as a whole. That is not the case for the majority of the women in BTCC and other championships. Yes, some of them are models but they are usually hired by the teams or drivers.
They are part of a team and many of them have a diverse range of skills beyond their good looks and endurance for high heels. The majority of grid girls I know are also racing drivers and motorsport fans, they love to get up close to the action and get paid for it while looking damn good.
Feminism is about allowing women to have control of their bodies. If they want to do this job in motorsport, we should let them. If women can retake the role of the grid girl as their own and turn it around to be powerful, then this archaic concept can be overthrown.
I want to shout out to all the badass grid girls and promotional staff out there who are fighting for equality, driving race cars, looking awesome and being an inspiration to young women everywhere. The huge task of changing perceptions of women in motorsport starts with you, so tell the world your stories, support one another and keep fighting.
I welcome the opportunity to discuss this on Twitter so feel free to give me a follow an share your views, @jetlbomb.