Ever since the advent of competitive motorsport, the industry has been dominated by men – from the mechanics and team owners, through to the drivers and even the media.
Despite efforts in recent years to address the gender divide, little progress has been made in making motorsport a more accessible environment for women, and many sexist attitudes and practices continue to prevail.
The presence of grid girls, the lack of prominent female engineers, and the use of tokenistic female drivers who are never provided with an opportunity to race all actively reinforce gender stereotypes and cultivate a ‘men only’ atmosphere.
The motorsport media has a fundamental role to play in enacting meaningful change and highlighting the lack of opportunities for women in motorsport. Yet the largest motorsport media group has recently become embroiled in a public dispute over its dedication to emphasising female gender roles.
An image speaks a thousand words
While Motorsport.com has sporadically reported on efforts to increase gender equality in motorsport, particularly the high profile comments of Claire Williams and Monica Kaltenborn, the website has continued to host a ‘Paddock Beauties’ gallery, which stockpiles images of grid girls, female fans and female drivers.
Many fans have taken to social media to voice their concern that the gallery contradicts the website’s support for gender equality and actively undermines the positive message that a handful of articles seek to establish, particularly in the wake of the high-profile debate about the presence of grid girls which has taken place over recent years.
A petition calling for the removal of the gallery has reached 312 supporters in less than a fortnight, and has received widespread support on social media from readers calling for the motorsport media to move away from reinforcing archaic gender stereotypes.
Sarah Connors, the creator of the petition and motorsport journalist, commented: “The purpose of this ‘Paddock Beauties’ category is very clear: to reduce women to objects for men to look at.”
“While the majority of photos are of grid girls, there are also photos of fans and women working at the track, usually with captions that do not acknowledge that those women are there to work or enjoy the race, not be objectified for the male gaze. Women drivers from race categories such as NHRA are included in this ‘Paddock Beauties’ category as well, further ostracising them and making a decades-old struggle for inclusivity even harder.”
Her sentiments were echoed by many fans, who reiterated the need for a change in attitudes to create a more welcoming environment for families, female fans and female employees in the motorsport industry.
When set in the context of the growing societal push for equal rights for people in LGBTQ and non-gender conformity communities, the image of the motorsport sector has become increasingly archaic and is ostracising a broad sector of its fanbase.
Apex Racing PR contacted Motorsport.com to request a statement on the petition against the ‘Paddock Beauties’ gallery and its stance on promoting gender equality in the industry, but has yet to receive a comment. It would appear, however, that the ‘Paddock Beauties’ gallery has now been removed from the site.
Equality in motorsport
Read our exclusive interview with Sarah Connors about the need for renewed efforts to establish greater gender equality in motorsport, the impact of persisting stereotypes, and initiatives that are making positive in-roads into creating a more inclusive future for the motor racing industry.
Have your say
How do you feel about the media’s response to the demand for greater gender equality? Should more be done or is genuine progress already being made? Have your say in the comment section below.