Just short of a month ago, I went on a day out to my local racing circuit (Oulton Park) to watch the British touring car championship’s (BTCC). Whilst listening to the beautiful sounds of these machines ranging from Alfa Romeo to Volvo, I decided to look in my programme and have a look at all of the drivers and their profiles that were racing on that day. However, I quickly noticed that when I got to the end of the programme, not a single women was representing a team in this prestigious event. Upon further investigation, involving flicking through a few more pages with more attention, all the racing events that were taking part in the day’s proceedings were dominated by men. It was then I thought to myself “Hold on… Why can’t I think of a single Women that has raced in a top Motorsport event?”.
During the week of Women’s sports week, I decided that the issue of the lack of Women in motorsport should be raised. The first part of my research on the matter was a quick google search regarding the world’s biggest racing competitions in Europe to see how one sided the gender gap is in motorsport.
It turns out that no women have competed in Formula 1, MotoGP and the BTCC in 2017 so far. Only 1 Women has competed in this year’s Le Mans series and only 3 women are currently racing in the WRC this year. To put some perspective on this, that’s 289 drivers (not including replacement drivers- who were all men) in total. This equates to 1.38% of drivers being women.
However, despite this shocking figure, Women are most certainly a fundamental part of any racing weekend. Paddock girls are very often seen before a race, wearing leather tight outfits and looking extravagant whereby they are doing nothing but provoking the concept of the male gaze. This idea of the male gaze (presenting women as objects for men), does not only try to cement a place for women in motorsport, but tries to prohibit women in motorsport who do try to achieve a successful career in the sport. This idea of the male gaze in motorsport is supported by another quick Google search of “Famous women racers”. Without even having to go further than the first page of Google’s search engine, the article titles of “top 10 hottest female race car drivers around the world” followed by “top 15 sexiest women in racing” are presented within the first 15 results. Therefore, it could be argued that women’s status of being a racing drivers are simply second place to the pole position of the master status of fitting into the category of being a part of the “Male gaze”. Simply put, a women’s physical features are taken with more interest than her motorsport ability.
But some argue that the lack of women in Motorsport is due to a biological reason instead of a social one that prevents women from having the same competitive drive and encouragement as men. Bernie Ecclestone is one of those people who encourages this. When interviewed on the matter, he clearly expressed a biological restriction mentioning how women would not be taken seriously and that they are “not physically” able to race a Formula one car. Although Bernie clearly ignored the fact that some women have won championships in motorsport before such as Jutta Kleinschmidt winning the WRC in 2001.
The idea that society plays a role in women’s lack of success in the pinnacle of motorsport is for me, a much more legitimate reason. The idea of the male gaze being a prevention for women is one reason, but another is linked to society as a whole, hegemonic masculinity.
When looking at sport and the values it presents, it is argued by academics and thinkers internationally, that sport reflects the ideology of society at that time. With sport being more and more equal compared to previous years, including motorsport, it has been a result of shifting attitudes towards gender roles. However, due to the fact that motorsport is mainly a sport which involves those from a middle class or even higher socio economic due to the financial commitment and investment that is required to compete at high levels. It could be argued that these classes are still able to implement the ideology of these gender differences in motorsport.
Now this of course is just my opinion on the matter but I believe that motorsport is arguably the most equal sport in terms of gender (where endurance and mental strength is more important than physical strength but the reason why I believe this will be explained later). The fact that there still a huge gap in the ratio of men and women competing in the pinnacle of motorsport (despite it arguably being a sport where gender isn’t an advantage or disadvantage), illustrates that society could be a reason for the prevention of a F1 champion being female.
But then begs the question, is there a solution?
Promotion of Women competing in motorsport could be a key factor in trying to encourage more women that motorsport is not only a sport that women can do but is also a sport unlike any other. By this I refer to what was mentioned before regarding it being a more equal sport than most. When you enter a vehicle, your biological state is irrelevant. Sex, gender, height, age and weight (okay maybe weight is one slight factor….) will not affect your ability to drive that car any faster than any other person with a different biological state, the mental ability and your reactions are far more fundamental in being successful. If women and also men are reminded of this, then perhaps women will be encouraged by their friends, family and in a bigger picture society. The promotion of women racing has already had some effect, despite it not being world changing currently. The women’s only BWRDC (British women racers driving club) is a sporting club made for women only to give women a helping hand in the sport and for women to believe they can race just as fast as men. Initially it is a fantastic idea into getting women into the sport but once they are confident enough, I believe that they should compete in normal events in order to race with men too and to challenge the status quo.
In terms of encouraging women and moving women away from the idea of them not being “taken seriously” as Mr Ecclestone claims, the idea to promote women in motorsport in a more masculine and competitive manner should be noted. Between 2004 and 2007, ITV began showing coverage of a women’s only racing event known as Formula women. Now on first thought, you would think that it’s a good idea and in fact if you turned on ITV without knowing the programme, you’d expect that the gender wouldn’t even be mentioned or known because of helmets and racing outfits (and in some cases, they may even be mistaken for men). But in order to capture that feminine side of women’s racing (that is arguably pressurised by the media and society), the sport was showcased like a reality TV show. This took the seriousness and competitive edge out of the sport completely and ultimately made the racing second priority and the “gossip” and “bitchyness” take a front row lock out like in most reality TV of today.
In order for women to really become a foundation within motorsport racing as actual racers instead of “eye candy” for men in terms or paddock girls, the attitude and encouragement towards women racing needs to be changed drastically. When looking at women professional racers comments on the matter, they all mention the same thing which I believe needs to be implemented in all motor racing. The second you put on the helmet, it isn’t a women against a man. It’s you versus the rest of the drivers of the grid, and you should want to be beat every single last one of them, gender should not be factor.