Just because Margaret Atwood’s “Handmaid’s Tale” made a hit TV series this year does not mean we need to turn this idea into a real life racing series.
Three years ago I received an email. It was the type of email that makes your skin crawl and your blood boil. A consortium in Europe had unilaterally decided that what female racing drivers needed to further their careers was not the funding to keep racing, not support, and not the choice to race where-ever their experience placed them best, but instead that segregation was the way forwards. What’s even worse than this idea is the fact that these clowns were serious. They wanted to put us in second hand, second-rate GP2 equipment whatever our experience levels, and have us racing amongst ourselves in a special sideshow series just for girls, competing for a girl’s only cup. And the cherry, on top of the icing, on top of the cake? This stripping of power away from female athletes, in one of the few sports where men and women can and do compete equally, was being presented as a way to empower us? No thank you.
The, errr, “gentleman” who sent me the email three years ago was somewhat shocked and abashed by my response. You see, as a female racer, I’ve had to fight pretty hard my whole career, and I don’t take well to being patronized by some guy who obviously understands nothing about racing—and even less about being a female in this sport, but who thinks he knows best for me.
Hell hath no fury like a female racing driver scorned.
I didn’t stop with just giving him my opinion in private either. This was too important to sit on. I communicated with several of the motorsport journalists in the UK, I sent them the communication, and I penned a piece for Autosport’s magazine in the UK so that I would get this into as many homes as possible. With help from the motorsport community (most of whom were just as disgusted as I was by this terrible idea, and most of whom were just as worried as I was that it had even got this far), we banished these idiots into the background, and the series was never launched.
Sometimes you have to fight a battle more than once to win it.
This past week I got another email. They’re back, and we’re doing this all over again. This time they have a new front man. Sadly someone who is involved enough in motorsports that he really should know better, and they are much closer than they were last time. They have a suitably patronizing name, and a proposal that if done properly, will cost them millions of dollars.
Let’s think about that for a moment. Either they’re planning on not spending enough money to do this properly, and making this wretched circus into even more of a mockery, or they are planning on spending millions of dollars to back us into a corner where we are forced to make the most difficult decisions of our careers.
As female racers we are racers first, and our gender comes second. We grew up dreaming of winning races, and winning championships, against everyone – the same as every male racer does. We did not grow up dreaming of being segregated, and winning the girl’s only cup.
My position is arguably softer than that of some of my female racer counterparts. I am comfortable with my gender, and I now love that my crash helmet is pink. It allows little girls to pick me out in the races, and know there’s a girl out there they can cheer for. Most of my partners support me because they want to support a strong female program, and a female athlete, in an environment where not enough female athletes get the support they deserve. However every one of my partners also understands that once the helmet goes on — whatever the color I choose to have it painted — I am a racer, and that’s who they are backing.
The backers of this all female championship are not spending their money to support racers like me, in appropriate series where I could be competing full time. Think for a moment how many top line female racers they could put in good equipment in multiple series—all appropriate for the driver’s actual experience level instead of simply using gender as an identifier. Think how far forwards they could be choosing to move the effort for female racers worldwide, think how many more little girls could be cheering on these drivers, think how many dreams could be achieved, and how many new dreams could be inspired. This could be an incredible, empowering opportunity.
Instead of doing this, these people are creating a circus, and they want us as the performing animals. They are reaching out to people like me—preying on vulnerable racers starved of sponsorship for full time rides, and hoping enough of us are desperate enough to get back in a racing car (that we ignore every instinct in our bodies telling us how wrong this is) and just say “yes”. That’s a big enough step alone, but if you sign on the dotted line, you can be sure that they will want you to also smile, and claim this new segregated series is actually a great idea, and how really you don’t mind not being a racer anymore, and being classified solely by your gender first. Oh, and did I mention they want your commercial rights too?
Just as the twisted society of Gilead in the Handmaid’s tale is desperate to sell itself as a real solution to the problems of that imagined 21st century, the ring masters of this travesty are desperate to sell themselves as the solution needed to the sponsorship struggles faced by so many female drivers. Stripping away our identity as racers and forcing us into segregation is not empowerment. Oppression masquerading as opportunity is still oppression.
But amazingly, as we celebrate the 40th anniversary of Janet Guthrie qualifying for the Indianapolis 500 for the first time, there seems to be a faction of the European motorsport community determined to ignore her achievements, all our achievements, and set females in racing back 50 years or more. And we have to fight it.
Count this blog post at the start of #TheResistance to this travesty that is threatening to take hold.
I’m calling on all female racers to flood the Internet. Post photos of yourself racing, of your podiums, your wins, your pole positions and let everyone know that you #SayNoToSegregation and that #WeRaceAsEquals.
I’m calling on all male racers who have raced with female competitors to share photos of you on track with them, on the podium with them and also post that you #SayNoToSegregation and #WeRaceAsEquals too.
I’m calling on anyone who works in racing, who has a voice on social media, who has worked with a female racer to post those photos and back up our position that you too say no to segregation, and we are racers too. The more voices we have, the more noise we make, the harder we can make it for these people to sell their poison.
If they get as far as launching this Fall as they plan, you will then have the opportunity to contact them directly—both via their website, and on social media. I suggest doing both frequently. They will also have to announce their backers, and I strongly suggest that politely, but firmly, everyone connects with them in as many ways as possible, publicly and privately, and letting them know that you appreciate that they want to support female racing talent, but that is not the way. If they get as far as announcing drivers, don’t take your fight to them—remember they have just had to make the hardest decision of their lives to decide to do this—but maybe you could suggest to the backers how incredible it would be to see these drivers funded in REAL racing series, where they are not being asked to demean and degrade themselves, and pretend they are happy to do it.
I want to leave you with two final thoughts based on two conversations on social media.
The first one was a comment on my Facebook page where I first posted in long form about this series, and someone replied to my post that had there been an Indy Lights for girls, (instead of just the current Indy Lights for young male drivers), and there had been somewhere where I could race, think of how great that might have been!
Weird. Could have sworn it wasn’t an issue for me. Maybe they confused my gender because of my last name and let me race anyway?
The second one was someone responding to me on Twitter, pointing out that there is a real problem right now for female drivers trying to find the funding to race — and you only have to look how sparely we are spread throughout major racing series at this point in time to see that he’s right.
However this is a very easy problem to solve, especially if there genuinely are backers who have been sold on the idea of backing female talent. You take the money, and you use it to back female talent, and get them racing again, in non-segregated series, exactly where they should be. When you allow common sense to cloud your judgement, the solution really is that simple. This is the blueprint for how you support talented female racers, and how you empower them to be in good equipment with opportunities to progress.
You don’t do it by bringing Gilead to life at the race track.