In the build-up to the Australian Grand Prix drivers' press conference, the panel were asked what their wish list was for the new owners of Formula 1. It was a just-for-fun question, since Liberty Group are more likely to listen to their shareholders, and perhaps their staffers, than they are to listen to drivers. Predictably for a question everyone knows is a hypothetical, one driver came up with a comment that has filled our inbox with 'WTF was he thinking' comments.
As usual, context determines meaning, so let's look at the full conversation before judging.
From the 5:48 mark, the exchange goes as follows:
Interviewer: [mumbles name and publication] Good afternoon, everyone. I wish us a good press conference and season, and a robust conversation. This question is for the entire panel. This year we have some new owners in F1; it's now owned by Liberty Media, and they have a big, bold vision for the future of F1. What would be your wishlist, top three wishes for the new owners of F1?
Daniel Ricciardo: Race in Vegas. [laughs]
I: What else?
Sebastian Vettel: Race in Germany. [laughs]
DR: [raises hand] I've said mine.
I: Lewis, your thoughts.
Lewis Hamilton: [to Daniel Ricciardo] Miami race?
DR: It's all pretty cool so far.
LH: Yeah. [smiling at Ricciardo and Vettel (both off-camera)] More ladies in the paddock? [to the interviewer] Yeah, more paddock assets...access to some women. There's too many dudes in the paddock. [laughs] [looks at Ricciardo and Vettel]
LH: V12s. I agree.
I: You agree about that?
I: Fernando, your thoughts?
Fernando Alonso: I agree with...[looks at the rest of the panel]...with everything. [smiles] Equal engines for everyone?
[laughs from around the room]
LH: I don't agree with that one.
DR: But not electric.
DR: Not electric.
[laughs from around the room]
Reuters (well, Ian Ransom, whose opinion may or may not reflect the political stance of Reuters at large) interpreted Hamilton's comment as wanting more equality in the paddock, fighting for the rights of women, etc. If one had read a transcript without laughter, body language, and Hamilton's Freudian slip, it would be quite easy to come to that story angle. However, when the use of humour to include/exclude is taken into account, the story reads quite differently.
Humour is used to include those who are intended to laugh at the joke - in this case, Hamilton's (male) peers - and exclude those who the joke is about - in this case, women. This form of exclusionary joking takes place in motorsport paddocks around the world; it's not new or original. It's taken the shape of racism and homophobia and ableism in other discussions, but in the pre-weekend press conference in Australia, it took the form of sexism.
Let's start from the beginning. He's clearly moving the conversation from discussion of race tracks (a neutral topic) to women (a hotly debated topic). He seems oblivious to the overtones of objectification inherent in comparing race tracks (inanimate objects) and women (human beings), and is clearly looking for encouragement or affirmation from his peers. Hamilton is the only one on-camera at this point, so we're left to assume that Vettel, Ricciardo, or both gave a non-verbal cue for him to continue with his joke.
He turns to the interviewer and repeats his statement, with a Freudian slip, substituting assets for access. It's possible that it wasn't a slip at all, but an intentional working in of a word to win a bet; motorsport folk have been doing it for years. However, we will likely never know that. Either it's betraying an unconscious sexist bias (no more sexist than the societal average, but still requiring a call-in), or he's trying to win a bet with someone who thinks 'assets' is a suitably clean word to squeeze innuendo into the press conference for the lulz.
Moving on to 'more access to some women.' He's not talking about having more women around, doing useful jobs and contributing to the community, despite what Ransom wrote for Reuters. He's talking about having access to them. Access for what? Why do racing drivers need access to women specifically, rather than a heterogeneous mix of engineers and mechanics? Or is this not about the racing, and more about the perks of being a racer that happen behind closed doors?
The way he said 'some women' smacks of objectification, as though the context hadn't already set the stage for women being treated as commodities. Some women. Like he's ordering off a menu. 'A race in Miami, and some women on the side, preferably with a bit of whipped cream and a cherry on top.'
'There are too many dudes.' Have you ever noticed that it's always the straight guys who complain that an event is 'a sausagefest' (or women, when they're tired of being hit on for being the only femme-presenting person at the event)? They are there to pick up women for what Buss and Schmitt (1993)* so delightfully term 'short-term opportunistic copulation,' and the high concentration of other penis-owners puts them off. The interview discussion then moves on to bringing back V12 engines.
This is a classic example of objectification – the practice of treating women as objects, usually for the purposes of sexual gratification. In the course of this little Q&A, women – living, breathing humans with minds and wills independent of the men they come into contact with – have been equated with race tracks and V12s – inanimate objects, capable of being bought and sold and generally treated like commodities.
More concerning than the objectification, everyone laughed at the joke. Sure, the sexist comment didn't draw as much laughter as Alonso's equal engine quip, or Ricciardo's joke about electric engines. But it still drew laughter, and was clearly exclusionary to any women in the room/sport, implying that they were there as playthings, rather than legitimate contributors.
This is a disturbing trend, because while the words came out of Hamilton's mouth, all four drivers laughed. If anyone saw a problem with Hamilton's answer, they didn't speak up and were therefore complicit in the sexism. This is the sort of subtle oppression faced by women in motorsport on a daily basis. Their presence is a sex joke.
Ransom's interpretation of Hamilton's comment as a pro-equality statement - for a news agency as respected as Reuters, no less - is perhaps more damaging still. By mis-quoting Hamilton ('more access for the women' not 'more access to women') and putting a positive spin on what was obviously a negative comment, he is pre-emptively silencing anyone who might have had objections.
This erases the lived experiences of women who face sexual harassment on a near constant basis (#NotAllMen harass women, but enough of them do it that it feels like a constant barrage). It serves to normalise the poor treatment of women in the sport, and convince people who might have otherwise picked up on the sexist comment that the party line is that this kind of behaviour is acceptable, even funny.
If we adopt Trevor Noah's 'racism Richter scale' – the suggestion, based on societal patterns of racism, that a lot of things are racist, but some are more immediately destructive than others – and adapt it to be a 'sexism Richter scale,' these – Hamilton's comment, the audience laughs, and Ransom's article – are all microaggressions. On their own, they're not really that big of a deal. People say and do sexist stuff all the time.
They're damaging because people say and do sexist stuff all the time. A small tremor – maybe a 1 or 1.5 on the scale – on its own won't bring your house down. But if you live on a fault that has a 1 or 1.5 earthquake every day, your house will eventually crush you.
It's the same with sexism (and racism, ableism, and other forms of marginalisation). One oppressive comment that gets a laugh from your peer group (clearly excluding you, making your marginalised identity the butt of the joke) might make you feel bad for a day...but if it happens the next day too, and the day after that, and the day after that, you'll end up having a breakdown of some kind.
What can people do instead?
1. If someone wants to make a point about equality, let's start by taking it seriously. This is a topic that affects people's livelihoods, even their right to life in some instances. It deserves to be treated seriously.
2. Treat women as the subject of their own sentence, not the object of yours. Women are people too. They have minds, ambitions, etc. of their own, and deserve, as a function of basic human decency, to be afforded that respect.
3. While we're treating women as the subjects of their own sentences, let's carry that behaviour over into the bedroom. Women have the right to choose to have or not have sex, just as much as men do. They can write their own romantic/sexual narratives. Making female sexuality the butt of a joke strips them of that agency.
Microaggressions do need to be called in when we experience them. If you're too triggered by the comment/incident to do anything other than yell, take a pause (if possible) or tap a feminist wing-buddy in for them to politely call in the offender. To paraphrase Megan Phelps-Roper (a woman who left Westboro Baptist Church), rightness does not justify rudeness. You are challenging an implicit bias that might be a dearly-held part of someone's worldview when you call them in on their oppressive behaviour. Thus, have compassion, hear their side of why they believe/say/do what they believe/say/do, and only after you have done that have you earned the right to call them in. But please do call them in, for the good of everyone.
* I haven't read Buss and Schmitt; I read Ariely and Loewenstein's paper 'Heat of the moment: the effects of sexual arousal on judgement and decision-making' in which they quote Buss and Schmitt. Find the full text of the Ariely/Loewenstein article for free on Dan Ariely's page here. It's informative and Ariely/Loewenstein have a fantastically dorky sense of humour while pointing out a bias we need to watch out for.
After a hiatus, we have a Woman of the Week! This week's featured person is German racing driver Carrie Schreiner. She has won several championships in Germany, and currently races a Lamborghini with FFF Racing.
Bridget Schuil: For those who don't know you, please give us a brief synopsis of your career thus far?
Carrie Schreiner: I started karting in 2009, and after that did a few seasons. Every season I got a bit more serious. In 2012, I won two German championships – one big championship, one not so big – and it was clear to us that I wanted to be a professional driver. So the next logical step was three years later, getting into a formula car. In the beginning, it was very tough, because I was in a strong cohort group. My competitors were all very strong, and German Formula 4 was really hard for me. And I had a difficult start but it got better and better. Our target was always to sit in a GT car, and we were wondering whether I should do Formula 3 to learn a bit more, or to go directly to GT. Then we got the offer from Lamborghini, and that was perfect for us. I'm happy that I got the opportunity to drive with them with FFF Racing.
BS What is your first memory of motorsport?
CS I remember going with my dad to many race tracks. My dad was an amateur driver, alongside his business. I was always with him and my mum at race tracks, and sometimes I also drove with them.
BS What challenges have you faced thus far in your career?
CS At the beginning of last season, I had quite a few TV spots, and there were a few people who told me I wasn't good enough to race. I had to fight a bit with that, but no matter how good or bad you are, if you achieve more than the others, there will always be people who don't like what you do. In the beginning, I had some problems with that, but I think now it's okay because it's normal.
BS What do you love about the sport?
CS What I like about motorsport is that it's a direct fight with other people. You have to beat them, overtake them, defend your position. Yeah, I like racing. That's what it is for me.
BS Who has been the most supportive of your career thus far?
CS My parents. I have had my parents with me from the beginning, especially my dad. He does everything for me, supporting my motorsport. Without him, I wouldn't have my sponsors. I have more than half my racing costs paid from sponsors, so my dad did a really good job there. Without him, I wouldn't drive.
BS Do you think you have been treated differently in motorsport because you're a woman?
CS Maybe sometimes. When a boys do something wrong, maybe the team boss is a bit harder on them than me. But I don't think that there is a big difference.
BS How do you deal with it when you're treated differently?
CS I don't know. I have to take it how it is. I'm a girl, and that's not so common in motorsport. I mean, I do the same things as the guys, and I also try to give my best, and do everything for racing. I have to fight like the boys, maybe a bit more because I'm physically not as naturally strong as them. So for sure I have to fight more, but I want to do the sport. I have to take it how it is and make the best of it.
BS We hear you've got some big news. Would you like to tell us about that?
CS I was really happy to make the announcement last year. Like I said, I got a big chance from FFF Racing. It was a bit unexpected that this drive is coming so soon, because the first races are in February already. For me it's really exciting, because I will drive in fantastic places like Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Shanghai, Fuji. There are a lot of Formula 1 tracks, so it's really, really cool and really exciting. It's a one-year contract, but we aim to do a couple of years. I don't want to drive for one year and then not know what I will do. I don't know if I will stay in Asia, or if I'll go to Europe then completely. I don't know.
BS So you're training hard for the season?
CS Yes, when I'm at home, I train twice a week in the gym to build muscle strength, and maybe four or five times a week running or cycling.
BS Any advice to younger women who want to go into motorsport?
CS They have a reason why they do motorsport and they should never lose sight of that, because there are a lot of people who don't accept that women can be in motorsport. But if you really want something, and if you are ready to fight for something, then it doesn't matter what other people say. You just need to do what you want, what you love, and you can achieve anything.
Suicide is a heavy topic for a Soulcare Sundays piece. I get that. However, in the last few weeks a few people in my inbox have reported suicidal thoughts, and I've had a bout of them myself as a symptom of my illness. About 25% of the population will experience this as a symptom at some point in their lives. It's also the home grand prix of Daniel Ricciardo - a mental health ambassador - this weekend. Thus, it's clearly a topic that should be here and googlable as a reference for y'all if you need it.
The following is how I experience the suicidal spectrum. It's one perspective, and that of someone with bipolar mood disorder. Your experiences, or the experiences of the friend/loved one for whom you are googling, may vary, and so the strategies listed below may or may not work for you. Let this be a starting point, a set of guidelines within which you (or your friend/loved one) can build a set of strategies for dealing with these thoughts when they arise.
Suicide usually arises as a result of long-term untreated (or perhaps drug-resistant) depression. Some depression is the result of a medical illness – that is, it's caused by low levels of neurotransmitters like serotonin in the brain. However, depression can be triggered by an event like realising your dream is dead (see the 90-something percent of millennials who dreamed of a productive job and have found themselves working unfulfilling dead-end jobs and being told to feel grateful). It can also be experienced as part of the natural cycle of grief.
According to the DSM IV (the Fourth Edition of the Diagnostic and Statistics Manual – the American Psychiatric Association's Bible of all the ways in which one can be crazy), the following are symptoms of depression:
1. Depressed mood most of the day.
2. Diminished interest or pleasure in all or most activities.
3. Significant unintentional weight loss or gain.
4. Insomnia or sleeping too much.
5. Agitation or psychomotor retardation noticed by others.
6. Fatigue or loss of energy.
7. Feelings of worthlessness or excessive guilt.
8. Diminished ability to think or concentrate, or indecisiveness.
9. Recurrent thoughts of death
Two symptoms from the list is considered a case of minor depression; five symptoms or more is considered major depression.
I experience depression as a spectrum from a mild 'meh' feeling (mostly 1, 2, 6, 7, and 8, but mildly) to constant intrusive thoughts (thoughts that come from nowhere, often the result of a neurochemical imbalance) of suicide and/or homicide (9, and the only reason I don't act on the homicidal urges is the excessive guilt from 7). I'll go through the general categories from mild to intense.
The Grey, 'Meh' Feeling
Commonly referred to as depression. This is fairly common, and the incidence is rising among young people. It's the feeling that the world is too overwhelming to deal with right now, the feeling that there's no colour left in the world, just pointless shades of grey. If this is left unchecked, it can lead to more serious symptoms.
It's not really possible to 'just snap out of it' and 'just think positive' and get better. Sometimes, a talk therapist (or coach, if the thought of a talk therapist with a doctorate intimidates you) is what's needed. Sometimes, a few months on antidepressants works. Research has shown that a combination of drugs and therapy is the most effective, and the vast majority of cases respond to treatment.
There are people who have drug-resistant depression, but this is a very small percentage of cases. There are experimental treatments, involving either an electromagnet applied to the affected brain regions, or for more serious cases electrodes implanted in the brain kinda like a brain area pacemaker. For others, like me, depression is a symptom of chronic illness, which comes and goes based on stress levels and other factors.
Bottom line: if you have two or more of the symptoms listed above, see a doctor about some treatment. Just because this illness is 'all in your head' doesn't mean it's not an illness. Illnesses like this get worse when they're left to run their course. As tempting as it may seem, DO NOT TOUGH IT OUT ALONE! Asking for help is courage, not weakness.
I would like to say a word here about friendship, random acts of kindness, exercise, and keeping a bullet journal, which I have found helpful in alleviating the symptoms of this phase of the spectrum. Always, always see a doctor for appropriate treatment, but friendship and exercise are like turbochargers for drugs and therapy.
Having deep conversations with a loved one produces oxytocin, which is one of the four neurotransmitters dubbed 'the happy hormones'. Cuddling, orgasms with/from others, and holding a baby (those last two preferably not at the same time), among other similar activities, all produce this hormone. Make time to do these things, even if you don't feel like it.
Being kind to others, having kindness shown to us, and seeing other people be kind to each other all produce serotonin in the brain. I find paying for a stranger's coffee is usually enough to make my serotonin spike into the 'warm and fuzzy' zone. Other options include: tipping a busker, giving a sandwich and a box of sanitary towels (click here to find out why) to a homeless person, writing an appreciative note, keeping a log of things for which I'm grateful in my journal, etc.
Exercise stimulates the production of endorphins. Endorphins exist to relieve the pain caused by the small tears in muscle tissue caused by exercise. They last for about a day after exercise (and then we notice something called Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness). Good news for people with depression, what psychologists call 'psychic pain' (aka 'feels') looks like physical pain on a brain scan. Thus, nature's physical pain killers work for painful feelings of the 'all in the head' variety too. You may not feel like going for a bike ride, but strap your helmet on and get out there for your happiness.
We get dopamine from achieving goals. Dopamine feels good. Dopamine is the chemical that gets people hooked on drugs (including everyday drugs like sugar and caffeine). We also get dopamine from ticking things off to-do lists. A way to hack dopamine when you're feeling grey is to keep a 'done' list – a page in the diary for the day, on which you write things as you accomplish them. Sure, we're supposed to schedule ahead of time, but that's not always possible with depression. I got that tip from Buzzfeed; their article on bullet journalling for mental health has been helpful for me.
The 'Why Do I Bother Living' Feeling
This is a more intense version of depression. This is when the happy hormones (serotonin, oxytocin, dopamine, and endorphins) drop low enough that living and dying seem like equal options. I usually feel this in response to a specific incident that highlights how far I am from achieving something. When this feeling hits, if you're not already on anti-depressants and in therapy for your depression, this is the meatball flag that sends you back into the pits for a tune-up, or at least find a friend to talk you into doing so.
I find a good, long hike works to get me back on the happiness wagon if I get this feeling despite being 'observant of the drug regimen' (the psychiatrist's words, not mine). This is supported by the data for three reasons:
1. By spending six hours exercising, my brain has a good dose of pain-killing hormones to relieve it of its psychic pain.
2. I usually go hiking with friends (woodland safety practice – hike in groups of three), and in six hours together, we'll have time to get through what ails all of us, giving us a nice dose of oxytocin and serotonin, alongside the endorphins.
3. It has been shown by scientists that fifteen minutes of walking improves performance on creativity tests. The IQ of a group is always higher than the IQ of any individual member. Thus, if I take a walk with a geek for six hours effectively bathing my brain in happy hormones, I'll eventually come up with a creative way to solve the problem that is causing my 'why do I bother living' feelings.
APA's (American Psychiatry Association) name for it, not mine. I call it 'having the suicides'. This is when I spend a lot of time thinking about dying – how I'd do it, what I'd need to do before I did it to not be thought of as selfish, etc. Mostly how I'd do it. I'm not a cutter, so I usually have to find a way to kill myself that doesn't hurt too badly or run the risk of failure (most methods involving pills induce puking, which is counter-productive to dying).
Ways to deal with this: call a suicide hotline, a trained mental health care-giver, or a friend who's good at talking people off the ledge. I have a collection of friends (a soldier, an engineer, a pastor and psychologist, and someone who describes her job as 'a house elf') who understand how the whole 'suicidal thoughts' thing works and how to lead me through the valley. I do have a therapist whom I could call, but I get irrationally worried that she'd hospitalise me if she knew I was thinking about it so I wait for our next session to discuss it. Waiting for our next session also helps if I don't get the chance to talk to someone in the meantime.
If, for whatever reason, you can't call someone, there are ways I have found to talk myself off the ledge. Don't worry, I'm not going to tell you to 'think positive' and 'be grateful for all the good stuff in your life'. That doesn't work at this point. The only way is to go deeper into the canyon and follow the river at the bottom out into the sunshine.
Ways to push myself deeper into the canyon include: thinking of how sad my dog would be if I went out one day and never came home; how awful my corpse would look and how scarred the person who found me would be (this is more effective if I think of one of my parents or a close friend finding me, rather than a stranger); all the things I'm going to have to do to commit suicide responsibly (make sure my browser history is parent-friendly, make sure there's someone to run my non-personal social media accounts, lodge my will with a lawyer, etc.); thinking of what a waste it would be that nobody would be able to receive my donated organs because I'd been dead for too long when someone finds my body; medical students practising vaginal exams on my corpse while I'm in the morgue; thinking of how few people would come to my funeral because they'd feel too awkward about mine being a suicide funeral to show up.
That last one generally leads me to, 'Well, that'd be a waste of a perfectly good croque en bouche, and I'm not dying without everyone getting a sugar/dopamine high from a croque en bouche at my funeral.' The list above are morbid thoughts, for sure. But if you're reading that list instead of killing yourself, you're already one step closer to recovery. There's a contact form below. If you haven't got a local suicide hotline, or a friend you trust enough to ask for help, explain your situation to us, and we'll do our best to find you appropriate help.
Intrusive Thoughts of Suicide
This is when literally everything that can be used to kill myself is a temptation. I see a kitchen knife? I have a mental image of slitting my wrists. I see a lamp post while driving fast? I have a mental image of crashing into it. Literally everything reminds me of a way to kill myself. I've only ever had this symptom when I've been off my meds for a few months, and/or when I quit smoking. It's not part of my normal experience.
I'm a coach (rather than a psychiatrist), but I'd bet that if you have this symptom you have a similar illness to me. The only treatment for this is medication and intensive talk therapy. There's no 'happy hack' to get out of this one. This is only fixable by psychiatry professionals with practising licenses. If you have this symptom, get medical help as soon as humanly possible.
You will find a contact form below. If this piece has resonated with you, feel free to use the form. If you found this piece because you googled 'suicide' to find out more about your symptoms (or, God forbid, find out how to kill yourself), feel free to use it. If you are a coach/therapist who'd like to be on call for people in your area with this issue, feel free to use it. The inbox is open for you to chat about this issue.
Hello, and welcome to Feminism Fridays. We've noticed a few trends within the motorsport community that relate to feminism. People are being sexist (homophobic, racist, etc.), and other people are attempting to call them out on it.
The trouble comes in that the vast majority of the people who know that what they're witnessing is hateful, but don't seem to have the words to call the behaviour by its name. Alternatively, they don't want to be called out for being feminists, so avoid naming the behaviour. Either way, feminists of all genders are being beaten down by trolls.
Sexism these days isn't as obvious as it used to be. Sure, there are still calls for sandwich-making, but the majority of what we've seen in the social media surveys has been subtle, crazy-making sexism. The kind of sexism that makes you think, 'Hang on, am I overreacting?'
It's the kind of discrimination that erases or minimises the lived experiences of marginalised groups. It's the kind that furthers damaging stereotypes (like Google Images suggesting 'angry' as the first qualifier on a search for 'feminist'). It's the kind that normalises rape culture and muddies the waters of consent. It's sideways looks and strategic sighs. It's not behaviour that, on its own, anyone can point to and say, 'There! That is where the sexism/racism/ableism/homophobia/transphobia is!'
It's also the kind of thing you hear said offline, rather than in print. Nobody wants to be shamed for their opinions, so those opinions come out as jokes that everyone except the marginalised people (who are often the butts of the jokes) laugh at. And then, if there's a call-in or call-out about the topic of the joke, the person objecting is made to believe they are the ones with the problem.
Alternatively, it's the kind of discrimination that We The Feminists see and write about copiously online, only to be ignored by governing bodies. See the silence from everyone big and official on the subject of Danny Watts' coming out for an example of that. There's always a reason why our point is invalid to them (usually pointed out self-righteously by a white cis-het man with a Twitter account), but contrary to popular belief not all opinions are equal; some opinions are supported by the data.
It's the kind of problem that only shows up when someone writes a piece on their personal blog about how it feels to be a woman in motorsport, whether as a racer, as an independent contractor, or as a fan. (Check out the links under that sentence; they're good pieces.) It goes undiscussed for the most part, because there isn't a place to talk it out and make policy suggestions. Well no more.
These are the things we will be discussing. We'll focus on one trend or behaviour at a time, give you the theoretical grounding for why it's objectionable, and provide some suggestions for how to combat it in future. Hopefully, this will arm you for the battle against the trolls, since 'don't feed the trolls' hasn't sent them away thus far.
We have started a group on Facebook called Miseducation of Motorsport for asking questions and discussing the discriminatory stuff that affects us. The rules are simple – treat others with respect; call in, don't call out; report anything you can't handle to a mod for handling. Feminism Friday discussions will be hosted in that group, because it's an easier interface than Weebly's [our builder program's] comments threads.
At the bottom of every Feminism Friday piece, we will have a contact form. If you would like to ask further questions, join the Miseducation of Motorsport group on Facebook, report an incident, or suggest a topic for us to write about, feel free to use it. Feminist discourse is all about being able to ask questions, so we have built some reasonably scalable features into the series to have this discourse thing with y'all.
Data protection clause for the contact form: We will never share your details with a third party without your written consent. Any sharing of details will be on a case-by-case basis for the furthering of your career, or networking you to achieve the community's goals. In the event of you being added to a mailing list, email will be sent once per week at most, and unsubscribing will be easy and guilt-free.
See you next week for our first topic!
Today is International Women's Day, a day set aside to value women. We make up about 50% of the population, and make an estimated 80% of household purchasing choices. So why are we special enough to warrant an international day just to celebrate our existence?
Much like Gay Pride festivals, this party started as a protest. A protest against the systematic oppression of women. We're half the population, but not half the workforce. Motorsport has achieved 20% women in some teams, with 'support' roles – administrative, PR, etc. – making up the majority of women in the sport. An astonishingly low 9% of British engineering graduates are women.
Since today is a party, let's play a party game. I'll describe the Bechdel Test, and you tell me whether your televised motorsport coverage passes. Leave comments at the end of the article if your coverage passes, because we'd love to big up your broadcasters for doing a great job.
The Bechdel Test is usually applied to films and TV series to see how feminist they are. (As I describe it, think back over the last ten films/series you watched, and see whether they passed.) To pass the test, a show needs to have: 1) at least two women, 2) who speak, 3) to each other, 4) about something other than a man.
It's a pretty low bar, to be honest. Anyone can find two women and have them talk about something other than a man, especially when the scripted topic of conversation is race cars. And yet I can't think of a motorsport series whose broadcasters pass the test.
Formula E has women a-go-go on their broadcasts. Yay! But they don't speak to each other, and when they do, it's about men. On the few occasions when De Silvestro was interviewed, she was usually asked more about her (male) competitors than her car.
Maybe having Susie Wolff as an expert on Channel 4 will tip the balance? Except she's rarely on the show (replaced by a man for those shows), and when she is they have her talking to and about men. Rare is the interview where she spoke to Claire Williams, Monisha Kaltenborne, or one of the female engineers in the paddock. It would seem the only F1 engineer who seems to have evaded the 'no press' clause in their contract is Rob Smedley, a man (whom we love with an abundant affection, but that doesn't change his gender). And let's not forget the cries of 'that's a very politically correct presenter line-up' when C4 announced the crew last year (yeah, two people of colour, one of whom has a disability, and two women to eight abled white men is 'politically correct').
Nobody wants to be hired for their gender (or race, sexuality, or other intersecting and/or marginalised identity), so the imbalance remains. Affirmative action initiatives are met with emotions ranging from low-grade suspicion to outright antipathy. #NotAllMen, but it's usually the (cis-het, white, middle class) men who kick up the most antipathy in the Twitter storms, while women seem to choose suspicion, having been burned enough times in the past to curb their enthusiasm.
There are an increasing number of initiatives to include women in motorsport. D2BD run networking events. The British Women Racing Driver's Club (BWRDC) is launching a facebook page today, inviting women in motorsport to post pictures of themselves in motorsport, with the goal of connecting them with each other. We've got a calendar of events planned this year to skill-up the feminist motorsport crowd, and a facebook group to teach people the feminism they need to survive in the sport. We can live in hope that one day our motorsport coverage will pass the Bechdel Test.