Our current Woman of the Week is Tatjana Hanser. Tatjana started her sporting career in show jumping, and got bitten by the motorsport bug while attending a race weekend. She is currently running a crowdfunding campaign to participate in the 24 Hours of Nürburgring that times out on the 8th of May (check out her page and donate here).
Annika Göcke: What is your first memory of motorsport?
Tatjana Hanser: My first memory of motorsport is my side job in DTM (German Touring Car Masters) in 2004. I was organising the stage show and branding as well as the riser for the chart show – just all the trappings. I also met various racing drivers, engineers and mechanics.
AG That is an interesting start. How did you end up behind the wheel then?
TH I quickly realised that cars, their sound and the smell of fuel are something special. I am somebody who is originally coming from show jumping in the field of horse riding. So I am a lateral entrant. However, I wanted to be more than just a spectator.
When I found out that there are way too few women in the sport, I decided that I wanted to be the one to increase the percentage of female racers overnight. I got my race licence and followed a step by step approach: some tests first, soon after met an acquaintance over Facebook who is active in motorsport for many years and who took me by his hand; he introduced me to different topics and people. And that is how I stepped into a race car and ended up racing.
AG What was your first race?
TH I started racing on my favourite race track, the Nordschleife, in the sublevel of VLN, the RCN (Rundstrecken Challenge Nürburgring) - circuit racing challenge Nürburgring in a BMW in 2013.
AG What do you love about racing?
TH I love the speed and the thrill! I really need this adrenaline rush. And the cooperation of humans and machines is fascinating.
This year I am driving a Porsche in the GT4 class and there will be a short movie filmed during this year's 24 hour race which is surely exciting!
AG In your opinion: what makes VLN special?
TH The Nordschleife! With its nearly 25km, it is the most unique, maddest, dangerous, exciting and amazing race track in the world.
AG How do you support your racing habit?
TH I am paying my racing habit out of my own pocket, also having a side job. Another important thing is looking for sponsors. No way aroundit – no matter how good or talented you are. You won't be able to prove how great you are without the necessary money which is why I am always and continuously looking for sponsors.
AG You said that you are working alongside racing, what do you do?
TH I have a full-time job as administrator in the financial sector. In my side-job I am an instructor for Porsche.
AG What have been the highlights for you thus far?
TH My personal highlight thus far have been competing the 24 hour race last year. When it comes to motorsport this has always been my dream and my aim. And I reached it last year and additionally finished the race which is not usual.
AG Who has been the most supportive of your career thus far?
TH I supported myself. My parents only have a little or no connection to motorsport. My father has been to a few Formula 1 races or joined me at the DTM every now and then but that's it. My mother is rather worried about me and would prefer knitting as my hobby (laughs.) Apart from my my acquaintance mentioned above, I was mainly fighting for myself.
AG What are the biggest challenges facing you in motorsport?
TH To be a woman in a business that has traditionally been the domain of men is the biggest challenge! You partly have to use your elbows to make a clear 'thus far and no further' statement. Sometimes you are being laughed at and the best answer to that is delivering good results and times on track. Dear men, look at my references and my lap times – I have no reason to hide!
AG Have you encountered sexism, and if so how do you deal with it?
TH Unfortunately, this has been the case when some men noticed that I'll be racing on a Porsche in this years 24 hour race. And I was surprised when I found out that they tried to bad-mouth me, stating I wouldn't be good enough for that. But I was able to prove the opposite with a quick reference time and as I said before this is the only way to send them a proper answer. You have to quickly shake these kind of things off, otherwise they make you go crazy.
AG What advice would you give to girls and young women wanting to get into motorsport?
TH Follow your goals! The route becomes the destination is also my motto. No matter how, bite through, continue to fight and live for your passion.
In this, the fourth episode in the anatomy of trust, we're exploring the concept of the vault. This is basically slang speak for keeping confidentiality. As in, what you tell me gets put in the vault and only you and I can access it.
The vault is a very important part of trust. Someone telling our secrets is the first form of betrayal most of us experience from our peers. If I were to ask you to describe an incident in which someone violated your confidentiality in a way that ended a friendship, you could no doubt point out an incident in primary school (or perhaps even before) as the first time it happened.
Violating confidentiality is a betrayal, and often we find ourselves unable to trust that person again. It shows that they value our private life and the relationship we share less than we do. Clearly, they don't respect us enough to keep our secrets.
That's pretty self-evident, to be honest. We all know how awful it feels to have some stranger casually mention something we had only told one person. But that's not the end of it – gossiping is a version of this trust-breaker.
Think about it: if that person is telling you all of someone else's juicy drama...what do they do with your stuff? Gossiping is a habit that's hard to break, and giving someone inside gossip erodes the trust they feel for us. If you gossip to someone about a third party, I guarantee you they are less likely to tell you anything sensitive in future.
Leaking confidential work details leads to being sacked, regardless of sector or industry. And yet often we (as women generally, obviously there are exceptions to this rule) put up with people breaking confidence in our personal lives. It somehow seems less important if someone leaks news of our new relationship before it's Facebook official.
But the data strongly suggest that relationships – particularly family or close personal relationships, in case anyone in the audience is related to a serial gossip – in which privacy is not respected are more likely to result in abuse. If the gossiper isn't an active abuser, it still creates a pattern in our lives that makes it easier for the jerks to fly under our radars and take advantage of us. The low-grade trust erosion of gossip acclimates us to an unhealthy norm, which leaves an open door for bigger, badder problems down the road.
Now that we're clear on ridding our lives of trust violators, how are we supposed to know if new people are respectful of privacy?
First up, listen to how they talk about other people. That's a really good indicator of how they'll talk about you when your back's turned. If they give you the latest dirt on everyone they know, walk on by without sharing any of your stuff. Even some name-dropping behaviour is included in this category – is the famous person the star of the story they're telling, and is their identity and past work relevant to the punch line (which justifies them mentioning that so-and-so was there), or are they simply peppering their stories with famous names to make themselves look well-connected?
If they don't gossip to you, start them off with small things. Pick topics that don't trigger you or others close to you, and share from those. Encourage them to share on a similar level. If they 1) remember that you told them something significant, and 2) don't gossip about you, they can be trusted with bigger things. Repeat the process until you have a friendship.
What about racers trying to figure out if they can trust journalists who request interviews? Sometimes you can think an interview went great, and discover that you've been mis-quoted and taken out of context and the internet now says you said something you never intended to say. Do a little bit of research on their work before you accept the interview, and trust your gut.
Find interviews they've done of people whose voices you're familiar with. If the voices in the interviews sound recognisably authentic – they show the same biases as in other interviews, they follow the same path of logical thought, they use the same words – the journalist has probably rendered it honestly. If you can find the source material, read the entire conversation to get the context, and check whether the rendered version sounds plausible. If it sounds too good to be true – eg. Hamilton being mis-quoted to say that there should be more women in motorsport – check for independent sources to verify the journalist's agenda.
If you're the one in the interviewer's chair, give people comfort before asking questions. If you think a topic might be a sensitive one, ask permission before asking the question, and respect their 'no' if they give you one. If possible, let people look over the transcript before it goes to print so they can edit their comments if they think they're being misrepresented. Be honest about your agenda for the interview; we all have agendas in our work, and they can decline if your agenda doesn't match theirs.
Basically, the vault comes down to respect. If we have unconditional positive regard for others, we will respect their basic human right to privacy. That right is only forfeit when someone is in violation of the law – rapists and fraudsters, for example – and telling the truth about them to the authorities is the egalitarian choice. The only other caveat is if someone tells you they want to hurt/kill themselves; then you can take them to the hospital for observation. Otherwise, the vault is bullet-proof.
Last weekend, Formula 4 racer Billy Monger had a crash that has resulted in his lower legs being amputated. David Birrell, a veteran who lost his legs in Afghanistan and now races, wrote a public post on Monger's Facebook fan page, offering him hope for a future racing career without needing special adaptations to the car. A lot of (abled) people pointed out that Alex Zanardi had continued his racing career after a disabling accident.
Now seems a good time to talk about disability in racing. There are racers with amputated limbs (google Alex Zanardi, David Birrell, Gemma Trotter) and paralysis (google Nathalie McGloin) as a result of past injuries. There are also people in the community with less visible disabilities. For example, I know people who are wicked with a race car, but are functionally illiterate due to disorders like dyslexia. There are some who, through their learning disabilities, are only capable of very basic maths (usually speed and other applied things to do with race cars), and suffer from the lack of financial and mathematical literacy. There are people (myself included) with mental illness that gets in the way of normal work function.
And yet we still see ableism rearing its ugly head. It's subtle ableism. It's not like anyone will make fun of a physically disabled person, or intentionally trip up a blind person. The ableism is mostly 'just words' that betray implicit biases.
The ableism is apparent when commentators point out that Zanardi has a disability whenever he gets in or out the car, and several times during his stint. It's apparent when, over a twenty-four hour race, Zanardi's disability gets more mentions than his driving. People are – consciously or unconsciously – showing 'Alex Zanardi the disabled racer' rather than 'Alex Zanardi the great racer who happens to have a disability'.
I've not asked Zanardi about this, but it's quite likely that he has several overlapping identities – for example: man, racer, Italian – that have nothing to do with his disability, although that would likely be on the list of identities he holds. 'Sufferer/enjoyer of bipolar affective disorder' is only one part of my identity. People with disabilities tend to see themselves as people primarily, and the disability is a secondary identity.
The abled world sees the disability first and the humanity second. 'Disabled person,' rather than 'person with a disability.' 'Paraplegic racer, Alex Zanardi,' rather than 'Alex Zanardi, racer and hand cyclist.' 'Amputee Gemma Trotter,' rather than 'racer Gemma Trotter.' I'm guilty of calling Alexander the Great, 'Alexander the Wildly Bipolar' (he was; nobody wakes up one morning and invades every country from Macedonia to India without a few manic episodes along the way to keep up the momentum), but do you see how conceptualising people as primarily disabled is dehumanising?
See also: 'girl racer, Simona De Silvestro,' 'quick for a girl,' 'black racer, Lewis Hamilton,' 'Bruno Senna, nephew of the late, great Ayrton Senna,' and the list goes on. Identifying people solely or primarily by their marginalised identities, othering experiences, or things that come from the random results of genetics or circumstance rather than by their accomplishments is dehumanising.
Fetishisation is also dehumanising. People have found our Woman of the Week interview with Trotter by searching 'big boobs amputee' (when the photo brief that accompanies every interview request is 'no “sexy” pics'). Being a fan of Gemma Trotter because she's a lovely person and strong woman and a great role model for life after amputation is a good thing; jerking off to pics of random amputees without getting their consent or caring about their back-stories is fetishisation. This rant could be had about most marginalised groups (see erotica that compares non-white skin colours to food – eg. chocolate, caramel; see the stereotype that non-white people are hyper-sexual; see calling women sluts and bitches as a default term for femme-identified vagina owners).
A fairly common form of discrimination against people with disabilities is using them as inspiration porn. I don't know if you've noticed, but throughout this article, I have only really mentioned the most productive minority of people with disabilities. This is the sort of shoddy journalism that contributes to this stereotype. While I don't know many by name, there are legions of people in the fanbase and blogosphere who anonymously struggle with disabilities. But we turn to Zanardi and McGloin and Birrell and Trotter as examples when discussing disabilities in racing.
While having role models is important to people shortly after their diagnoses (or, if they have a disabling incident while very young, important for kids), this kind of storytelling is quite biased. It sets up an unconscious expectation that all people with disabilities need to become over-achievers to be important enough to have their stories heard and valued; they need to push themselves and strive to be 'as good as an abled person.' In reality, becoming an over-achiever is a personal choice, and nothing to do with a disability or lack thereof.
The opposite trap is also a potential hazard – that is, erasing the experiences of people with disabilities. When a racer with a disability brings it up, the interviewer is obviously uncomfortable, and skips on to a safer topic. (I have also seen this kind of erasure and minimisation happen to women and people of colour in motorsport while talking about issues that affect them, but point aside.)
What,then, can the press do when writing about racers with disabilities without offending someone? I acknowledge that the middle ground is narrow and poorly defined (to abled people). Ideally, remember that people with disabilities are primarily people. Write about people with disabilities as respectfully as you would write about abled people.
Please don't qualify their names with 'disabled' in your lead paragraph, even if the rest of the article is about their disability. We can google it if we need to figure out why Zanardi cycles with his hands rather than his feet. If for whatever reason you feel compelled to discuss their disabling incidents, do so in the same way you would discuss the past crashes of able-bodied racers. It's a thing that happened; we the press and public should be respectful in how we write/talk about people's medical histories, but not shy away from the topic if they bring it up.
McGloin has spoken in the past about starting an organisation for racers with disabilities (Nathalie, if mentioning you by name pings a google alert you have on yourself, get in touch, we'd love to collaborate on an international organisation), but there has been no news about that since. There is a British organisation – BMSAD, the British Motorsport Association for the Disabled (http://www.bmsad.co.uk/) – who work to help people with a wide range of disabilities get competition licenses through the MSA. If another such organisation exists – an international one, or one for a country other than the UK – they're not easily googlable.
As Birrell said to Monger, there is hope for people with disabilities to have the quality of life they want. There are facilities and car adaptations available, if necessary. Humans are fantastically adaptable creatures, and can acclimate to almost any set of circumstances. Seriously, research has shown that one year on from the initial interview, the 'won the lottery' test group had effectively the same level of life satisfaction as the 'lost one or more limbs' test group.
The response to the crowdfunding page set up to fund Monger's rehabilitation and prosthetics has been overwhelmingly positive. There is a kart race planned for early May to raise money for his ongoing treatment, and he could continue his career very successfully. However, it's quite telling of the attitude towards disabilities that there have been women and gay racers in Formula 1, but nobody with a disability that is either easily noticeable (eg. an amputated limb) or invisible but publicly discussed during their racing career (eg. dyslexia and mental illness). We wish Billy Monger a speedy recovery from his injuries, and a supportive community through his rehabilitation. Maybe he'll be the first racer with a disability to get a superlicense and race in F1.
This third episode in the series about the anatomy of trust is A for Accountability. Accountability means taking responsibility for your mistakes, and holding others accountable for theirs. Simon Sinek says you can't take credit for your successes if you don't take accountability for your mistakes. Watch him talk about accountability for a few minutes...
It's impossible to be accountable on your own. We're social animals, and we need to be accountable to other people. But do we really need to be accountable?
Let's look at a recent example in motorsport, F1's event in Suzuka in 2014. There was extreme bad weather forecast, and race organisers were advised to bring the race time forward. The race went ahead at the scheduled time, and several drivers crashed, including Jules Bianchi.
The report on the investigation into Bianchi's crash concluded that it was driver error, prompting the Bianchi family to bring a civil suit against several motorsport entities. This is an entirely avoidable lawsuit.
If that report had concluded that the conditions leading to the driver error was forced by extreme weather, the Bianchi family would have been able to remember Jules as a good driver in bad circumstances. If the writers of the report had been less busy covering their own backsides, and spent more time thinking about the impact of their words, it might have turned out differently. The Bianchis would have been able to retain some dignity in Jules' memory.
Most of us don't fail as epically as the race and series organisers did that day. Most of us fail in ways that are embarrassing, humiliating, guilt-ridden, or shameful, rather than legally punishable – we do understand that if the race and series organisers admitted guilt, they may have ended up in prison for negligence that lead to a fatality. But if we want to be trusted in the long run, we have to allow people to hold us to account.
Let's just get something straight: accountability is not blame. To quote Brené Brown, 'accountability is most often motivated by the desire to repair and renew – it is holding someone responsible for their actions and the consequences of their actions.
'On the other hand, we often use blame to discharge overwhelming feelings of fear and shame: “This is painful – who can I blame? I'll blame you! You are bad and this is your fault.” Inherent in holding ourselves or others accountable for our behaviour is expecting change or resolution like shame, blame shuts us down and is not an effective tool for change.'
With that comparison in your mind, do you think in the example above, the lawsuit is motivated by blame or accountability? If we blame Ecclestone et al. for Jules' accident, are they likely to be safer in future? If we hold them accountable for not moving the race forward in a way that doesn't label them as inherently bad people, are they going to feel more empowered to say, 'You know what? Let's loss the TV audience ratings, and move the race time forward for safety,' next time there's a typhoon forecast for a race weekend?
Ideally, we want to be held accountable by people we trust. Get to know someone well before accepting accountability from them. It can be very traumatic to have an accountability partner – or boss – who regularly engages in crazy-making behaviours.
If someone goes straight to attack and criticism, they are not a safe accountability person. If someone never sees your side of the story, always playing 'devil's advocate' when you're talking about your experiences, they are not suitable. If someone makes you question your perception and reality to make themselves seem better, they are engaging in a behaviour called 'gaslighting,' which is considered emotional abuse.
Healthy accountability is when someone probes why you did what you did, and is willing to soundboard possible alternative solutions to the problem. Healthy accountability aims for guilt (you/we did something bad) rather than shame (you/we are something bad), and will go to the point of pulling you out of a shame spiral so you can hear the real message. Healthy accountability is kind and respectful during the criticism.
And the best way to respond? With a genuine apology. Marshall Rosenberg argues against apologies in 'Speak Peace In A World Of Conflict,' because his definition of an apology doesn't include genuine remorse. Harriet Lerner, in her work on apologies, says that a good apology includes an empathic expression of the hurt done to the other person.
Lerner says in her course on apologies that 'a real apology conveys that they get it, that what you say makes sense, and your feelings about the hurt are real. A real apology recognises the validity of pain.' A real apology 'feels genuine. The other person must really have listened, and convey that they get it, what they said or did was wrong, and they won't do it again.'
Going back to the Suzuka 2014 example, if people had expressed how sorry they were for the multitude of tiny errors that led to Jules' accident, the lawsuit could have been avoided. There were a myriad of contributing factors that led to the crash, but the report ruled that it was entirely Jules' driver error. If each person who made a mistake or choice that led to the crash had apologised sincerely for their part, the Bianchi's pain would have been lessened by being recognised by the wider community, and they would be significantly less likely to bring a court action.
Taking accountability for the failures isn't easy. Nobody's saying that it's easy to say, 'I did wrong; I see the pain I caused you. I'm sorry, and will do [the following] to remediate my actions in that moment.' It uses emotional reserves to process what your part was in the wrongdoing, how that probably felt to the person on the receiving end, how you can learn and grow from the experience, and what you can do better next time.
It's also not easy to say, 'I think that thing you did was unfair/unkind/unethical. I would like an acknowledgement of how much it hurts to receive your behaviour. In future, please would you do this instead, as that benefits both/all of us in the long run.' It's especially difficult if the person you're holding to account is your boss, teacher, parent, or someone in a position of power over you, and more especially in high power distance cultures (read Malcom Gladwell's 'Outliers' for several chapters on the effects of cultural power distance on success in the workplace). Not all leaders subscribe to the belief that everyone in an organisation should be able to give performance feedback to everyone.
Most of the biological processes in our bodies exist on feedback loop systems. Hormone levels are driven by feedback loops. Muscle movement is governed by feedback loops. Heart rate is governed by a feedback loop. We can't claim to have evolved past the need for feedback loops in our friendships and work lives.
This is why accountability is so important to trust. We can't trust someone who claims to be above reproach; we're all human, and therefore all make mistakes at some point. We instinctively know that anyone who tries to exempt themselves from that is untrustworthy.
We want your feedback in the comments or the social media threads. Have you successfully held someone accountable? How did you do it? Have you been held accountable in ways that left you feeling empowered to change? How did they do it?
Today's Good Friday and and important part of Pesach (Passover). This holiday in both Christianity and Judaism is about redemption. In keeping with the spirit of that, instead of picking out an incident from the past week, we're going to look into an issue that underpins a lot of oppressive behaviour, both in motorsport and elsewhere. That is, the lack of community, loosely defined as 'trusting personal relationships,' in the workplace and fairly broadly among Millennials as a generation. Going back to the Bechdel test mentioned in our Women's Day post, point number three in the test is that the women speak to each other.
This may seem trivial. What difference does it make whether women speak to each other? Surely it's enough that we have women (and people of colour, queer people, people with disabilities) in motorsport for young kids to look up to and find role models?
It isn't. We are social animals, and really need connection. We're hard-wired to seek it, and will attempt to form connections with everyone. We feel screwed over when someone betrays our trust, even if we were only casual acquaintances. This is especially so when we spend the vast majority of our waking hours working, and slowly lose touch with non-motorsport friends, leaving us vulnerable when a crisis eventually hits.
When Caterham were busy imploding, the community feel of the team is what saved individual members from disaster. Department heads wrote glowing references for their subordinates to help them get a job elsewhere; information about what was happening in the team was shared between peers via text outside of work. Having built relationships with their team mates helped them survive.
It's not only in crisis situations that community is useful. Studies have shown that when employees know how much each other earn, they are more likely to insist on equal pay for all. In other words, if we all knew how much each other earned, the gender pay gap would be way less of an issue than it is now. That's one huge benefit of community and communication.
Having community even lowers risk of disease – from the common cold to heart disease – and extends life expectancy. Nobody knows why per se, but it's been suggested that socialising with people who accept us boosts the immune system. This would make sense for us as social animals.
In contrast, isolation is toxic. Social isolation feels like physical pain, and you can literally die of loneliness. Lonely people are more likely to die of heart attacks than people in happy relationships. You can literally die of a broken heart – one study showed if your partner of several decades dies, you are exponentially more likely to die within a year or two if you don't have community.
Isolation also breeds paranoia. We think everyone else has it better than we do, especially when we see (only) their highlights reel on Facebook. We think they're earning more than us, and we think they're happier than us.
Isolation is perfectly normal for minorities. If there are ten departments of ten people each (for ease of maths) in a team, and each department has one woman (which is approximately representative of the proportion of female engineering graduates in the UK), ten percent of the team is female. That's respectable for a company composed mostly of engineers and mechanics. But they'll only ever meet each other if they're on break and in the cafeteria at the same time, or are assigned tasks together.
Community is how we set our norms and morals. We accommodate other people's quirks, needs, squicks, and triggers when we've formed enough of a relationship to know about them. For example, my Trump-supporting friends reached a 'don't ask, don't tell' truce with me after I wrote a detailed post on Facebook about why I find him morally offensive (I didn't change their minds about him, but at least I no longer get trolled for supporting Bernie and Hillary over the tangerine misogynist). In four years' time, someone who doesn't grab pussies will be in the White House, and we can resume discussions of politics and current affairs.
It is only around other people that we find out that behaviour that makes us uncomfortable makes other people uncomfortable too. Dealing with a workplace bully, for example, is made easier when you know it's not just you, and a group action can be made with HR. Most of the sexist and other discriminatory behaviours I've discovered thus far have come either from someone telling me that I was justified in feeling wronged, or called me in on my own internalised oppression. Those conversations were had with someone I knew and trusted enough to ask their opinion.
So, how can you have community (if you don't already)? By nurturing it for others. Be the one who gets everyone's numbers and organises girls-only drinks (or recovering-alcoholics-only teas, or whatever suits your othering identity/ies). Be the one who says hi to the new kid like you in the department/team. If you have subordinates who are minorities, occasionally assign them tasks with people who share their marginalised identity (bonus pounts awarded for you as a leader if the inter-disciplinary work looks good on their CV).
Find others like you on social media, form relationships, and arrange to meet up in person at events you both think sound like fun days out. Meeting up is important. We build far stronger connections when we can touch and smell other humans than when we just inbox each other (even though we often talk about deep stuff by DM, our minds don't fully conceptualise the other person until we touch and smell them). Science says so.
Community only works if everyone works at it. Millennials are one of the most disconnected generations in history, because we spent our formative years texting friends. Older generations had to at least pick up the telephone and have a real-time conversation. Often, this would result in meeting up in person. They spent far more time engaging in what anthropologists call 'bonding rituals.' Let's change that for ourselves by building our own personal communities.
To aid the cause of building community in motorsport, we've started five Facebook groups, three closed and two secret (to protect the identities of people in that group). All of the groups are free to join. They are as follows:
- The Miseducation of Motorsport (linked) - for discussion of feminist topics, and where you can ask questions of Feminism Fridays authors
- Motorsport Sisterhood Research Group (linked) - for researchers interested in motorsport, and motorsport workers interested in research, as a seeding ground for potential collaborations
- Motorsport Sisterhood Biz Babes (linked) - for independents, entrepreneurs, and other renegades who need a supportive community
- There is a group called Queer Gearheads (secret) for LGBTQ+ people involved in motorsport (being a blogger with a motorsporty cause counts as 'involved') who want to meet up with others. It's set to secret because there are people in the group who are not out publicly, and therefore can't have the group on their public profile. Use the contact form below, or inbox our socials to request an add. Oliver Warman from Gay Racers is also an admin in the group, so the @gayracers twitter account can add you.
- There is a group called Fast Women for people who are involved in an upcoming podcast. Opinionated feminists who love motorsport are welcome to use the contact form below to apply for involvement.
Data protection disclaimer for the contact form: we need to either friend you on Facebook or add you using your email address. We promise to keep your email address safe. We will not share it with third parties or spam you.
She broke the land speed record for fastest electric motorcycle in her lovingly built streamliner the 'KillaJoule'. Swedish-US based Eva Håkansson tells us the perks of being an engineer and how she came about breaking the land speed record.
Amylia Hilda: How did you get started in engineering?
Eva Håkansson: I call it a genetic disorder. Both my parents are mechanical engineers. My brothers are electrical engineers and I became a mechanical engineer. My mum kind of jokes that we never played when we were kids, we were always kind of making things all the time. According to my parents, the first thing I invented...and I don't have any memory of this, I had built a nuclear power plant when I was four years-old! It was made out of cardboard and cans and I was convinced that this was a nuclear power plant. No clue where I got the idea from! Probably something I saw on TV. I've always loved building things, that's my passion in life. I started up with doll houses and stables for my plastic horses and it went on to making science projects and so on.
AH How did that sort of transitioned into automobiles?
EH My dad was an amateur racer and he built motorcycles in his spare time and he also worked a day job. He had quit racing long before I was born but still, I grew up in a family with motorcycles and cars and the reason I kinda got into motorcycles and electric motorcycles was when I was in my late teens or early twenties and I wanted an electric car, but I couldn't afford one and we didn't have the garage space for another car so my dad suggested, "Well why don't we build an electric motorcycle?" So, that's what we did together and that's what got me really into electrics.
AH How did you come about building Killajoule?
EH KillaJoule is really my love baby that's what I call it. me and my husband, we built it together. The story began when I had built an electric motorcycle with my dad back in 2007 and at the same time I was writing a popular science book about vehicles, and I knew about the KillaCycle, - the drag racing motorcycle which was the fastest electric motorcycle in the world and the quickest electric vehicle overall at that point and I wanted to use picture of it in my book. So i tracked down the owner online in the US and asked if I can use a picture of his motorcycle in my book and he said, "Sure!"So, we kept in contact and then it turned out we were going to the same electric vehicle convention in Los Angeles in 2007 and that was the first time we met in person. The owner of the motorcycle, Bill, became my husband about 18 months later! (laughs).
That's how I ended up in Colorado and we were doing quarter mile drag racing which was also all about getting to the other end as quickly as possible in the shortest amount of time, but because the track is too short, (it's 400 by 2 metres long) it's particularly difficult to get to high speeds, so the KillaCycle did 174 mph which is fairly impressive but it doesn't blow people's minds. So, we found it hard to communicate that message, the fact that it runs a quarter mile in seven seconds which really quick but people just don't get it. they're think it goes 0-60 miles in 6-7 seconds? that's not so fast but no they don't understand…it's actually 0-60 mph in less than one second! it's just insanely fast but the message just didn't come through.
The reason we are racing is mainly to promote electric vehicles and eco friendly technology. I call it "eco-activism" in disguise but we just couldn't get the message through, that electric vehicle were really fast so we decided to build an insanely fast motorcycle. I wanted it to be 300 miles per hour because I know that would impress people. To build it that fast you'd need a streamliner motorcycle, which is a fully enclosed motorcycle and that's how the KillaJoule was conceived. It was built to be the fastest electric motorcycle in the world. We just started building it in March during the spring break and brought it out to Bonneville in August for the first time and then it took another year before it took the record.
AH What was the process like? I'm sure it must've cost a lot of money?
EH We were insanely optimistic, we had no clue was we had started. We had never built anything for land speed racing, or for racing in Bonnevile before and we had never built a streamliner and we had never even been to Bonneville! We thought, 'Oh maybe this would cost us 10,000 dollars and take six months.' Well, it turned out to cost us about 10 times more and take 10 times longer! (laughs) The personal safety equipment required cost us about 4,000 dollars just for the helmet, suits, seat belts gloves and all that. We were just so insanely naive, but we didn't think, we were so naive back then, but it was fun and it was a great adventure. We don't regret it at all!
AH I guess it's just difficult to convince people about electric mobility?
EH Yes it is, in general. The problem with electric racing is that companies that should be interested, such as companies of electric component manufacturers, they have never sponsored racing and they don't understand, they don't see the PR value. Companies that are typically in racing, they want statistics, such as the audience demographics, the marketing value and so on. Well, I don't have those numbers. Then they'll say they will sponsor Nascar instead. So, the people that are typically interested in motorsport don't understand electric. So, you end up having a very hard time on getting sponsors.
AH How did it feel like when you finally broke the land speed record?
EH I get this question all the time and I never really have a good answer. I'm quite different from most race car drivers or motorcycle riders, because I'm not in racing for the thrill of speed, people have a hard time believing that, but I'm in it for the engineering challenge. I love my late nights in the garage, that is my therapy and that is where I just love seeing things take shape, seeing things materialise. The record attempt in itself it is like taking a final exam…you know you have to do it, and it is your only chance to prove what you know but you'd rather not do it! (laughs)
To me, racing in Bonneville is just quite brutal. physically, you arrive in a desert and you spend your days out in the sun, and waiting in line, because they have fixed starting times. So, the whole adventure is quite exhausting, the run itself I can describe it is a mix of boredom, terror and magic. Because it's an electric vehicle, the startup sequence is fairly long and there are lots of switches and turning on of things and data logging, but when everything is up and running, there's just a throttle and noting else and there's brake chutes so that's it. So, I just sit back, look out the window and twist the throttle. that's all there is to it and i keep and on temperatures and things like that to make sure that everything is going well. But it's those two minutes that it takes to make a run feels very, very long. You're just accelerating like your Japanese family car, the acceleration is not impressive at all and I'm kinda working hard to stay concentrated because my mind tends to drift away.
But when it starts to go really, to set a record…you have to go faster than you've ever done before and particularly, faster than the vehicle has ever done and you're entering uncharted territory and that's kind of terrifying because you have no clue…are we gonna fall off? is it gonna handle it?, is it gonna take off and lift and fly? So, you can go very quickly from very boring and uneventful to completely terrifying. What I struggled with was claustrophobia because the vehicle is so tight, it's built around me, there's no room, so you're kind strapped in something like a straightjacket and I can barely move my hands and feet and then it gets hot and you breathe your own air and things like that but the moment of actually exceeding a record can actually get quite terrifying and i'm kinda talking out loud (to myself) 'Come on, come on! You can do it!' Then you finish and the brake chutes come out and …magic! I'd feel like, 'Let;s do it again! That was easy!"
AH Did you realise you broke the record while you were in the KillaJoule or did you only found out after?
EH It depends on how close i am. I have a speedometer, because there's absolutely no sense of speed, I have no reference, so at 30 mph feels really fast because everything is rattling and shaking and 200 mph feels the same. 250 mph starts to feel fast because it does start to change behaviour a little bit but the problem I have is when you go so fast, the wheels grow and tires grow with speed so it all sets my speedometer a little and I kind of have to choose where I worked the error and I calibrated it so it's corrected at lower speed, so it shows a little bit less than I'm actually going. So, it depends on how close I am I don't approximate how much the error is.
AH What's the best lesson you've learned out of the experience?
EH I think the lesson is that you can accomplish almost anything you want if you are willing to put in enough work. Building something like this is a huge confidence builder and i am very much into pro-women in science and technology and the many reasons for that is at least to me, there is nothing more empowering than seeing an idea actually materialise.
Girls, typically love arts and crafts. I love arts and crafts and I always say that engineering is just arts and crafts for grown ups. There's noting different than having an idea on how to make a necklace and having an idea on how to build a racing vehicle. The process is the same, you only need more skills to build and more specific tools, but somewhere along the way, we lose girls and suddenly they don't think they can make things any more. I don't know why that is because women are equally good engineers.
AH Do you face a lot of pressure being a woman in such a male dominated field?
EH I wouldn't call it pressure, I grew up with two older brothers and that kind of changed me a lot. So, they would do all kinds of cool things and I wanted to do what they were doing but they had such a huge head start and I had to work really hard to catch up, I was six years behind being bored.
This is a theory from my husband and I agree. If boys see somebody doing something such as building a race car for example, in his mind he thinks he can do that, doesn't matter if it's a woman or a man. Girls on the other hand would see it: If the person showing the motorcycle is a man, many girls think, 'Oh, I can't do that because I'm a girl, ' and they'll not think about it again. But if it's a woman showing it then they can identify with the woman and feel like they can do it too. Girls tend to have this need to identify so you need to show women doing cool stuff and we are really lacking female superheroes.
Ed: Studies have shown that role modes are important to all groups in all spheres. It's not a gendered thing per se - if anything, boys are more likely to be influenced by a negative role model - but we do definitely need more women superheroes!
AH What is your next goal?
EA friend of John Glenn the astronaut said that Glenn had given him the best career advice ever. Glenn advised: 'If you ever find yourself at the crossroads in your life - which is where I am right now - Think of where would you do the most good, what would be the best use of you? And I thought well, I've almost always been complaining about poor teachers all my life because there are a lot of poor teachers. I can make a good living being just an engineer in this country, but if I work in the industry, I will work on one single project at one time but if i can help educate more engineers, then I can kind of indirectly work on many more projects. It's important that I do something good for the world and that's why I like eco-friendly technology and sustainability and so on and I if I can get the next generation of engineers to fit in sustainability in their engineering lives then I can do so much more than just working as an engineer.
Kuala Lumpur based writer, Noor Amylia Hilda has been working in the publishing industry in Malaysia for over four years. She started off her writing career with stints at magazines such as Marie Claire Malaysia and ELLE Malaysia. She is now a full-time writer at Women's Health Malaysia and pens for their Lifestyle columns. A love for motorsports, however, leads Amylia to devote her free time to covering various series especially Formula E where she is a regular contributor to e-racing.net. She can often be found next to the coffee machine in Media Centres.
Reliability, the second element of trust in the BRAVING acronym, is much the same in real life as it is in racing. Obviously, there are differences, because human minds are far more complex than race cars. The conscious mind is a tiny percentage of the brain's processor power, so there are myriad things happening under the surface of people's minds that get in the way of reliability.
In the sense of being an element of trust, reliability is defined as 'doing what you say you're going to do when you say you're going to do it.' This makes sense in the context of last week's Soulcare Sundays on boundaries, found here. If someone has good boundaries, they will decline things they don't have time for, and be reliable with the things they take on.
These two points of the acronym are inextricably linked. Without the ability to prioritise our time and energy in the ways that we can when practising healthy boundaries, we cannot possibly be reliable. We simply can't say yes to everything and get everything done.
As Simon Sinek has pointed out, people can be habitually unreliable in some areas of their lives, and we'll still trust them in other areas. For example, I tell confidential details to people who regularly arrive late, because I trust them to keep my secrets to themselves. I may tell them to show up at three o'clock while planning for them to arrive around five, but their habitual tardiness doesn't diminish the trust.
Stepping away from the perspective of personal friendships, this point is crucial in a work context. If you're building a race car, and the parts need to be on the plane to the next race by a certain time, doing what you say you're going to do, when you say you're going to do it is vital to the manager's planning process. The more moving parts in an organisation, the more important this area of trustworthiness becomes.
In teams of several hundred – even several thousand, in some cases – small delays get compounded as they go down the chain. In some cases, a super-efficient, super-reliable person picks up the slack for someone who is brilliant at their work but awful at deadlines. In other cases, someone needs to cut a corner to meet the target, and mistakes are made. Larger teams take this so seriously that they have reliability engineers – people whose entire job is to detect mistakes and fix them before race day.
I'll be the first to admit this isn't one of my strong suits. Of the three things mentioned by Gaiman, I'm scoring two, with 'observant of deadlines' being the falling-down point. I over-commit, and therefore I'm far from perfect at getting things done on time.
There are other reasons for reliability issues. Sometimes someone up the chain from us doesn't follow through on their word, and we end up missing our target as a result. Sometimes they outright lie about their progress to save face, and by the time we find out the truth it's too late to fix it. These – particularly the liars – are people to eliminate from your work chain, or at least find ways to minimise their impact.
As an example of this, cast your mind back to when Hulkenberg was at Sauber and went without pay for two months. In that instance, Sauber were being unreliable. They were being unreliable because they themselves hadn't been paid, so were unable to pay their wage bills. They clearly learned from the experience, because there haven't been stories like that one in recent years.
In what is possibly my favourite speech given by by Neil Gaiman, (around the 14 minute mark, although the whole speech is delightful) he said people keep working, 'because their work is good, because they're easy to get along with, and because they deliver the work on time. And you don't even need all three. Two out of three is fine. People will tolerate how unpleasant you are if your work is good and you deliver it on time. People will forgive the lateness of your work if it's good and they like you. And you don't have to be as good as everyone else if you're on time and it's always a pleasure to hear from you.'
This isn't about a quest for some kind of personal perfection, only associating with people who tick all seven boxes on the 'trustworthiness' list, and beating ourselves with a giant stick every time we slip up. It's about making progress. I picked being kind and doing things I was proud of as priorities in my work; there sometimes isn't the bandwidth to deal with all of it, although I do try.
So now over to you. Are you reliable? If not, why not? Are you relying on unreliable people? What can you do to minimise their effects in your life?
'We would rather be ruined than changed.' – W. H. Auden
In a podcast with Mr C from Sidepodcast this week, Joe Saward described a woman's bottom as 'just part of the scenery,' and defended his position for over thirty minutes. What prompted this? Mr C told Saward that he had stopped reading Grand Prix Plus (Saward's magazine) at the point where Saward had put a full-page picture of a grid girl's bottom in the magazine. He argued that it was unnecessary to put women's disembodied bums with no caption or comment in a magazine over which Saward had full editorial control. This comes the week Motorsport.com removed their sexist 'paddock beauties' gallery from the site's photo page.
Edit to add: upon furthr investigation, it was actually a fan's bottom. Someone who went to the track to enjoy racing action ended up having her bum photographed and printed in a magazine for someone else's financial benefit. We have not been able to find out whether she gave consent for the photograph to be taken, or signed a model release form for the photograph to be used in the magazine. Regardless, this incident demonstrate's Elizabeth Werth's point that motorsport could improve how it treats its women fans.
Find the podcast here for the full context of the conversation, starting around the 30min mark.Alternatively, find a PDF of the transcript here. I will go through the conversation by theme, rather than chronologically, in the hopes that this provides more useful material to people arguing against sexists who share this line of reasoning (and it's common...you'll have plenty of opportunity if you spend time on the internet).
Saward said his editorial policy is to include what's there without judgement of whether it's right or wrong. He said it was not a political statement to publish disembodied body parts. However, it is a political statement. Using a woman's sexualised body parts to sell magazines is always a political statement – a statement that says women exist solely for male pleasure. It's the party line of the conservative crowd in motorsport, but that doesn't make it less of a political statement. If it had been a whole grid girl, it would have been less political – still political, given the debate around grid girls – but a close-up of just a bottom is firmly sexist.
Which brings us on to grid girls. Saward pointed out that nobody forces them to become grid girls. True, but the context is that girls are sexualised from a young age, taught to use their 'feminine wiles' rather than brains or hard work to get ahead in life. It's often portrayed as the only option for getting ahead as a woman, and prettiness is policed and commented on by strangers.
Saward says, 'They do it from choice because it will add to their career, who knows, they get to marry drivers sometimes?' So marrying well and getting some reflected glory from him is the best a woman can hope for in terms of a career? Hear that, ladies? Your intellect and hard work apparently counts for nothing; make yourself pretty and marry a racing driver.
Added to the context, we know almost nothing of grid girls' stories; they exist purely as decoration. Did you know that Circuit of the Americas only select grid girls who are accomplished people and contribute to civic life in Austin? Probably not, because nobody ever makes feature pieces about grid girls, other than a few youtube videos designed to make them look stupid (for example, the one where MotoGP grid girls are asked about Formula 1 while someone off-camera sniggers at their ignorance). They're not there as human beings; they're there as sex objects, which is ultimately harmful to people of all genders.
Saward only addresses the issue of grid girls actually standing on the grid. He defends the need to demarcate which car belongs where, despite each car being guided to its grid spot by a crew of mechanics. The issue of podium decoration grid girls and the 'tunnel of totty' up to the podium remains unaddressed. Those women serve no purpose other than to decorate the facility, a function that could be done equally well by potted plants.
'Sometimes I put pictures of hairy bottomed people in as well, which are very ugly, but nonetheless it's part of Grand Prix racing, because not everybody has a pretty bottom.'
First, a small biological fact – everybody has a hairy bottom. Some bottoms are covered in fine, downy hair, and others in a forest of thick, coarse hair. But all bottoms are hairy because we descended from apes. Let's not make bum fluff a gendered issue, and drag unnecessary baggage into the discussion of body hair.
Saward puts pictures of entire people who we assume have hairy bottoms (I assume he means men, since men's bottoms generally have thicker, coarser hair than women's bottoms), not close-up pictures of just their hairy bottoms. The picture in GP+ was just a bottom, not the rest of the woman. Also, the 'hairy bottomed people' featured in GP+ are working in highly skilled jobs – engineers, mechanics, racers – whereas those simply featured as body parts or sex objects are simply there to promote the businesses of 'hairy bottomed people,' rather than perform skilled tasks of their own.
'A pretty bottom.'
Saward's repeated refusal, throughout the interview, to call the subject of the picture 'a woman's bottom' is quite telling, and follows on from a theme I detected in my social media analysis of Danny Watts' coming out. Saward doesn't think men's bottoms can be attractive. Before he came out, Watts and I had a discussion about who has the best-looking bum in F1 (Nico Rosberg, it was decided), but Saward thinks everybody should agree with his definition of an attractive bum.
'If we have a picture of little children carrying flags, we'll get accused of being paedophiles. If we have pictures of good looking bottoms, we're accused of being sexist. What do we do? We're just reflecting what there.'
To date, I have yet to see a publication be called out for featuring pictures of children holding flags. Kids are cute, not sexy. At least, to the vast majority of the population, children hold no sexual appeal. Women's bums, on the other hand, are used in 'sex sells' contexts to market a wide array of products. See the huge body of feminist literature on sexual objectification and hyper-sexualisation of the youth.
What can magazine editors realistically do when faced with the choice between bums and kids? If you're going to show a woman, show a whole one, rather than a body part that can be added to your readers' spank bank of mental images (boobs, bums, legs-and-bums, groins...all 'spank bank' themed images, to be avoided). If you're going to show a child, make sure they are not posed in a sexually suggestive way. A row of children holding flags is not a sexualised image; a little girl in a bikini posed like a swimsuit model is a sexualised image. Know the difference.
'You can't say its positive or negative, it's just part of it...Look, ninety percent of the people who go to Grand Prix races are not in the least bit worried if there's a pretty bum walking by. They don't consider it to be sexy or sexist or whatever it is. They just consider it to be there.'
Firstly, a small biological fact – bums are useful body parts. They help us to stand and walk. If we didn't have bums, we wouldn't be able to hold ourselves upright or perambulate.
That 'pretty bum walking by' is attached to a human being with a life, mind, and will independent of anyone else, and that human being should be treated as a human being. Referring to a self-actualised adult human as 'a pretty bum' is, in fact, sexist.
Regarding moral judgements of photographs, we can say it's positive or negative. Not because we are the self-appointed arbiters of right and wrong, as Saward accuses Mr C of being. Humans are moral animals because we are social animals. Morals and ethics exist to minimise hurt in our communities and therefore maintain social harmony. If something hurts people – and the more people being hurt, the worse the 'crime' is considered – it is seen as negative.
Is someone being hurt by this image? Yes. That particular woman is being hurt by having her body parts added to the spank banks of a legion of men she doesn't know, likely without her express written consent. Women in general are being hurt by the assumption – perpetuated by images like the one in question – that they exist solely for male pleasure, which perpetuates rape culture. Men are being hurt by the idea that the hyper-stimulation of their lust systems to sell products is not in any way harmful or addictive, when a body of work exists demonstrating that point.
Saward's response to Mr C's moral decision to not read magazines that objectify women is one of bemusement; he seems to genuinely not understand people making purchasing and consumption decisions based on values. Formula 1 as a whole takes this stance, so it's unsurprising to hear it from Saward. They are likely alienating a portion of their fanbase by taking this position, since Conscious Capitalism is an established and growing movement.
'You don't notice Ferrari flags. You want me to ban Ferrari flags because you don't like Ferrari?...But there are people out there who don't like grass, so we're not allowed to have grass shown.'
Saward defends himself from Mr C's assertions that it's not the same thing. To back up Mr C, it most definitely isn't the same thing. Women are people. Flags and grass are inanimate objects. The people who object to grid girls and bum pics in motorsport have far more rational arguments than 'we don't like it.' There is academic literature to back up the 'against' position. There's so much demonstrating that objectification perpetuates rape culture that it's considered QED (quod erat demonstratum – already been demonstrated) by anyone who's read the body of work.
'No, no, no, but you also need to have character. And if you're not allowed to have this and not allowed to have that, not allowed to have this, not allowed to have that, where are you going to get a sport that has any character that's interesting for people to look at? I'm not talking about female bums or whatever, I'm just talking about in general terms. If you play to everybody who has a complaint about everything, you're going to have a very drab world because there are no... nothing is going to get through because somebody somewhere is going to be upset about it.'
You know what is going to get through without anybody getting upset about it? Good racing action. Is the point of the sport not to have on-track action that is visually interesting to photographers and videographers, and therefore appealing to the fans? Or is the point of the sport to have women as sex objects? Is it a sport, or a beauty pageant? I refer to you Simon Sinek's TEDx talk on organisational 'why's for clarity, since F1 is clearly confused about its reason for being.
'Well, look, it is a sport that is a meritocracy. If you are good... we've had this conversation many times. If you are good at what you do, you will get the job. That, go through other sports and tell me how many sports are like that. How many women football players are there? None.'
Well actually, there are enough women football players to fill a national team for each country and have a World Cup. But point aside. Motorsport is far from a meritocracy. On the technical side, those with the best qualifications are given the job. The numbers of women in technical roles are increasing. But the number of women athletes in the higher levels of the sport are staying woefully low. While we're at it, I could have a rant about the number of people of colour, openly queer people, people with disabilities, people from poor or working class backgrounds, etc., because the numbers are very unrepresentative of the global population. Motorsport isn't an athletic meritocracy; it's a rich boys' club.
'Formula One is actually a very egalitarian world.'
No it's not. 'Egalitarian' means 'doing what is best for the largest number of people.' Formula One does what is good for Formula One. McLaren (by way of example, not singling them out as less egalitarian than any other team) does what is good for McLaren. People do what is good for their shareholders. Pleasing the fans is good for the shareholders, which is why public opinion is taken into account. But be under no illusions that people sit around thinking about what is best for the community as a whole.
'Cranfield University has a course for future engineers who will be big stars in motorsport, this year the course has one woman. Is that the fault of Cranfield University? No, it's not. It's a fault of the system and it's a fault of the women themselves, because they don't stick at it.'
Sexism is the fault of women? How? There have actually been papers written about why there are so few women engineers. According to the researchers, women leave engineering largely because of the sexism of their male colleagues. Women engineers working in an all-woman group distribute technical and administrative tasks equally. Introduce a group of men to the project, and suddenly the women find themselves performing administrative tasks, while the men have all the fun with the soldering iron. It is most definitely not the fault of women.
'Do we want to change it? Do we want it to be some kind of perfect demographic asexual world that is not going to offend anybody?'
Well, yes please, that would be very nice. That's pretty much the goal of this organisation. Just because white, straight, middle class cis-men are the norm for motorsport, doesn't mean they're the only ones in the crowd. If Formula 1 wants to survive the twenty-first century and continue with a fanbase, moving with the times is the key to staying relevant.
From a theme that ran through the interview, Saward is clearly playing to an all-male, all-straight, all-sexist crowd here. He assumes he is in the majority, and therefore his opinion is the norm. His assumption is that he's helping promote F1 to a young audience by providing sexually stimulating imagery for young boys. He's leaving out all the heterosexual women, all the gay men, and anyone who cares about equality but doesn't fit into the above two categories. There is a growing number of straight men in the motorsport Twitter community who support equality – if the number of white, male tweeters I caught in my social media analysis, being vocal in support of Danny Watts and calling out homophobic tweets is any indicator – so Saward may actually be in a minority. But as Auden said, motorsport would rather be ruined than changed.
This is the first of a seven-part series on the anatomy of trust. This is based on Brené Brown's work that she wrote about in her most recent book, Rising Strong. The BRAVING acronym is the result of years of her work on shame, vulnerability, and connection, interviewing and combing through those data to find the trends.
The BRAVING acronym is broken down as follows:
Now, let's just be clear on one thing: nobody scores a perfect seven every day of their lives. David Eagleman says that we are perceived by others as being the average of ourselves over time. If we are mostly perky people, we will be thought of as perky; if we are mostly cynical and abrasive, we will be thought of as those things. We may have moments of being the opposite, but it does little to alter the average. Thus, what we're aiming for in this series is to cultivate a reasonable to high average – allowing for a few off-days – rather than constant perfection (which, by the way, is an unattainable and crazy-making goal).
Today, let's deal with boundaries. Cloud and Townsend liken personal boundaries to garden fences. They exist to delineate what belongs to whom, but they leave room for people to come in and help if needed. Boundaries aren't giant impenetrable castle walls, build to keep absolutely everyone out, nor are they non-existent, imaginary concepts that we expect people to 'just know' what and where they are.
People with good boundaries say what they mean, and they mean what they say. While 'no' is a complete sentence, people with good boundaries often find a polite way to set boundaries, for example, they find a kind way to decline invitations for events that they don't have the time or will to attend. At the same time, if you need to set a boundary on someone who has done work on their own boundaries, they're open to that, they can handle their own disappointment, and they don't react negatively.
There are two potential traps to fall into with boundaries – having boundaries that are too strong, and having boundaries that are too weak. Both are the result of pain inside those people. People who have been hurt traumatically in the past tend to get triggered by things that even remotely resemble their past experiences, and will self-protectively rage at you to make you go away (boundaries too strong). On the flip side, people who don't think they're able to say 'no' tend to let people walk all over them, and end up feeling resentful (boundaries too weak).
There are two major kinds of boundaries – those we apply to ourselves, and those we apply to other people. By way of some examples, an internal boundary – one that we set on ourselves – might be eating carbs only on Sundays and eating healthy the rest of the week. An external boundary, on the other hand, would be refusing to pick up work calls after hours (they can text if it's urgent).
What does a good boundary look like?
For starters, a good boundary is one that exists. More of us – as women, very generally, because we are trained from a very young age to put others' needs before our own – tend to err on the side of boundarylessness. A boundary that exists and has been thought out clearly is a very good thing.
A clear boundary is a good boundary. It sets parameters within which other people can reasonably operate, and has a consequence if it's broken. For example, 'If you would like a cigarette while you're at my house, please would you use the smoking area at the end of the garden?' The consequence is implied, but smokers generally know that non-smokers don't like the smell and know that their being invited back to your house is conditional on them respecting your wishes and not smoking in your living room.
A good boundary is appropriate, and deals only with what we can reasonably control. We can only ethically set boundaries on things that are within our control. Setting boundaries on what other people can and can't do to their body/property is considered abuse. There are caveats here for parents and bosses. 'Don't get drunk at work,' is perfectly reasonable, as is 'be home by eight on school nights.'
A flexible boundary is a good boundary. For example, I don't touch children's genitals because I believe in the validity of age-of-consent laws...but there have been times when I have changed a kid's nappy for my friends, because they had too many tasks to take care of in that moment and the nappy change needed to happen urgently. If a boundary isn't flexible, it's more likely to be a trigger point, rather than a neutral delineation of property and responsibility.
A bad boundary is one that's impossible to maintain. For years, I had an internal boundary about jiggling in public...which I broke (and resented myself for breaking) when I'd had a bit to drink and someone put a good song on. 'No crying at work,' is normal and acceptable most of the time, but what about the person who just lost a parent and is having a hard time coping?
How do you set a boundary?
Cribbing heavily from Marshall Rosenberg, a good first step to setting a boundary is to ask why the other person is doing what they're doing. Maybe you were raised with strong feelings about a particular topic and they weren't. Maybe they think they're being nice because that's what they'd want – for example, an extrovert dragging an introvert out for an all-night party session, when the introvert really just wants to be at home alone. There is always the possibility that they're intentionally trying to hurt you, but the rates of pathological sadism are very low and they're more likely doing the best they can under the circumstances.
After you've found out why they do what they do, politely ask them to change their behaviour to fit within both of your boundaries, and set a reasonable consequence (reasonable to enforce, as well as receive) for non-compliance. For example, 'I don't want to brush my teeth in your faeces and urine. Please put the toilet lid down before you flush? If you want to flush with the lid up and spray your excrement around the bathroom, let's hang out at your house or on neutral territory.' If they respond well and change their behaviour, woohoo!
If they respond badly, they're probably having some kind of pain reaction to having a boundary set on them. You might be threatening a part of their identity (regarding the above example, many men seem to think that leaving the toilet seat down is grounds for having their Man Card revoked, and will resist any encouragement to be more hygienic for fear of seeming less of a man). Maybe they had a hyper-controlling parent and have systematically rebelled against rules ever since. Whatever the case may be, it's probably more about them than it is about you.
When setting a boundary, be clear on what you want as an alternative behaviour. 'Be less of an asshole,' for example, is very vague. 'Please use headphones if you want to listen to music while I'm sleeping,' is more helpful, because it provides a clear alternative.
Be very careful when setting consequences that you don't threaten the connection with that person. People generally only feel empowered to change their behaviour if they know they will be accepted and loved regardless. 'No sex for a month,' is a terrible consequence to give a partner, because it threatens the very foundation of the relationship (and enforcing celibacy sucks for you too). 'I will stand over you until that project is complete,' is also counter-productive, because nobody works well under that kind of pressure, and it relegates you to standing for hours on end while they finish work. Only use consequences that don't suck for everyone when you stick to your word.
If someone routinely disrespects your boundaries, even when you ask them to do something differently, that's a black flag. That is demonstrative of contempt for you as a human, and contempt is one of the strongest predictors of future divorce. Incidentally, the equation that predicts divorce based on contempt also works for predicting the outbreak of war between two groups. Contempt is toxic. Run as fast and far as you can from that person/group, because it probably won't end well.
So that's a brief synopsis of boundaries. As mentioned previously, nobody is perfect. We all have off days, and moments when we perform at less than the gold standard. There are times when even the best boundaried people reach breaking point and yell, 'Do that one more time and so help me God, I will kill you with my bare hands!' That said it is (usually) possible to repair relationships after a boundary issue. If you would like more information about this topic, there are some great books on Amazon, written by experts in the field. Check them out, and re-read them annually for a tune-up of your boundaries.