'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.