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.