Updated: Oct 16, 2018
I’ve always taken the stance that banning in the name of liberation and progression has an adverse effect. It just doesn’t make sense to me.
A ‘ban’ signifies restriction, prevention and control – a far-cry from the representational benefits intended by Formula 1 in this instance. So, when issues like this appear in the media, it’s necessary to take a step back and examine them; who exactly is being affected by this decision and more importantly who is benefitting from it.
First and foremost, Grid Girls are losing their jobs. While a career as a Grid Girl may not be to everyone’s taste, these women were given the opportunity to do something and chose to do it. With every single one of them well within their rights to do so. Regardless of what any job entails - providing it’s legal and employees are comfortable and consenting - people who want to do a job, should be able to. As soon as prohibition, of any kind, is involved, the issue becomes a freedom of speech argument; with Grid Girls having theirs denied in this case. Many of which, have responded negatively to the decision too; including Rebecca Cooper (@rebeccageldard) and ex-Grid Girl Kelly Brook.
Formula 1 defended their decision explaining that their use of grid girls was “at odds with modern-day societal norms”. From this, it’s fair to infer the Grid Girl ban is an attempt to address representational issues of women in the motorsport industry. While I agree entirely that male-dominated fields, motorsport being one of many, need to become more accessible to women, I disagree in the way that Formula 1 have gone about correcting it. My point here is that women deserve the right to navigate their own future and capitalise on their own strengths as and when they wish. They don’t need institutions deciding that for them. Banning grid girls will not guarantee a more accessible and inviting motorsport industry for women nor will it ensure alternate representations of them – which is clearly the far more pressing issue here.
Although they arguably had good intentions, Formula 1, in my opinion, have missed the point entirely. Yes, societal gender barriers in certain industries need tackling, but bans aren’t the key to this - diversity is. Surely it is counterproductive to take one representation and directly replace it with another – maybe not even replace it in this case. It stills offers women no choice – and this is the premise of the argument; the need for variety. The positivity and appropriateness of representations are subjective, and people interpret them differently; there is no one-level of acceptability that all women must abide by when cultivating a career - nor should there be. We, as a society, must stop attempting to define what is culturally acceptable for women to do.
The way I see it, the only people benefitting from this decision are Formula 1 as an organisation. Conforming with other industries like the darts world, this decision is allowing Formula 1 to publicly masquerade as “on-the-side-of-women” while failing to address the wider issue. For some women, being a Grid Girl was their way into the sport. They got to learn about and experience the motorsport industry first hand from the people they connected with. Former Grid Girl Michelle Westby was one of these women. In her interview with This Morning she further explains this point – (full interview available: here). Obviously, it’s not right that to be a woman in the motorsport industry you, more often than not, have to be a Grid Girl - but closing this avenue is not going to automatically open new ones. If Formula 1 had listened to Grid Girls, and women aspiring to take a step into the industry, instead of making this decision on their behalf, they would not have been so ignorant to the real problem here.
By constantly banning female-orientated jobs a damaging ideology is reinforced. The ideology that it’s women who are the problem. In 2014 it was Page 3, then it was Walk-On Girls in darts and now it’s Grid Girls. Who is going to be next? The image that this creates is that women are to blame for how the world sees and interprets them. We live in a culture where we blame women for the disrespect and disregard they endure – whether that be in the workplace, socially or in their personal lives. Now I don’t know about you, but to me, THAT is far more threatening and offensive than a pair of boobs on Page 3 or a woman in a dress holding an umbrella on a racing track.
Surely this cultural nature of banning women from doing certain things in the name of liberation and progression is a sad reflection of how women’s issues are viewed. The easy solution to such issues, of just taking women out of the equation all together, is being taken too frequently. This is regressive. Instead of empowering women to take control of their lives, we are shaming them for the choices they’ve made and the career paths they’ve taken. In my opinion, if you’re able to take your strength or talent and create a career for yourself from it then more power to you!
So, thank you Formula 1 for reminding me that the fight for women’s rights is ongoing. And that we’re going to have to shout even louder for you to understand what is actually needed rather than what you think we need. Your blatant misinterpretation of women’s issues and cop-out solution to representational problems in your industry is a sad reflection of wider society today. When will people start really listening.
Lena Dunham once said “a huge part of feminism is giving other women the freedom to make choices you might not necessarily make yourself” – and if that doesn’t ignite your inner feminist, I don’t know what will.