There can be no equality in sport if women’s bodies are utilised to promote themselves.

There can be no equality in sport if women's bodies are utilised to promote themselves

Roy van Aalst, a Dutch politician, has spoken out against the elimination of grid girls from Formula 1 racing, claiming that it is a manner of patronising women. He boasted that the Organization for Freedom (PVV), a right-wing nationalist political party to which he belongs, will ensure that the grid girls are reinstalled at the Zandvoort Grand Prix in 2020.

There can be no equality in sport if women’s bodies are utilised to promote themselves

“Only a complete moron would consider a gorgeous woman an issue,” he remarked. “The rest of the population adores it.” It’s a part of motorsport, and the PVV wants us to make sure that this lovely tradition is revived next year.” In 2018, the grid girls were replaced with grid kids, signalling a transition in Formula 1 towards a more family-friendly culture. However, van Aalst’s remarks echo the outcry to the shift, which included some grid girls claiming that “feminists” were denying them the right to work. Lauren-Jade Pope, a grid girl, turned to Twitter to express her displeasure: Surprisingly, the “feminists” so frequently highlighted in the debate were actually the Formula One managers themselves. They decided to cease using grid girls because they no longer matched their brand values – according to Sean Bratches, Formula 1’s managing director of commercial operations. Grid girls’ inclusion was “in contrast with modern-day cultural norms,” according to the statement. Women would be out of employment if grid girls were eliminated, according to one of the primary critiques of the decision.

Women’s profits would be lost, and the decision would deny them their “freedom to chose” to use their bodies for aesthetic and financial benefit, according to such opposition. Grid girls were responsible for a variety of promotional responsibilities, the most common of which included publicising sponsor names and cheering on the all-male racing drivers. The restoration of the grid girls has been asked for by prominent figures, including World Champion Lewis Hamilton. Hamilton’s explanation that “women are the most beautiful thing in the world,” as well as Ferrari driver Sebastian Vettel’s statement that he “likes ladies” because “they look lovely,” highlight the enduring sexism in motorsport. There is still a long way to go in eradicating these antiquated stereotypes, particularly in traditionally male-dominated sports like motor racing. Former grid girls have stated that their daily wages were around £300, despite the fact that the job was intermittent. Kelly Brook, Melinda Messenger, and Jodie Marsh, for example, all began their “careers” as grid girls before moving on to glamour modelling in boys’ magazines and the like. During the backlash to the decision in 2018, grid girl testimony attempted to stigmatise feminists as bigots, with headlines “retaliating” against “middle-class feminists who are putting other women out of work.”

Uneven representation in Formula 1 promotional modelling was adequate to disprove claims of discriminatory treatment in terms of job losses. The full removal of men from this role, as well as the lack of promotional models from BME groups, revealed a blatant lack of equal opportunity (if you can call sexual objectification that). Promotional modelling has a strict time limit as well, with “careers” in this area typically ending in the mid-to-late 20s for most women. The message was communicated, particularly to young girls, that motor racing is a male-dominated sport and that if you want to be a part of it, you must be a man. You should strive to be attractive, sexualise yourself, and be willing to drape yourself over automobiles and male racing drivers as a fashion accessory. This is a dramatic contrast to the message being given today, where excited grid kids — both male and female – now stroll onto the grid with dreams of becoming race drivers. Formula One must keep this message alive and not revert to one that insults, demoralises, and dehumanises its female fans. Despite progress in Formula One, promotional modelling is still prevalent in other sports, such as walk-on females (darts and cycling), ring girls (wrestling and boxing), and cheerleaders (football and basketball).

Formula One’s shift away from grid girls has made the sport more inclusive, and now is the time for other businesses to follow suit. Women will continue to be underpaid, devalued, and underestimated in sports until they are given equal opportunity. Roy van Aalst’s belief that only “big idiots” can find attractive women a problem highlights the blatant stupidity that pervades many conversations over popular culture’s sexualisation. Of course, “beautiful ladies,” as well as “beautiful men” and “beautiful people” in general, are not an issue. However, when you just show one sex as “beautiful” – I think “sexualized” is a better word for the grid girls  They are to be observed, but they are never granted the authority to be the “observers.” This is how you discourage women from aspireing to be sports champions and instead put them to the sidelines, encouraging them to be cheerleaders instead. If taking a pro-gender equality attitude qualifies me as a “big fool,” then I am confidently and proudly one. I’m sure it will be appreciated by my daughter.

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