Formula One has officially flagged off a cool new move we’re 100 percent supportive of, for a change. Ahem.
Formula One is officially ending the practice of using “grid girls”, or of having female models wearing minimal clothing stand with driver’s name boards and flag off every Grand Prix!
Now this feels particularly exciting to hear. Why? Well, do you remember that Inside Amy Schumer sketch called Lunch at O’Nutters? O’Nutters is meant to be the inverse of the popular American bar chain Hooters, America’s first and leading “breastaurant”, which is apparently a restaurant staffed by and most famous for scantily clad women. Instead of hyper-sexualised women, O’Nutters is staffed by barely clad young men who use their charm and sex appeal to appeal to patrons, just like Hooters. The sketch shows how deeply uncomfortable the lone male at a table of three feels in this little microcosm that’s clearly designed for the enjoyment of the opposite gender.
While Amy Schumer is endlessly problematic, so much so that lately she seems to have earned the prefix of “Problematic White Comedian” whenever anyone refers to her in writing, this particular sketch really stayed with me. Because it feels like it isn’t only Hooters that’s as alienating to women as an imaginary O’Nutters may be to men. It often feels like so many facets of the world we live in were designed to exclude us, or were at least designed to appeal to the comfort and enjoyment of men. And nowhere is that clearer than the toxic cesspool that modern sport can often be.
Announcing the new move, Formula One commercial manager Sean Bratches said, “While the practice of employing grid girls has been a staple of Formula One grands prix for decades, we feel this custom does not resonate with our brand values and clearly is at odds with modern day societal norms.” Yeah!
It’s impossible to ignore how gendered the roles men and women play in popular sport have been and continue to be. From ring girls in boxing matches, to cheerleaders at IPL games, to now-erstwhile grid girls at Formula One races, it’s hard not to feel that traditional sports have clearly defined roles for women. And the role is that of an accessory, an easy-on-the-eyes plaything on the sidelines to rest your eyes upon after watching rugged masculinity play out as men hit balls with sticks or race around in circles very fast many times on a smooth road.
And while Formula One is, on the surface, an egalitarian sport, given women don’t have a separate category and can compete against men, it isn’t surprising that only 5 women have competed as drivers between Formula One’s inception in 1950 and 2012. How would young women feel motivated to join a sport where they primarily see women relegated to the roles of cheerleaders?
And if you need to be reminded how badly men treat women in roles like this, check out this report that tells you all about the time Lewis Hamilton sprayed victory champagne all over a Chinese grid girl who didn’t consent to it at all, and also contains the excellent line, “Those who got up in arms over the champagne spray will be happy to hear that there will be none at this weekend’s grand prix in Bahrain, where bottles of non-alcoholic rosewater is provided.”