It's been quite the week since Formula 1 announced they would no longer utilize Grid Girls in their race day ceremonies. Many people cheered, many were outraged, but the Grid Girls themselves, were again discounted. They were quite vocal on social media about how much they loved their jobs, their experiences, and how they were not personally exploited. And I get it.
I get it ladies.
And I'm sorry.
As a fan of motorsports, I'm sorry. As a feminist, I'm sorry. As a woman, I'm sorry. As a pretty girl, I'm sorry. As someone who purposefully dresses to attract attention at race tracks, I'm sorry. As a professional with a science degree, I'm sorry.
And to be quite honest, I'm pretty jealous of the experiences they have had. Although I personally would have never lasted with the "only speak if spoken to" rule, I would've loved every minute of being on those starting grids. Every. Single. Minute. I'm sure they did love their jobs; being that close to all the action is fucking cool, and if you think that it's not you're lying to yourself. But the time for them has come and gone, and we're all asking the wrong questions and focusing on the wrong parts of this story.
The problem isn't the Grid Girls.
The problem isn't even what we think the Grid Girls represent. The problem is men who don't think women can be anything BUT Grid Girls. The problem is women who think that other women have a right to be anything, unless it's something with which they disagree. The problem is the asshole who was in charge of F1 and would rather be mocked in print and on social media for misogynistic quotes about how women should always wear white to match domestic appliances than grow and evolve along with the rest of the free world.
Grid Girls' positions should have evolved over the years, as we as a human race have evolved over the years. Sure, they started out as eye candy in skimpy clothing, but they have been quite smartly dressed in recent years. (I want to make a point to say that I have no problem with any woman wearing whatever she wants. Let it all hang out, cover it all up, #LiveYourLife.) But changing outfits from overtly sexual to classy-sexy was only step one*. Step two should have been giving them more of a voice, more autonomy, more responsibility. Make them spokesmodels. Make them brand representatives. Empower them. They could have been employed by F1, by individual teams, or by sponsors. They could have been given more interaction with fans, more opportunities for public speaking and marketing, not to mention the skills and knowledge that come with those experiences. This easily could have, and SHOULD have, been a way for motivated and determined women who have an interest in motorsports, but do not want to be a driver or an engineer, to have great experiences while networking and creating business relationships that would last long after their days on the grid. And as a society, we failed them.
We should have started this conversation 20 years ago. Instead, the conversation has always been Grid Girls vs. no Grid Girls. We never even tried to develop their roles into something even more meaningful for them and the public. We never gave them the opportunity to show the world that although they are beautiful and poised, they also have thoughts and opinions.
We failed. All of us. Whether we objectified them, were intimidated by them, jealous of them, or simply looked at them with as little concern as we do the worker at the concession stand, NONE of us gave them the opportunity to be more than a pretty face. And then we punished them for that.
So again I say to all of the Grid Girls, I'm sorry. You are collateral damage for a cause in the name of feminism. (Although true feminism is a woman's right to choose to do whatever she wants.) You are collateral damage for a sport trying to better its image to women. And if I were placing a bet on this, I'd put my money on you being collateral damage for Liberty giving Bernie Ecclestone a big fat middle finger.
Getting rid of Grid Girls was not necessary. Changing how they functioned in that role was absolutely necessary. And we missed the mark. We overcompensated. And as much as I love working in medicine, if I have a daughter someday who has no interest in science, I hope that I have the ability to allow her to pursue whatever dreams she has.
I hope that the next time we experience something like this, that instead of polarizing ourselves on two extreme opinions, we have the insight and the courage to suggest empowerment rather than removal.
Isn't that what supporting women is supposed to be about?
*I do think the clothing they wear has some significance as it is part of their "uniform" and aside from being free to leave their job, they do not have the freedom to wear what they want while at work. And forcing someone to dress sexier than they would like to can be seen as exploitation.