Mute, Nameless, Servile: The Promise of Sex in Motorsport

Revelations on the breadth and depth of Harvey Weinstein’s alleged sexual misconduct have been hard to avoid, if not necessarily hard to believe. The open secret nature of his apparent behaviour saw him hide in plain sight, enabled and protected by allies and employees. The floodgates seemingly opened, more and more women and men from disparate careers have come forward with similar stories of harassment and abuse. In music. In politics. In animation. In fashion. They keep coming every day, from every walk of life, from Hollywood to your own doorstep. #MeToo.

So how does motorsport fit in here? A tweet thread by Ben Kling caught my attention, in which he talked about how Weinstein in particular, however abhorrent, serves as a male benchmark for the conversion of capital into sexual power. The promise that if you can accrue enough wealth, influence or both, however you look or however you behave, you can fuck any woman you want. It’s a trope seen constantly across media aimed at men and across history — be the strongest in your tribe, fuck women. Be like this awesome action star, fuck women. Buy this deodorant, fuck women. This fantasy could be your reality. Sex is the endgame. Sex is your reward. Your favourite motorsport echoes this.

The unashamed presentation of sex as reward continues to permeate most motorsports. Wait, no, not sex as reward — still extremely heterosexual and testosterone driven as it all is, women are presented as reward in motorsport like few other major sports in the world. From Formula One’s lines of applauding women directing victorious drivers to the cool down room, to Monster Energy Drinks’ extensive use of promotional women, to “brolly dollies” in motorbike racing, to the paper thin metaphor of spraying models on the podium with champagne. Women present trophies to men while promoters and sponsors wink to the men at home — don’t worry, we know what the real trophy is, don’t we? If you can be one of the world’s greatest drivers or riders, you can have all this. Race hard, fuck women.

Sex in advertising and promotion is a constant. We cannot expect, or even necessarily want, that bottom line to change. But why, when every day we hear ever more stories of sexual misconduct wherever men are in positions of power (spoiler: everywhere), why should we in motorsport assume no sense of responsibility for how we frame and promote the sports we love? Should we also assume with blind faith that the paddocks themselves contain no similarly horrific stories just because no-one has spoken up? How do we make a safer environment for motorsport’s women to work in and to speak up against abuse if some are effectively employed to be ogled by men? How do we keep sexual harassment and abuse out of motorsport if we constantly, primarily present women as mute, nameless, servile offerings to successful men?

Support — proper financial and emotional support — of young girls at grassroots levels, teaching them not to give up because “it’s for boys”, sponsoring them, creating schemes like D2BD and the Pippa Mann Scholarship are all key to correcting the decades long, massive imbalance of men vs. women competing in motorsport and thus creating a healthier paddock, but they’re not the work of a moment. The message we continue to send out every race weekend, even with the work and dedication of women like María Herrera, Ana Carrasco, Ruth Buscombe, Tatiana Calderón and Sarah Fisher, is that your best hope of prominent success in paddocks around the world is to hold a sign or applaud a man going up some stairs. Be an object and make it, girls! Don’t worry about that man trying to take a photo up your skirt, don’t worry about that man you keep hearing make lewd comments about you, don’t worry about being left alone with that man you’ve heard so many terrible stories about — you’re in the paddock, you’ve made it!

As long as we remain part of the promise that women are the reward for success, we are part of the problem that can lead to sexual misconduct. Take responsibility. Change the message.