Living a dream contrary to social expectations — the story of two successful female racers

According to an advertisement from the 1950s, a woman has two questions about life: What to wear and what to cook. The female role in society was clear: She took care of the household, cleaning, raising the children and she made sure that dinner was ready when her husband came home. Being a housewife was her destiny. Luckily, these times are over and a lot has changed — more and more women dared to leave the home and pursued supposedly male professions, living up to their full potential and following their passion.

Breaking female gender stereotypes

One of those bold women was Annie Bousquet. Although nowadays hardly anyone knows her name, she is an impressive figure of contemporary history and a pioneer in woman’s racing. She was born in Vienna in the 1920s and married to a French racing driver. By meeting him, she developed an interest in the sport and made her own motorsport debut in 1952. Although she was successful after some time, she had to defend herself against gender stereotypes like no other.

Back then, women in motorsport were unusual and not welcomed by everyone. The authority of Sebring even refused her entry and thus participation in an important race — simply because the US-government did not agree with female drivers. Nowadays, this is unimaginable, but for Annie, rejection was part of her everyday life. She was more fortunate at the Tour de France, where she drove a Porsche 550 and finished eighth. A few races later the powerful Porsche helped her to her the best result ever, second place in the Bol d’Or. This proved her critics wrong and made clear that the ability to drive well does not depend on gender — an important step not only for Annie Bousquet and other female drivers, but also for female emancipation overall.

The spirit lives on

In the 1950s, car racing was very dangerous and fatal accidents happened often. Annie Bousquet experienced how team riders were badly injured, her husband even died in a race. Despite the dramatic accidents, she never lost her courage and kept returning to the road. This fortitude inspired many women. Sadly, it was only a matter of time before Annie was seriously injured too. After an accident at the 12-hour-race in Reims, she died tragically in 1956, only four years after her debut. As a consequence women were completely banned from motorsport and the doubts about women’s ability to race were reinforced. The ban had consequences for careers of other female drivers who were not allowed to participate in races. Nevertheless, for many women, Annie Bousquet remained a courageous feminist, who gave them strength with her bravery and pioneering spirit. To keep her heritage alive, the stretch of track on which she fatally crashed was named after her (More: Porsche Christophorus magazine).

Female role models encourage women

60 years later, many women have freed themselves from the little to non-existent career opportunities of the 1950s and 60s. We are now free to choose — if we decide to take care of kids & household, that’s because we want to and not because it is forced on us. We are free to follow our passions and to take a profession that suits us. Nevertheless, there is still room for improvement: Women need to become more confident and courageous. On the other hand, society and politics have to make room for change. For a more equal future we need strong role models, who inspire girls to get out of their comfort zone and show them that they can become and achieve anything. These can be, for example, women who have successfully entered manager clubs, run corporations or fly into space. They prove that competency, ability and success is not a matter of gender. Their efforts open the doors to a new era of equality.

A new generation is raised

But what about today’s racers? Unfortunately, we have to admit that it is not very different to Annie´s days. Although women are once again allowed to race and to take part in “Le Mans”, there has been only one woman among the 180 participants this year: Christina Nielsen. The Dane says of herself: “I am not a woman who races. I am a racer who’s a woman.” This shows her spirit: She is self-confident. That is also because no one in her family ever said: You can’t do that because you are a woman. Unfortunately, not every girl is offered that kind of encouragement. Through her father, himself a former racing driver, Christina Nielsen came in contact with motorsport at an early age. At the age of 15 she had the saying “Racing is life” tattooed against her fathers will. But she was right and turned her hobby into her profession soon — with great results, also in comparison to her male competitors.

Never settle for anything

Despite her success, she still feels pressure on her — because she is a woman. When she has an accident, there is always someone who has a trivial advice, as if it was due to her lack of skills. Whereas men, who make mistakes, have “given everything”. But even that does not discourage Christina. She draws strength from her team, which always holds her back. The support of her surrounding is her secret of success. In her inner circle she lets people who truly belief that she can do it, because she is a woman.

Despite her outstanding performance, Nielsen does not want to rest and is not satisfied with her success yet. In addition to the professional racing sport, she graduated management and marketing communication at university. Now she has been setting herself a new goal: She wants to understand the technology of a Porsche better. Even though she is often at the finish line, she has not yet reached her goals. This is an integral part of her remarkable personality and makes her a great female role model.

For me, these women are real role models. I also want to motivate all women to follow their passion, no matter what it looks like. By going our own way, we become role models for future generations and show girls that everything can be achieved.

More about inspiring women and men can be found on our Porsche Medium Blog or Twitter and Instagram.

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Anja Hendel

Managing Director @ diconium | #Innovation #DigitalTransformation #Mobility | How do we transfer the successful German art of engineering into the digital age?