2010-10-13

On being a woman in racing

It is no secret that racing is at the moment a male-dominated field. Being a social science major, I wonder about things like why that is and how it could be changed to be more representative of the actual gender ratios in the society. Not sure I am ready to present my theories to the public yet, but I wanted to take some time to share my experience being a woman race car driver.

The currently accepted gender roles (stereotypes) also tend to assign genders to professions and activities, leading to certain occupations being almost exclusively associated with a particular gender. Look at the picture, where the scientist and the fire fighter are men, and the teacher and the nurse are women.

Similarly, being a race car driver is something that is considered gender-appropriate for a man, and as these things usually go, men are the ones who mostly go into racing.

At the same time the perception of racing, which in no small part has been influenced by the media, is that women are only allowed in the pit lane, as "trophy girls" wearing spandex and showing cleavage for visual enjoyment of male drivers and the audience.

There is no objective reason for it to be this way. Power steering and power brakes have leveled the playing field (assuming that an "average" woman has less physical strength than an "average" man FWIW), but even without power steering, I don't find myself at a disadvantage running a Miata on road courses.

There is no scientific reason for women to enjoy speed and lateral Gs any less than men, just go to your nearest roller-coaster for a representative sample!

Also, not all performance driving events are races, and there are participation opportunities for all aggression (and testosterone) levels.

And lastly, sexism does not run rampant at the track. I have bought my spec Miata and ran each month since May this year, and so far at the track, nobody was a dick to me, and everyone was nice and helpful.

Sum total, the world of amateur racing has been consistently defying every gender discrimination stereotype I could think of. Nobody has ever said or done anything that would make me feel uncomfortable, be it an unwelcome advance or a comment about what "girls" are and are not supposed to do. Car people turned out to be an extremely welcoming bunch.

To be perfectly honest, I do wish that I were less of an exception when I go to the track. Believe it or not, I don't always like to stick out like a sore thumb, and would appreciate some female reinforcement. Women would find that it's a very non-threatening environment if they only got their asses in gear and came to one of these events, that I can no longer imagine not participating in.