June 26, 2012

OPINION DISCUSSION: Sexism in F1 or just playing to the target audience?

Posted in F1, Opinions?, Sexism tagged , , , , at 3:17 pm by thereallybadfword

So basically, I seem to flit between these two on my own opinion. Half of me thinks it is sexist and hates the way the grid girls are they for no real reason other than to be a bit of eye candy. They hold flags or number cards next to the cars before the race, and the cameras take every opportunity to get a close up of some cleavage or tight skirt. Then, at the end of the race, they are lined up to applaud the top 3 drivers as they take their place on the podium. Notice there are no other women around in general. Sure, a few journalists (still young ones, not old and greying like some of the men!) But no drivers. No engineers. (That I have seen, I could be wrong) What message does this send out? That women are only there to ‘look pretty’? For men’s enjoyment? To be the ‘eye candy’? I do wonder…

I’m not saying that this is my view, as I said I am in two minds, as my next thought was,

Well. Yes, there are no women drivers. But maybe that’s why there are only grid girls. Straight men, (and as far as we know, all the F1 drivers are straight) like women. So perhaps if there was a female driver or two, she would have hunky men at her car with bulging muscles wearing a stretchy tight tank top? I still cannot see this happening any time soon though.

My question still is, what is the point of them? I’m pretty sure any mention of their occupation could get the drivers any girl they wanted anyway, so surely they are not needed for them? They are busy before a race with the car and fittings etc and after the race, walking to the podium, they don’t seem to take any notice of the girls, they walk straight past! Now, this is allONcamera of course. Who knows what they do when the cameras stop rolling. But I’m not bothered about that. They can do what they like in their own time. I’m concerned with the message the TV coverage of F1 grid girls gives out.

So my concluding thought would be they are there for the TV audience, the majority of which is men. But this is where I cannot get off the point that it is sexist. They must know F1 is not solely watched by men?! So for us ladies, where are our hunky men with bulging muscles wearing stretchy tight tank tops??!!! You could argue that we have the drivers to ogle over but since they are zipped up from neck to toe the entire time I hardly think it is a fair comparison. Or are women just not interested in that type of thing? Do you actually just not want to see men represented in the same way as the grid girls are? And why? If you are a man reading this I think I am correct in thinking, you would still watch F1 if the camera concentrated on what the event is supposed to be about, drivers and racing? No?

So those are my thoughts. I keep watching F1 as I love the race but this question shoots into mind week after week. I would be very interested to hear anyone else’s opinion on it….



  1. Paulio H said,

    I don’t often comment on things, but I was really happy to see someone writing about this, as it is something I’ve often thought about myself. So thanks for writing about it!

    In particular I often think about it because I always cringe when watching the drivers go up to the podium, walking past all of the grid girls forced to smile and clap. It feels so fake compared to all of the cheering crowds outside, and while I’m not sure it is the intention, it does perhaps give the impression of the women being there just to uselessly clap the men on for being so great because all they are up to is holding signs. And does it matter whether it is the intention or not?

    If the grid girls are targeted at me as a male viewer then I find it very patronising that someone seems to think I can’t maintain any interest if I’m not shown a stereotype of what a marketing person thinks I should find attractive. Show me the racing!

    It doesn’t stop me enjoying F1, but in the same way that I dislike the side effects of the greed and business that surrounds the sport, it does make me feel slightly uneasy about associating myself with the sport to certain friends, as there are many criticisms of F1 I feel one could legitimately make.

    While the grid girls have been around for so long you could argue it is part of the sport’s tradition, I’m not sure that is a good enough reason not to change and start new traditions. Holding a sign is not a difficult job. Why not recruit fans of all shapes, sizes, genders etc at each race to fill the role? That would be wonderful to see I think. I suspect the clapping on the podium route wouldn’t be so stilted then.

    I’d also love it if there were more women in the sport, particularly as drivers, as there aren’t many sports where men and women are considered equal to compete against each other, so it seems a shame that there is currently a lack of available women drivers in higher levels of motorsport.

  2. Shaun said,

    Firstly, I just finished an engineering degree. The split between males and females was about 90/10. This isn’t an obscure figure and it would be fair to postulate similar ratios for Universities across the UK (In which most of the F1 teams are based). Therefore I can only put the lack of females in F1 down to the lack of interest the majority of women seem to have towards engineering.

    Secondly, F1 isn’t about women holding signs. It’s about speed, competition and the beauty in engineering. If you really think men care about these girls then you’re completely wrong.

    • Hi Shaun. Thanks for commenting!
      As I have said below, I’m sure you’re quite right about why there are less women in F1 in general. What concerns me is the women the camera chooses to film. Some posters have told me about the women in the garages and I had no idea – and I’m the one actively looking for them! If I cant see them……
      I don’t think I ever said that men care that they are there. But then if they don’t, why are they there? Certainly not for the women?…

  3. A. James said,


    So I’ve read this posts and your previous posts just as a measure of where your coming from. I must say I find your writing style quite flowing and pleasant to read.

    On to the subject at hand though. This one has come up quite often in my own thinking time as well. So my opinion:

    Is is sexist? Is it culture? Or could it be both and neither? See I think that in some ways it is sexist. Yes dressing women up in scantily clad clothing for a sport is outdated and paints an image that that’s all us male’s are interested in. Sadly as someone previously mentioned, sex does sell. Don’t get me wrong, its not a bad sight, and if it was a balance of men and women it would probably be more bearable as one could argue its about “good looking people for a glamorous sport.”

    That being said, I don’t particularly think it alienates females because if you want to watch racing, that’s what you will watch. You will overlook the females in tight Lycra.

    But I think there’s more to it than that. I’m a recently graduated electronic engineer and in my class at university, there were only girls out of near 45 guys. Add to that theses two girls were from Malaysia and they I don’t think they finished the course. More so, across the entire engineering department there weren’t more than 6 girls. So could it be more a case of; this is not a field where females of this day an age tend to put themselves? Go back even further and at college girls weren’t doing physics and maths. So I don’t think it is a case of a “male sport” where females are given a hard time. There are almost no females to give a hard time.

    In F1 today you have a few “behind the scene’s” females. The head of Sauber is female, though again that’s the business side of the company. So taking it on balance there are more male drivers than female drivers up and coming through the lower series and there just seems to be no women coming to the top tier.

    All in all, I think that when it comes to F1 and motor racing on a whole, females are represented as they are not because the sport is sexist, but because there are few females doing anything else in the sport. You are on of the few girls by and far that seem to enjoy motor racing and ask any guy…that’s hard to find.

    • Hello A. James. Thanks for commenting. And for the compliment. I do my best 🙂
      “good looking people for a glamorous sport.” I think this is DEFINITELY the original plan as to why they are there. But then where are the equally statuesque men? And “if you want to watch racing, that’s what you will watch.” Does this not apply to men too? Therefore rendering the girls useless?
      Reading yours and a few other responders posts, I don’t doubt there are less women in/ going into engineering. That wouldn’t surprise me at all. What concerns me is the message of the camera closing in on the grid girls. I am hoping to start work as a youth worker and things like this make me ponder what message the TV coverage gives out to the next generation?
      The last part of your post makes me wonder. Do they represent women on F1 like this (On TV) as there are few women in F1? Or are there few women in F1 because represent women in this way?
      I honestly do Love F1. And as I said somewhere below, I would never let this question stop me watching it. I’m glad someone like you, a male, also asks yourself this question though. That is extremely encouraging to know 🙂

      • A. James said,

        I think you should take what I said about “watch the racing not the girls” with a pinch of salt. Because while a few of us guys might see the girls and just think “pretty, but move over so I can see that McLaren” there are a large following of guys who want to see that.

        Yes I agree that the camera men seem like a bunch of teenagers when they go down the grid, but I say this shouldn’t influence anyone. Young and impressionable people need good strong parenting and people like yourself, youth workers. Because if you take the TV as a messenger then you will start asking all sorts of questions and it will boil down to why some people chose to follow the example displayed and some people decide to take a different path and pursue something worthwhile. We all watch the same TV.

        Personally, and with all the evidence on view, I don’t think they are represented like this because there are few women in F1 but because of society on a whole where pretty women/people are splashed everywhere because that’s strangely the priority of the world at large.

        Saying that, I don’t think this has an influence on women to join F1. Because what would put them off? “O this sport only puts women there for men to ogle at so I’m not going to join.” I somehow doubt that.

        I ask myself a lot of things. I’m especially interested in your post about children and are we genetically designed to like “boy things” or “girl things” or is it society’s influence. Very interested.

        P.S I don’t understand why my little symbol next to my name is pink….I am a boy 🙂

  4. Dimitar said,

    Ban the grid girls? What a stupid idea! Then let’s also ban Victoria’s Secret, Lancome and most such brands for the same reason.
    This could only stem from envy.
    Part of F1 is the looks and these girls are pretty. They are not forced to be there. They are not taken advantage of. They are beautiful.
    Men in tights? I don’t mind, as long as the high standards are there and the girls too. And please, don’t make the grid boys wear bras for the sake of equality – will look plain silly 😉

    • Except Victoria’s Secret, Lancome and such brands are for women. Marketed at women. If that is your argument in favour of them for F1 then fair enough but they are not comparable.
      Yes, I was wondering when someone would bring up the envy argument. Just as understandable as it is inaccurate. I couldn’t care less how stunning or ugly they are, the point of my post was wanting others opinions as I hadn’t fully formed my own yet. That I wonder what reason having a line of ‘pretty girls’ (your words) is?
      I would have no problem in keeping the girls there if there was to be suitable equal representation of ‘handsome men’ there as well…

  5. To the spammers, and everyone else, please all feel free to read my ‘About me’ post before you start judging what all my opinions must be, just because I have the ‘feminist’ tag…

  6. Point of note – The new CEO of Sauber is female. There are also two female development drivers in Williams and Marussia. Women are also enjoying various levels of success in lower formulas and other championships (i.e. Danica Patrick in Indycar).

    F1 doesn’t have any active female drivers because frankly, there are only 24 actual places on the grid, populated by a number of talented individuals and Pastor Maldonaldo – If a female driver proves good enough to rise quickly through the ranks, sweeping her rivals (male and female) aside, then surely she’d be a dead cert for a seat, what with the PR boost that Bernie seems to love?

    Also, aren’t the Grid Girls arranged by the promoter or headline sponsor of the GP? Aren’t the top three guided to the podium by women essentially dressed as air stewardesses? Therefore isn’t the criticism aimed at the sponsor, not the sport?

    Finally, by asking for hunky men in ripped lycra, you’re getting balance, but it’s all still sexism in one way or another – I don’t want to see a grid of buff lifeguards holding signs in the same way you don’t want playboy models.

    • Hello Andrew Bryant. Thank you for your thoughts on this. I am very pleased to be made aware of more women working in Motorsport! That’s great.
      I’m sure your right that there are no female drivers good enough yet. With only 24 places, any spot is indeed a highly competitive place to get.
      I’m not sure it really matters who organises that the grid girls are there. The fact is they are there. And the point of this post was me wondering what message their presence sends out. Especially to young impressionable girls. You could argue not many young girls watch it, but I always have and I wouldn’t even class myself as a ‘tomboy girl’.
      I would only expect the ‘hunk’ to be there for the/ a female driver, if all the grid girls were still there for the male drivers. Although thinking about that image, I think it would just highlight the stupidity of having any such person there at all. Hunk or babe.

  7. Nick said,

    Ever since the days of James Hunt passed, I highly doubt most drivers are interested in the girls there. Maybe Eddie Irvine 10-15 years ago, but he was mostly show. Most drivers have steady relationships, as do most mechanics and engineers.

    Putting women in tight clothing with brand names/associations is still a reputable marketing technique somehow. Just ask F1 fans about the Campari girls, odds are they know the girls, but not the product. Eddie Jordan’s team got more pics in the F1 magazines because of his models than his results in 1997/8, which is pretty sad. I don’t think this concept will change at all, not until marketing worldwide abandon the concept of sex sells.

    F1 has always been a bit alienated from the real world and as long as there isn’t a reputable, successful female driver (sadly, most female drivers are PR machines or somehow disappear after Karting before making it into serious competitions) I don’t think it’ll change. There’s a few girls making it big, like Beitske Visser in the Formula Adac, who won a race the day after she crashed heavily.

    I really root for female drivers like her, because it’s hard to be taken seriously (Danica Patrick has been used as a PR pony for the harshly failed USF1 team many times, not to mention the terribly sexist GoDaddy commercials) and sponsors can be hard to come by without a female audience.

    As far as technical jobs and journalism goes, I think females aren’t attracted to motorsports as men are in general, but also aren’t being attracted by the sports themselves. If you have no affliction with a sport or technology, regardless of gender, it’s pretty hard to end up working in it.

    Signed, a guy who likes F1 and dreads feminism is still needed in 2012.

    • Hello Nick. Thank you for your reply. I think you are right. Sex sells. Sadly. Am I right in thinking you would then agree with the middle part of my post saying that the girls are there as the audience is mostly male? What would you say the opinion of the poster below who thinks its alienates half the population? I’m just interested.
      I agree with you that you don’t think females are attracted to Motorsport in general. Especially the technical jobs.
      I also dread feminism is still needed in this day and age. But Sadly, needs must.

      • Nick said,

        I think that’s the case, the women were put there to ‘be attractive’ by men, for men. Mind you, the sport is ran by a guy in his 80s, who, a few years ago said this about Danica Patrick: “You know I’ve got one of those wonderful ideas … women should be dressed in white like all the other domestic appliances.” Yeah, pretty welcoming commentary. I’d say it’s mainly to appeal to male consumers, but that’s not just down to marketing, race organizers are pretty tight about who can be where at what time, and obviously they somehow want those girls there to look pretty and applaud from time to time.

        I think there will always be some differentiation between the genders in what they like, so I’d agree F1 isn’t doing any good in reaching females as potential audience. But as said, women seem to have less interest in motorsports in general (I think that may have to do with men being more competitive in their nature than women), so while I feel it’s necessary to get rid of the outdated gender roles in F1 and promote women’s opportunities, I’m not sure if women would become more involved in F1 by the same means women became involved in politics, management, etc. (even though there’s battles there still.)

        • Grant Gordon said,

          I would be very careful assuming that there is an inherent trait in women that makes motorsport less appealing, and I certainly wouldn’t say that women are less competitive than men. Perhaps it has more to do with the fact that from a very young age, women are barraged by messages telling them that cars are a “boy thing”. Almost everything about the motor industry is specifically targeted at men. It’s not hard to see why a lot of women wouldn’t develop an interest in motorsport when society keeps impressing on her that it’s not something she’s supposed to like.

          • Nick said,

            Nurturing certainly has to do with this issue, but I wouldn’t rule out the nature side of things. I’m not saying women can’t be competitive (sports in general would prove me wrong, amongst many other facts of life), but even in young children, you can see boys are more likely to want to excel over others/by all means necessary and are more stubborn, than girls are. I guess you could argue that men are more likely to be nurtured into ‘fast cars, woohoo!’ as well.

            I agree motorsports need to make an effort on being more attractive to women, though. Not ‘adapt to’, as in ‘become more girls’, which would be rubbish, but try and take away the barriers set in society, as well as the people currently in the sport. I’m not a psychologist or have any studies at hand to back me up, but there are ‘women-things’ that will never attract men as well.

  8. As a man, I can safely say that I really would not mind the grid girls not being there. Or a group of hunks, a mixed sexily dressed group.
    Better even, have the local boyscouts, or local drivers and track helpers, or some kind of local traditional costumed people or carnival instead (have AbuDhabi grid girls dress in head-toe dress? why not).
    As with the local anthem not being really noticed at all on TV, this could be used a lot better to show a bit of local culture and traditions to make far more of the potential

    • Hi BasCB. Thank you for a your reply. It’s interesting to see you say that you wouldn’t mind them not being there. I wonder who then (or what), they ARE there for?
      Then,I completely agreed with every word you typed! It would be great extra TV coverage for the hosting country, to show off and tell the audience about their culture. What a great idea!

    • Jason said,

      “some kind of local traditional costumed people or carnival instead (have AbuDhabi grid girls dress in head-toe dress? why not).”

      I believe to some extent they do this already—dress the women in vaguely culturally representational clothing. I don’t usually pay the grid girls much notice, although I do remember a driver (perhaps Vettel?) winking at one as he walked to the podium a few years ago.

      Those familiar with Codemaster’s F1 2010 & 2011 might point out the grid girls make a small appearance there, in culturally relevant clothing depending on the location of the race.

      I would love to see the Grid girls dressed even more “costumed,” to help enhance the parade sense and remove some of the “sex sells” attitude they carry today. Or maybe they could be replaced by sexy androgynous robots that we can all admire and comfortably objectify without pause. But then, we’d still be celebrating some fake ideal of what a being should look like.

  9. Grant Gordon said,

    Having grid “girls” has always bothered me, it’s completely unnecessary and serves to further make women think that F1 is not for them. F1 and F1 fans should want to share our love for the sport with as many people as possible, and any way that we can make the sport seem less targeted at only half the population the better.

    • Hi Grant Gordon. Thanks for sharing your thoughts on this. I guess some women would be put off by them. However I cannot comment for them, as It has never put me off watching, rather than raise this debate with myself every race week. I do agree though, that it does seem to make the sport targeted at only half the population.

  10. iamsa8 said,

    Well written article, really neutral!

    I’m sure some of the point of having grid girls stems down from the tradition of the victory ceremony, spraying champagne, etc. But it actually might be time for a change. The way that I see the grid girls are as “promotional girls”, people paid to promote a certain product or company. In places like motorsports events and conventions (like E3, for example), there seem to be a very high amount of promotional people wandering around the place handing out flyers and advertising the products. Some of those people (at E3 especially) are dressed completely in costume, or in other crazy clothes. This gives me the feeling that they’re nothing more than an advertisement, akin to blaring noise and lights on TV; they exist solely to grab the customers attention. I guess straight men seem to be easily influenced by a scantily dressed female!

    On the other hand, grid girls aren’t actually selling anything, so this entire post may be invalid. My other thought is that having the grid girls clapping at the end is another throughback to the ol’ fairytale style archetypes where the hero (Fernando Alonso) sets out on a daring quest (The Valencian GP) battling in the face of life and death (racing an F1 car between those pesky concrete walls!). In the end the hero gets back home with the trophy, and is swooned over by every girl on the village. It’s an old stereotype, I don’t think it’s there to degrade women (for the drivers to look at), but to signify how much of a boss the drivers are. Then again, Bernie is in charge of this sport, so anything goes..

    • Hello iamsa8. That’s for the compliment 🙂 I’m glad you thought it worth the read. That’s really interesting about the traditions. I never knew that. For the ‘promotion’ idea. You are probably right, but even that seems a little sexist, as it’s only promoting to one gender. I don’t know many women who would want to ‘buy into’ a product because of them.
      Having said that, your post has given me a lot to think about and I want to thank you again for such a detailed response!

  11. Dale said,

    The television that my wife likes to watch is very much dressed up with male models. She happens to watch “reality” programming mostly these days and it seems pretty well stocked with handsome college aged men.
    These grid girls are not spokes-women for all woman-kind. They are indeed there as nothing more than potted plants but so what?
    As to women in F1? Check out the Ferrari garage during the races. You’ll see more than one woman in red overalls.

    • Hi Dale. Thanks for you response. I’m glad there are women in the Ferrari garage. I hadn’t noticed. I certainly hope I can see them in action on a race day soon.

  12. […] Sexism in F1 or just playing to the target audience? (The really bad F word) […]

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