Sports fans love their traditions. Ask any super fan about their game day rituals and you’ll probably elicit some story about an arduous routine involving specific pairs of underwear worn specific ways. But with all the fun comes a long, complex history of gendered exclusion. While the sports world has a long way to go for its female athletes, there is another frontier of gender equality in athleticism that is equally contentious right now: grid girls.
Who are the grid girls? Models hired to stand beside the cars at a race and hold sign displaying a driver’s name, all while adorning brand-sanctioned outfits that are notoriously small. On Wednesday, international car racing organization Formula 1 announced that they would no longer be using “grid girls” at their events. In a statement, they explained that they “feel this custom does not resonate with [their] brand values and is clearly at odds with modern day societal norms” and that they “don’t believe the practice is appropriate or relevant to Formula 1 and its fans, old and new, across the world.”
Some of the women who work as grid girls took to social media to share their upset at the loss of their job, going so far as to blame feminists for meddling. Former grid girl Rebecca Cooper went to Twitter to share her distaste: “Ridiculous that women who say they are ‘fighting for women’s rights’ are saying what others should and shouldn’t do, stopping us from doing a job we love and are proud to do. PC gone mad.” Michelle Westby, a grid girl turned stunt-and-drift competition driver, posted on Facebook, “I’m now retired from it all but to think girls have now lost a lot of important income because feminists think they know best when they haven’t a clue is really frustrating, we have our own voice, we loved doing the job, this is all basically because some men can’t control what comes out their mouth and nothing to do with the girls.”
While there is a vocal faction of girls and fans who disapprove of the shift, many in the global community are happy with the move. The Women’s Sports Trust, a charity that promotes women’s visibility in sports, said in a statement, “This is not a matter of feminists versus models, which seems to be the way many people want to portray this story. These changes are taking place because global businesses are making a considered choice about how women should be valued and portrayed in their sports in 2018. They deserve significant credit for doing so.”
With the focus fixed on the driving, the new Formula 1 season starts on March 25.