In early 2007, I picked up a book that would light a spark within me about what I believe is missing for women in motorsports.
The book addresses strategies on how women can achieve success in a boardroom or a corporate environment, but its significance is that much more evident in the male-dominated realm of the racing world.
Gail Evans writes there is one golden rule that all women should adhere to if we are ever to reach an equal success.
“Every woman must always play on the women’s team.”
She Wins, You Win.
It really is as simple as that. Why?
“Because every time any woman succeeds in business, your chances of succeeding in business increase. And every time a woman fails in business, your chances of failure increase.”
Substitute business for motorsports, and there you have it. THE answer to how women can level the playing field in the sport.
Think about it… how many times have you seen the catty comments about another female in motorsports? Why do we consider each other RIVALS instead of ALLIES? We talk so much about how women belong in the sport, yet once we make it, we spend so much time trying to disassociate away from being a “female racer” as though the title somehow diminished or tarnished the achievement instead of punctuating it.
I recognized this tendency in myself early on, and it was the catharsis of this that led me to create Horsepower & Heels and has fueled now 10 years and counting of promoting and supporting women in motorsports. This cause- Women in Racing – has become my passion, and a labor of love that I hope can be shared with the thousands of women involved in the sport today and those who will come to be in the future as a result of all the hard work of their predecessors.
As I thought about my place in life now away from the driver’s seat, and how I could use Horsepower & Heels to make a difference, I wanted to resurrect this blog and use my voice to help women in racing. So here it goes….
Her loss isn’t your gain.
One of the first things that seems ingrained into women is that there are only a few “spots” open, only a few seats in the game reserved for women. The notion of scarcity was pioneered by the early champions of our cause. Shirley Muldowney, Lyn St.James and others of their era fought hard and fought alone to break down those first barriers and advance themselves into those rare positions. Those women truly had their work cut out for them.
Somehow, instead of celebrating those successes as a win for the “team”, we’ve come to believe that the only road to success is one paved alone, and that makes other women “the competition” and the enemy in a fight for survival. This means that not only are we competing as the minority against men, but we also are competing against one another. Problem is, when we don’t support the common cause: opening the doors for ALL women and thereby creating MORE seats in the game, we are sabotaging ourselves by fighting it out for the rare chairs to survive.
We are NOT all Equal
Its almost become cliche now. The classic response to what it means to be a woman in the sport:
“The race car doesn’t know the difference.”
Somewhere between the stages of starting out all pink “Girl Power” everything and the jaded years spent recalling how “The Good Ole Boy Network” is alive and thriving, there seems to be a trend toward dismissing any and all identification as a woman who just so happens to also be a bad ass race car driver. It’s as though women think that in order to achieve success and a sense of equality in the sport, they must constantly apologize for being who they are, for being a WOMAN. That by acknowledging this obvious difference, it might make them less of an equal to their male counterparts. I’ve voiced how much this makes me cringe before when some of my favorite drivers have done just that.
Newsflash, ladies. We are NOT equal. Women are still the minority. We regularly have to work HARDER to prove ourselves. We are scrutinized for our errors more critically, unrecognized for accomplishments that should be our own and not attributed to an associated man, subjected to sexist comments and overlooked for deserved opportunities over less-qualified male cohorts.
I had the misfortune of experiencing this first hand. A naive and ambitious young driver, I was driven daily by the dream of breaking into the professional ranks of the sport. When a vacant seat in a very prominent team opened, I quickly reached out asking for consideration. My request was “humored” by someone I had a deep respect for as one of the most influential people in the sport. I say “humored” because that’s precisely what it turned out to be- nothing more than putting on airs for the sake of being politically correct.
I wasn’t prepared to hear someone for whom I had such deep admiration tell me that they were not convinced a woman belonged behind the wheel, that they lacked the strength to “manhandle” the beast, and that he simply was entertaining the interview at the request of the sponsor funding the car. I was speechless. None of the valid reasons, the fire, the tenacity that should have erupted from within me would reach the surface. The glass ceiling came stifling down on my dream, and before I even knew what was happening, I was being shooed out of that pit, thoroughly dejected and disgusted with myself for not taking my stand.
Its easy to think that in this day and age, such rampant sexism doesn’t exist. But even though we are all just people, and the race car doesn’t know the difference— men do, and until we stop accepting the current situation as “equal” and start working towards true equality, the spots open to women will still be limited to the few and not the masses.
By not declaring ourselves as “women” who can drive the wheels off a race car, we are dismissing the idea that women CAN and DESERVE the attention of the sport. In her book, Evans asks a former member of Congress to recall just how women were granted the right to vote. His answer “Men eventually decided it was the right course of action.” To men, its because they decided to give permission, because THEY hold the ultimate power. In reality, without the suffrage, the protests, the hard fight and pressure of the women’s demands, the passing of the Women’s Right to vote would have never occurred.
That right wasn’t gifted, it was demanded. So why would we think that by saying that we don’t want to be viewed as a “female racer” would lead to us being viewed as equals? Instead, we should be wanting to be viewed and respected as exactly who we are: successful female racers. (And proud of it!) Stop apologizing for being a woman, you only reinforce the idea that somehow being a female is wrong!
Because who says Horsepower & Heels don’t mix?!?
Share YOUR story! Please comment below!
What have your experiences been in the racing world and how could they benefit by rallying together onto one team- with one common goal?