Community Magazine

"Drivers and Danica!"? Have Women Come as Far as We Think?

By Momishblog @momishblog

At Sunday's kick off of NASCAR's 2013 Season, the Daytona 500, Driver Danica Patrick took the pole position.  For those not familiar with racing, this is a BIG deal.  Not only is this her first season racing NASCAR (she's a former Indy Car driver) but she took the pole position (aka, the top spot) to start the race.  Patrick continues to break barrier after barrier for women in racing.  The majority of her fellow drivers will tell you she's earned it, never relying on her role as the "female driver" to get ahead.  
So why did James Franco feel the need to single her out at Sunday's race?  Franco was the Grand Marshal of the race, aka the guy who traditionally says "Gentlemen, start your engines!"  This is when the crowd goes crazy and you feel what racing is all about...the roar of the engines, the rattle of the track, and the excitement that builds in your chest...its palpable.  Its fair to say he choked.  At least we hope so.  He hasn't yet come out and said what happened.  It's likely however that he was trying to decide what to say.  Should it have been "Gentlemen and Lady" or "Drivers"?  What came out was "Drivers and Danica" a slip that could happen to any of us and would be an embarrassment for sure.  
Franco's snafu aside, it has me wondering if women have come as far as they think in the world of racing.  Patrick is not the first female driver.  In fact, 15 other women have gone before her with the first being in 1949.  Her most recent predecessor, Shawna Robinson, hasn't raced since 1995 and none of the women before her were the skilled athlete that Danica is.  Race fans would be hard pressed to even remember the female drivers prior to Patrick.  
With so few strong female athletes in the sport, are women really achieving equality or are they still a novelty to a traditionally white male audience?  

Christmas Abbott, NASCAR's 1st Female Pit Crew Member wearing less than her uniform

For the first time in the sport's history, Christmas Abbott, a female mechanic, has made it on to a pit crew.  She's the first female pit crew member and will be working for a female driver in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series (think traditional NASCAR with really fast trucks).  She's suspected to gain momentum and make it the Sprint Cup Series (aka the mother of all NASCAR circuits-Daytona 500 is part of that series).  
The simple fact that women like Abbott and Patrick continue to be photographed in bathing suites, looking like pinup models, instead of their uniforms or street clothes tells us that while these women have what it takes they're not being respected as true athletes like their male counterparts.  When was the last time you saw Jimmie JohnsonDale Earnhardt Jr., or Mark Martin (the top 3 finishers at this year's Daytona 500) in their bathing suits or even with their shirts off? And while I support any person's right to pose in as few or as many pieces of clothing as possible, the promotion of women like this by NASCAR & Indy Car is only detracting from their skills and athletic ability.  It's as if the officials, as well as many of the fans, are saying, "Sure, you can play.  Just make sure you give us something to look at along the way, sweetie." 
Yes, the sport is FINALLY welcoming women but it has a long way to go before women are looked upon as equals for their talent and athletic ability.  

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