Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Worthy of debate.

Discrimination Against Women in Motor Sport: Time to ditch the Fastest Lady of the Day Award

Drivers who aspire to get into motor racing start out at the club level where drivers compete against the stopwatch in hill climbs and sprints. This is a great way to gain experience in basic car handling and driving at speed. Some may progress to owning a racing car which can be entered in open events at tracks such as Wakefield Park in Goulburn. In these events, it seems there is rarely any discrimination against drivers who are women and there are no special awards given that are gender specific. But at the club level, it's a different story.
The Fastest Lady of the Day Trophy
The history of the Fastest Lady of the Day trophy is not really known but the first car club was founded in 1934, so it's likely that was around the time the predominantly male members of car clubs decided to award this dubious prize. The trophy is also awarded in other former Commonwealth countries.
At the time it was commonly believed that women were hopeless drivers who would never compete with men. Right up to the 1980s when the first of the antidiscrimination laws were passed, men were constantly saying that women couldn't drive, in newspaper editorials, current affairs programmes and in various public places. Distasteful jokes about women drivers did the rounds.
The Fastest Lady of the Day award seems to confirm this view. It's saying: You women can't drive and you will never compete with we men, so here's a consolation prize for you to encourage you to come back next time.
Is it still relevant, if it ever was?
The supposed justification for awarding the Fastest Lady trophy is to encourage women to participate in motor sport. It hasn't worked. Over the past fifty years, as far as I can determine, there has been no increase in the numbers of women competitors. There have never been more than two or three women competing at any given event. There is no longer any justification for this trophy whatsoever. It is anachronistic, disrespectful of women's achievements in motor sport and demeaning, because the women who do compete are very capable.
The reasons for this lack of participation by women in the sport are probably many but basically there are very few women who are interested in cars and mechanics and this isn't changing. Handing out trophies that have not been earned is not going to change the situation. Differentiating competitors by their gender in motor sport is completely unnecessary and insulting. It's the condescending nature of a token award for being average.
Can women competitors drive as well as men?
The late Frank Gardner set up a race driving school at Calder Raceway, Victoria, when he retired from racing in Europe. He didn't expect to be teaching women and didn't particularly want to, but when several very talented women joined his race driving school, he was amazed to find they were not only excellent drivers, but better than most of the men he had taught. This changed his view of women drivers completely. The fact is, when women are interested in driving, they do it as well as, or if not better than other competitors. There is therefore no need to be patronizing and award special trophies to women.
Novice awards and most improved driver awards would be a good replacement for this outdated prize as long as they are not gender specific. Some car clubs have a Scrutineers' Award for the best turned-out car or a Driver of the Day trophy chosen by the flag marshals.
Is it unlawful discrimination?
While on initial examination it doesn't seem that awarding a 'Fastest Lady' trophy amounts to unlawful discrimination, it is in fact patronizing at the very least. To be patronizing means to treat with an apparent kindness which betrays a feeling of superiority. It is indicative of an offensively condescending manner – 'a patronizing greeting, accompanied by a gentle pat on the back.' 'Well done girls, you can't really drive, but take this home for the mantelpiece so you know we appreciated the fact that you tried.'
In actual fact, many of these women are coming first, second or third in their class and that is the achievement for which they should receive an award, the same as the other competitors.
'Fast Lady': offensive connotations
In addition, the term 'fast lady' is very offensive. It is an old Australian expression meaning a 'loose woman', a 'fallen woman' or a prostitute. Check the dictionary if you don't believe it.
Therefore the awarding of 'Fastest Lady of the Day' trophy does fall into the category of discrimination and harassment.There's been many a snigger by males as the woman is presented with her 'prize'. It's all part of the oppression of women that the antidiscrimination laws were meant to address.
The rules regarding the awarding of the trophy 'Fastest Lady of the Day' vary from car club to car club.
Some clubs give a trophy to a woman even if she is the only female competitor. Some require there to be at least two women competing in order for a trophy to be awarded. In the past, clubs have been known to fail to award a woman for coming first or second in her class, instead giving her the Fastest Lady trophy, because it is the larger and more expensive one and it's assumed that is what she's really after.
One would wonder what kind of competitive spirit a woman has who would agree to accept a trophy in those circumstances. Here are some comments from women competitors:
*I don't like the idea of the 'fastest lady' trophy, but my husband said to accept it with a smile and be a good sport.
*I didn't want to accept it but how can you refuse in front of thirty or forty men? What are you supposed to say?
*If I didn't accept the trophy the men in the club would be really annoyed and would probably ostracize me.
At times women who compete in motor sport have tried to explain to men why the Fastest Lady of the Day is insulting to them and how they'd really rather not have it.
Online harassment and intimidation of women car club members is rife
Here are some comments written online by men from car clubs after women attempted to put their case that they would like to compete on equal terms with the other competitors.
“But we're saving you money. Entry is only $30 for girls and juniors - $80 for everyone else.”(Everyone else? That would be the 'real' competitors, right? The men? And the women are referred to as 'girls' and compared with fifteen year old 'juniors')
“Ur just bored behind your computer. I'm not going to go racing with someone like urself the way ur are bitching and carrying on don't like the entry rules don't bloody enter simple so easy really” (sic)
“You are writing shit on this post. You need the spotlight on yourself.”
One man at least gets it...
On a Scottish car club forum, a forward-thinking man, possibly aware of antidiscrimination laws and the the anachronistic nature of the Fastest Lady award, wrote this:
“I've been thinking for a while now that maybe the concept of having a Fastest Lady award is a tad passe? I think if I was a female competitor, I might look upon such a thing as being a bit like, 'Thanks for coming and doing your best love' – if you see what I mean. There's no reason why a female competitor should be considered any differently from her male counterparts in terms of driving skill – so why mark the distinction?”
This very reasonable question sparked a hatefest that was quite amazing. Here are some of the responses from men on the forum.
“Had a few before posting that one Eric?”
“I am sure the chicks would be up for it. What about newcomers as well? Or people that drive up the hill using one hand? Or better still backwards?”
“Is this not discriminating against the lesbian fastest lady of the day?”
“Are they not still ladys?” (sic)
“I can't stop laughing at the discriminatory against lesbian one.”
“It's a booby prize if you'll pardon the pun.”
“A ladies award is part of our tradition and we won't give it up lightly.”
“You risked opening a can of worms that it might be difficult getting the lid back on.”
“At the end of the day we have to let the little ladies go home thinking they have achieved something.”
Women in car clubs are powerless, isolated and are expected to remain silent
So it is clear that women who object to the awarding of a prize which has not been earned and which is gender specific are going to be bullied, intimidated and harassed online and possibly in person at motorsport events as well. The other men in the club, members of the various internet or Facebook forums belonging to the club where women with opinions are insulted and put down, just stand by and say nothing in the women's defence. In doing so they are as guilty as the perpetrators of the abuse. Forum moderators should immediately delete this kind of online abuse of women – yet they don't. It's not hard to work out why: they actually agree with the abuser but are cunning enough not to say so publicly.
Going along to a monthly meeting and putting the matter to a vote obviously won't help as they'll be outvoted by the men.
There may be some women who approve of the award and are willing to accept it. I don't know that they have really thought it through. How can you put on display a trophy that you have not earned? I would feel ashamed, myself.
Sexist entry forms with no choices
The other issue that comes to mind is entry forms which force the entrant to nominate a gender so that they can then be automatically added to the 'Ladies' Class'. With online entries, failing to nominate a gender results in the entry being rejected. There is nowhere on the entry form to opt out of the 'Ladies' Class' either. The competitor nominates the class they wish to compete in, only to find they are forced to enter an additional class that they did not nominate.
Sports reporters quite often write in their articles, 'female competitor (name) drove well to take second in class' or 'lady driver (name) had a personal best time of **'. Nominating the gender of the driver serves to reinforce the idea that it's quite surprising a woman has actually managed to drive well in the event. Some time ago Actors' Equity decided to ban the insulting term 'actress'. All performers are now called 'actors', whether male or female; and so, all drivers should be called drivers with no qualifying adjectives.
What is the answer? Make it clear in advance you are not willing to accept any consolation prize
I would encourage women drivers (and unfortunately I have to use that term in this context) to take a stand against the Fastest Lady of the Day trophy and inform the Clerk of the Course in advance, by email or phone call, that they are not competing in the 'Ladies Class' – which isn't even listed on the entry form – and will not accept any trophy other than first, second or third in class or Fastest Time of the Day.
I encourage car clubs to have a rethink about this and find other ways to encourage new drivers. Most Improved Competitor, Scrutineers' Best Turned Out Car, Most Oustanding Driver – Flag Marshals' Award. Because if you think about it, awarding a large pink consolation trophy to a woman for no particular reason is discriminating against the other competitors.

Our own clubs are guilty here. It makes me uncomfortable.

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