What banning grid girls says about wider workplace inequality
At the beginning of February, Formula One racing announced it would end decades of ceremonial tradition by abolishing “grid girls” — young “promotional models” who introduce the races and are sprayed with champagne by the winning driver.
“While the practice of employing grid girls has been a staple of Formula One grand prix for decades, we feel this custom does not resonate with our brand values and clearly is at odds with modern-day societal norms,” said Sean Bratches, Formula One’s managing director of commercial operations, at the end of January. “We don’t believe the practice is appropriate or relevant to Formula One and its fans, old and new, across the world.”
The announcement has since spurred conversation among Formula One fans about gender inequality in the workplace. Some have expressed support for Formula One’s decision, arguing that the use of grid girls is outdated and sexist. For example, Beverly Turner, who has written a book about Formula One, told The Guardian, “The grid girls would be led out, a bit like prize cattle, just before the race... they would have their bottoms pinched by the mechanics, there would be photographers sat on the floor behind them, taking pictures of their bums, or up their skirts.” Turner therefore welcomed the decision to abolish the tradition.
Others, however, think that demolishing the role altogether is unnecessary — including the grid girls themselves. First, it’s worth considering the workplace reality women in the UK. face. Unemployment rates for black women in the U.K. are at 9 percent, and the gender pay gap is still at 9.4 percent. Perhaps instead of abolishing roles like the grid girls altogether, it would have been better for Formula One to focus on improving the role. Yet, many of Formula One’s grid girls tweeted last Thursday that they don’t even have any qualms about their jobs at all: They were satisfied with how well they were paid, with how respectfully they were treated by their bosses and colleagues, and with the actual work they did. “The drivers; riders would rather not be dealing with the press; the fans, they want to be in their own little world,” grid girl Melissa James told The Guardian. “That’s kind of where we take over. We’ll stand and talk to the fans, we’re selling the experience. It’s not just standing on a bit of concrete.”
Essentially, while the decision to eliminate grid girls may seem progressive at first, it ultimately further reinforces the power struggle women face in every aspect of the workplace. By assuming that the only way to eliminate the objectification involved with being a grid girl was to eliminate that job opportunity altogether, Formula One both undermines these women as passive vessels for said objectification and excuses those who did the objectifying. Instead of male bosses eliminating jobs for female workers like this, perhaps Formula One — and corporations across the board — should focus on creating substantive work for their employees no matter their gender and doing all that they can to mediate the balance of power between workers and others they interact with on the job.
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