Should we call time on the glamourous girls of Geneva?
Cars and woman. The two seem to have become inextricably linked at motor shows and in motorsport that many of us have barely stopped to think about it.
But times have changed, and in the wake of the #MeToo campaign and given recent events in the movie industry and politics, isn’t it time we reassessed this relationship?
Formula 1 has called time on so-called ‘grid girls’, with its managing director of commercial operations Sean Bratches saying: “While the practice of employing grid girls has been a staple of Formula 1 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.
This custom does not resonate with our brand values and clearly is at odds with modern day societal norms.Sean Bratches - Formula 1
“We don’t believe this practice is appropriate or relevant to Formula 1 and its fans, old and new, across the world.”
You’d think F1 would be lauded for taking this step and, along with professional darts, showing that women in sport are not there just to be ogled and objectified. Yet Formula 1 was bombarded with negative comments.
This all seems very strange. F1 may have more men working in it than women, but it’s far from male-dominated. There are many very successful women in every corner of the sport and many more in the wider motorsport community.
The only area where woman have yet to make a big impact on Formula 1 is in the driver’s seat. That’s not for the want of trying by several very talented female racers, but securing a seat in Formula 1 is about so much more than raw ability. Even so, there’s no doubt that women will make their mark here sooner rather than later.
There have been plenty of high-flying female drivers over the years, stretching right back to the 1920s and the golden age of Brooklands in the UK. However, there has also been a steady connection between cars and women as mere trinkets to be sprinkled across a car to catch photographers’ lenses and a few column inches.
Perhaps the most notorious incident of this was in 1971 when sport car boss Martin Lilley used a naked Helen Jones to garner headlines for his new TVR model. The fact we’re talking about it now proves Lilley had a nose for publicity, but we should not dismiss it as just a product of the jolly old 1970s.
Yes, attitudes were different then, but respect for women from men is not. Whether you want to call it respect, feminism, chivalry or just plain old manners, treating everyone with decency is a simple, basic tenet of life.
For this reason, calling women holding number boards on a motorsport track ‘grid girls’ is demeaning when they are grown women. Many of them have careers beyond modelling a skimpy outfit and several have voiced their opposition to Formula 1’s ban on them.
That is completely understandable when part of their income is being taken away. Also, many of these women explain they enjoy the lifestyle that comes with a bit high-flyin’ glamour. As someone who’s been around a few Formula 1 events, I can confirm it’s a heady mix.
However, times change. If we want our boys to grow up seeing their female counterparts as equals in every sense, how can we justify parading women on grids and motorshow stands when the only qualification required for the job are their looks? Nothing wrong with being good looking, but it’s hardly a basis for an equal, open society.
With the Geneva Motor Show coming up, this is a chance for the motor industry to get into step with those modern societal values that Formula 1 has rightly identified. Will there be young woman standing around cars on press day or handing out promotional leaflets? Most likely, yes.
Should we castigate these women for doing it? Of course not. We all have to earn a living, but what we should be doing is saying to car companies that enough is enough.
When more than half of all new car deals are now decided by women, they are the greater force in the car industry as the end consumer. If they vote with their cash and steer clear of car companies that want to continue using stand girls, you can bet those manufacturers would soon change their tune.
But why should we have to do that? Car companies and their press outfits should be aware of which way the winds are blowing. So should motor show organisers.
Instead of portraying women in motorsport and at motor shows as just something to gawp at, we should be pushing for more of them to become the engineers, designers, mechanics and drivers.
Diversity may be a modern buzz word, but it also brings a far broader dynamic to cars and trying anything new is always worthwhile. New ideas might not always succeed, but you’ll never know until you try and some of them will work.
By encouraging more women into these roles, we’ll have a far bigger pool of talent working on the next generation of cars. That can only be a good thing for all of us.
It doesn’t mean women have to dress in potato sacks or men cannot even so much as think about asking for a date. Let’s just treat each other with the same respect we expect for ourselves.
The motor industry has been brilliant at this in many areas and you’ll be hard-pressed to find many car companies that don’t have women excelling in every department. That makes it all the stranger that some still choose to have stand girls at motor shows.
So, when we’re at the Geneva Motor Show in a couple of weeks, we’ll be keeping an eye out for stand people, male and female, who are there because of their excellent communication skills and product knowledge. We’ll let you know how we get on…