Stop The Gender Comparisons

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Although I have some fairly deep-rooted political opinions, I’ve never aired them here, nor have I ever been considered an advocate for any particular cause. Race relations or climate change? I tend to leave those to the politicians. Animal rights? Bob Barker and Sarah McLachlan seem to have that covered. Gender equity? Normally, I’ll leave that up to the NCAA. But there is something about that last subject that is starting to irritate me.

Being the grumpy old curmudgeon that I am, some will probably be surprised at my stance on this. Others won’t be surprised at all.

A woman racing in the IZOD IndyCar series is nothing new. When Janet Guthrie first made the grid for the 1977 Indianapolis 500, it ruffled a few feathers of the old guard, but was treated by the press as mostly a novelty act. Janet raced at the Brickyard for three years, earning a best finish of ninth in 1978. The Speedway would not see another woman driver again until 1992; when Lyn St. James won Rookie of the Year, finishing eleventh in her first of seven Indianapolis 500 starts. Her last race at Indy,  in 2000, was also Sarah Fisher’s first. The past decade saw many female racers grace the famed oval. Like their male counterparts, some were good drivers – some weren’t.

It’s safe to say that the current crop of female drivers is the best ever. While Danica Patrick may irritate many with her off-track lifestyle, she generally brings a car home in one piece with a decent finish. Such a reputation may not mesh well with her glitzy off-track persona, but many drivers should be envious of her results.

Although I’m not as well versed in the up and coming stars of tomorrow as some, I know that the females coming up behind her are primed to reach even higher goals. My fellow grumpy old blogger, Pressdog, has had an ongoing series of the “Women of Pressdog” in which he profiles and interviews just about every current and future female driver.

Simona de Silvestro has been turning heads with her driving savvy and unassuming demeanor. Ana Beatriz fared well in her debut at Brazil and at Indianapolis last year, before being taken out in the Mike Conway crash. This season she has been hampered by a broken wrist, which required surgery after the first race of the season. Pippa Mann has been long overdue for a ride in the IZOD IndyCar Series. It finally happened yesterday, as it was announced that she has snagged a ride with Eric Bachelart’s Conquest Racing in the No. 36 for this year’s Indianapolis 500.

So what is my gripe? Most mainstream media seem to only allow comparisons of these drivers to other female drivers. I’m not talking about the racing media – they know better. I’m talking about the mainstream media. Unfortunately, that’s where the majority of people get the basis for their opinions. It seems to be a “best in class” comparison. I think most true IndyCar fans got over the novelty of a woman driver long ago. I have grown tired of listening to Simona de Silvestro being compared only to Danica Patrick, Sarah Fisher or Ana Beatriz. How about comparing her to other young drivers who happen to be driving for underfunded teams? I think a more fair comparison is Simona to JR Hildebrand, Ana Beatriz to James Jakes or Pippa Mann to her new teammate, Sebastian Saavedra.

Why not compare Danica to Ryan Briscoe? They both came on the scene in 2005. One drives for one of the two best teams in the business; while the other is with a team that has struggled the last few years. One suffers from brain fades and has torn up a fair share of equipment; while another sometimes seems to lack aggression but usually takes care of the equipment.

To compare female drivers only to each other is an insult to them as well as fans. It demeans the female drivers while it insults the intelligence of fans. Although she is coming off of a rough weekend, I think Simona de Silvestro is a great driver. She’s not a great female driver – she’s a great driver. I would love to see what she could do in a Penske or Ganassi car.

The other side of this argument is that I think it serves no one to shield a female driver from criticism. As with any subset of drivers; American or foreign, black or white, male or female, Democrat or Republican, Catholic or Protestant – you will have some very good drivers and some very bad drivers. You will have some that are very likeable and some very easy to dislike. Some will warrant criticism in heavy doses, while others will seem to constantly get a pass.

If I criticize Milka Duno’s on-track behavior, does that make me a sexist or a bully? No – although some seemed to think so last year, when I was chastised for criticizing her driving. Why is it OK to ridicule Dennis Vitolo or Dr. Jack Miller, but Milka Duno is considered hands-off?

In 1977, Al Unser was vilified for saying he thought Janet Guthrie was a bad driver. He was considered a caveman for seemingly not wanting women in the race. Although he explained that he had nothing against women drivers – just that particular driver; in the eyes of many, he was an evil sexist.

So what is my point with this rant? It’s simple. Be fair. Treat all drivers equally. Some women can drive, while some can’t. Some men can drive, while some can’t. Danica Patrick excels on ovals. So does Tony Kanaan. Simona excels on road courses. So does Justin Wilson. If given the chance to run a full season, I think Pippa Mann could excel on both – as does Mike Conway. The female drivers shouldn’t be put in a box to compete only against each other.

So if Brent Musburger is thinking about doing a segment in the middle of this year’s Indianapolis 500 about how the women are doing – he needs to give it a rest. Other than celebrating the Women of Pressdog – let’s just compare all the drivers on the basis of their teams and driving abilities.

George Phillips

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36 Responses to “Stop The Gender Comparisons”

  1. I don’t know if I would say racing fans accepted female drivers long ago – IndyCar fans have. Females in F1??? That is definitely still seen as novelty. Females in NASCAR??? Maybe a little ahead of F1, but still much more of a novelty than IndyCars – the ground is currently being broken by Danica. Honestly, Simona is the first female I truely view equally to the guys. It is hard to view Danica equally with all the special treatment she has gotten over the years. It’s the same thing as Marco, if she wasn’t female or if Marco wasn’t an Andretti, based only on their resumes, they would have been out of the series years ago. Simona isn’t winning fans with the SI swimsuit issue, she is winning fans by consistently driving the wheels off an underfunded car. And she is really the first female to do that – in any top series. Anyway, good article and points George.

    • I agree that Simona is the first female driver in wheeled racing, outside of drag racing, to really stand on her own merits as a race driver who is demonstrating that she can and does compete well with all others in the series.
      She is my choice to be the first regular winner in Indycar who happens to be a female.

    • The “special treatment” Danica has gotten is from not being afraid to be a pretty girl in and out of the cockpit. That’s the thing I celebrate about her.
      In the 70’s, the women had to flex a bicep to be taken anything as serious.
      Danica is refusing that.
      Sure, she can be huge butthead when she’s competing.
      I could dig up a good list of guys who have done the same thing.
      She’s normal.

      No man in the car is the same guy he is at home with his kid.
      No woman should be expected be anything other than what she is out of the car.
      When they get in, they’re “Drivers”. That’s all they are for the day.

      We’re in the midst of a rising tide and it’s a good one.
      Danica has a win on the oval.
      Simona is ready to push the field on courses.
      And here comes Pippa Mann in the Indy500 to add another kick towards the regularity.

      They’ll be seen differently because it IS different.
      But these “chicks” are the real thing.
      They’re drivers.

      • Danica is a driver.
        I’m a driver.
        Danica is not a successful racer like Dario, Scott, Will, Helio, Ryan, her teammate Ryan, her other teammate, Mike…

  2. The opportunities for female drivers in Indycar is one of the best things about Indycar. Indycar is virtually unique in the world of sport, a major series that allows men and women to compete on an equal basis.

    • That’s something I like about it, too. Another good melting pot is drag racing – for some reason, there is a lot of diversity in the NHRA.

  3. Simon Garfunkel Says:

    You make some excellent points, George. But I have to disagree on one thing. You say the racing media knows better? Even the racing media still stoop to women-women comparisons. Case in point, have you seen today’s article in the Indianapolis Star on Pippa Mann’s signing. It mostly points out comparisons to the other three female drivers on the entry list. There is still a long way to go before Simona, Pippa and Ana are recognized for their driving abilities. Another great post.

  4. Driving wise I could care less about how many X chromosomes a driver has so long as they have the talent. And THAT is the key point. Having the talent. Too often they throw a female body in the seat (*cough*cough*MilkaDuno*cough*) simply because she’s a woman and CAN drive… just not very well.

    Honestly I can’t blame the teams all that much. Given two drivers, one male and one female, of similar driving ability and I’ll take the female any day simply on the basis of marketing ability.

    Let’s be honest, even if she is a backmarker she’s going to get media attention. We know who all the female drivers are, whether they start P3 or P33. We can probably name maybe 20 of the other 29 male drivers.

  5. The Lapper Says:

    I was there when Janet Guthrie qualified for a spot on the 500 grid as well as when Lyn St. James did in 1992. I think that we all forget that Mary Fendrich Hulman was the board chairman of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and gave the command to “start your engines.” Today that command is given by Mari and I have always been good with that.

    The Lapper
    I’m a fleabit peanut monkey

    • Tampa Joe Says:

      Hey Lap! Tony Hulman gave that command in 1977. He also changed it to say “In company with the first woman to drive at Indianapolis…Gentlemen, Start Your Engines”. WTF does that have to do with anything anyway??

      • The Lapper Says:

        Hey Tamp! The point is that a woman was running the show or wasn’t that obvious to you?

        The Lapper
        I’m a fleabit peanut monkey

  6. Simona Fan Says:

    Honestly George, it doesn’t help that Danica keeps doing those risqué Go Daddy commercials. I was a Danica fan until she hired her new PR company that keeps her 10 times as busy with marketing and doesn’t let her focus on IndyCar. I hope she does well. I hope she wins. But I’m not rooting for her anymore like I’m rooting for Simona. Google search pictures of Simona. Are there any glamor shot photos with wind-blown hair and slinky silk shirts like you’d find with Danica, Milka, or Pippa? If the girls want to be considered more than a novelty then they need to succeed on the track (i.e. win) and stop letting others market their sex appeal.

    • While I agree they need to back it up with race results, boring pictures of them sitting on a pit wall with their hair in a ponytail isn’t going to bring in sponsorship money… and THAT really is what racing is all about.

      If the guys COULD do it, you know damn well they would.

      • billytheskink Says:

        That last sentence rings especially true.

        The only male IndyCar drivers that immediately come to mind as being noted for their looks are Arie Luyendyke (one of People Magazine’s Most Beautiful People in 1992) and Peter Revson, though I don’t think either one received much sponsorship because of their looks.

        NASCAR sponsors, however, have highlighted the looks of certain male drivers for years. Anyone remember Allstate’s Kasey Kahne ads, where that group of women get distracted by his looks and keep running into things with their car? How about Dodge, Jeremy Mayfield, and the woman with octane 93 perfume? Gillette’s “Young Guns”? The list goes on…

      • I thought that racing was about winning.
        And winning races and championships garners $pon$or$hip. Sponsors have given a hundred million dollars to Penske and Ganassi because their cars are televised leading races and their racers stand on podiums wearing sponsors’ insignias.

    • Danica is smiling all the way to the bank. She could buy, then sell me twenty times.

    • SkipinSC Says:

      I have only one problem with your logic: That is that while Danica may be a marketing machine, she is also one of the few that there is in the INDYCAR series. That, in and of itself, is GOOD for the series as a whole.

      Aside from Helio’s excursion into the DWTS universe, name me one other current INDYCAR driver that has crossed over into other demographics. Sure, Mario has, but he’s been long since retired. Marco is trying, but it’s hard to be believable selling razors when it appears you barely shave. Dario has a famous wife, but as yet, he’s not a pitchman for anything significant.

      Sad part is, when Danica makes her exit to NASCAR at the end of this year, who’s going to take her place representing INDYCAR?
      Sure, SImona is a talent on road courses, but is she ready to step up and be the face of the series? Is ANYONE?

  7. Well said, George, although I agree with Simon Garfunkel that the racing media can be the worst offenders at times. How often have we been subjected to 20 minutes of watching Danica toddle around in 18th simply because she’s Danica?

    • Exactly Steph. Hell the series itself singles out Danica with her own press conference at EVERY race. It’s mindboggling. At each race, when you’ve got a room full of not only the regular racing media, but also a plethora of regional and local media, from all genres, that is the time to introduce them to the rest of the field. Single out the drivers that have accomplished something or are on the verge of accomplishing something, not the one with the highest paid PR team. They miss the opportunity EVERY season and EVERY event to start to nurture and create some new faces for the series in the mainstream. All anyone knows right now is Danica (the Nascar driver)(no word of a lie I’ve heard that more times than not over the last year) and Helio (the dancing guy)

      Treat the drivers as drivers, regardless of their anatomy, and praise them or fault them for their performance on track, not for their gender

      Nice write up as usual George.

  8. Amen brother George. It’s truly a shame we still have to have this conversation. I think it starts and ends w the media and how they choose to cover all drivers. True while women are 50% of the population and (appx) 2% of all racing drivers, I understand the ‘novelty’ of it all, but it’s been SEVEN YEARS since Danica tore up Indy and got on the cover of SI.

    I think it was Lyn St. James who made a very salient point on TV. She said something to effect that “the car doesn’t know if I’m a man or a woman”. If the media adopted the same attitude, they could then focus on stories about the drivers, not about gender.

  9. A Female Racing Fan Says:

    I love this post and agree with it 100%! I have been saying for years that people need to stop saying “she did well, for a girl”. I also however feel like there is a double standard when it comes to male and female drivers’ off track activity. It is perfectly acceptable for a male driver to be in magazines with his shirt off or to guest star on television shows. But when a female driver is even hints off camera that she is a woman by having her hair done or taking pictures in a bikini (something most women wear), there is a backlash of people talking about how she is detracting from the sport. There is absolutely nothing wrong with any driver having a life aside from racing. They are not just race car drivers, they are people that driver race cars.

    • Simona Fan Says:

      When has a rookie driver ever appeared in a magazine with his shirt off? Really? I’ll be honest that I’m shocked to hear that.

      And who complains about women drivers guest staring on TV shows. The issue isn’t exposure or even of sponsorship. It’s an issue of trying to convince the racing media/public that women in racing are more than just sexy trophy girls. And routinely finishing out of the top 10 while appearing in sophomoric commercials where other women rip their shirts off followed by a “WARNING: WEB CONTENT NOT RATED” disclaimer doesn’t help the cause.

      • Agreed: “It’s an issue of trying to convince the racing media/public that women in racing are more than just sexy trophy girls. And routinely finishing out of the top 10 while appearing in sophomoric” ads.

        I don’t see Dario, Scott, Will, Helio, Ryan, Ryan, Tony, etcetera posing spread-eagle in Speedos for women’s magazines then never win another race then lose sponsors Argent, Motorola, Boost Mobile…

    • I have no problem with Danica posing in Sports Illistrated or vamping in the Go Daddy commercials. She has proven her moxie to me as a driver and I think she is very easy on the eyes. With that said, why would any race fan want to see Dario in a Speedo spread-eagle?

      • Simona fan had said. “It’s an issue of trying to convince the racing media/public that women in racing are more than just sexy trophy girls. And routinely finishing out of the top 10 while appearing in sophomoric (ads) doesn’t help the cause.”
        If one is all-hat, no cattle, one is not taken seriously by USA Today or Us Weekly or Good Morning America or wherever consumers’ attention is. They’re viewed as novelties – ‘Look at what she’s wearing in that GoDaddy ad’ and ‘Did you see her in FHM? Wow!’
        Real racers don’t strip down to pose to try to win attention. They race hard, they’re seen and photographed while winning, they gain sponsors, and people don’t say, well, (s)he races pretty well for his/her gender.

      • Real racers do whatever they want to do and if a real racer wants to pose for FHM and can while also gaining sponsors, then they do it. Case closed.Danica, by the way, has had no trouble with any of that and to deny the fact that she is a real racer is absurd.

  10. This is what you come up with after Long Beach? A new winner and Penske problems. Viso driving like Milka (like that? I compared snake to a female!), Andretti continuing to drive like an idiot, and an Indy Lights race dominated by two Anericans who are F1 threats and you write a puff piece on female drivers?

    • Not that George needs defending, but he can write anything he damn well pleases, it’s his blog. But obviously from the number of comments he’s hit upon a topic that is interestingl and semi-controversial to Indycar fans, both M and F. Why is it a “puff piece?” Because the subject is female drivers?

    • billytheskink Says:

      My comments in Monday’s post about Willy T. Ribbs’ broadcasting might be considered a “puff piece”. Today’s post does not seem to fit the bill.

      You are either using an odd definition of puffery or you are interpreting today’s commentary as exaggerated and uncritical support of something (female drivers?).

      In any event, George’s typical schedule has him writing 3 more posts before his obligatory Sao Paulo preview. He can go 3 for 4 with your suggested topics if he so chooses, but I wouldn’t expect that.

    • Simon Garfunkel Says:

      Actually, the fact that George goes off-topic is the reason I go to oilpressure. Everyone else has the predictable “Helio should be penalized” rant. George tends to give us off-beat subjects that actually make us think. …just sayin’.

  11. Damn there’s two JP’s out there…

    I’m still me not sure who the other guy is…

    Sometimes an issue that seems like it is no longer an issue for some people remains an issue in other areas not so enlightened. Yes women are established and can and should be evaluated by their accomplishments and results. But IndyCar is a niche sport both here and worldwide, second to nascar and F1. In neither of those series has the gender door been kicked in and until it is and genderblindness permeates those series as well, Mr Casual racing fan/media member will view Women in IndyCar as a novelty for the sport as a whole. I put some thoughts down on this a few months ago…for what they’re worth…

    http://jpindycarthoughts.blogspot.com/2010/12/barriers-still-being-broken.html

  12. All this discussion about Danica in GoDaddy ads and SI and whether the guys would do this etc… We all have a problem with any driver who reaches a level of celebrity totally disproportionate to their results on track. If you are a guy without a famous last name and you are best known for one fuel mileage win and leading a few laps at Indy, you might get a season or two and you are out – at least with the top teams and if you are not a ride buyer. Same results from a cute, young, American female, you become one of the biggest celebrities in sports – bigger than any of the very most successful IndyCar drivers of the last twenty years! I have a problem with that. Of course, the media, spnsors, and advertisers did this. Most fans are over it, we are way past the novelty – we don’t judge her as a female, we judge her as a driver – by results. She doesn’t get a pass from us from being a mediocre at best driver because she is female. The media shouldn’t either. I guess that’s why I find Simona so appealing.

    • If you’re basing Danica’s ability on results…..then I wonder what you think of Simona? I can’t even remember the last time she finished on the lead lap of an oval except Indy last year…

  13. Excellent post, George. You’re right, it is more appropriate to compare Patrick to Briscoe than to Beatriz or whomever.

    I fear if (when!) a female racer or two eventually make it to F1, everything we’ve seen in IndyCar will be repeated all over again. They won’t be judged on talent there for a long time. It is nice to see a series like IndyCar take the lead.

  14. [...] Oilpressure: Stop The Gender Comparisons George makes the great point that TV coverage, reports, the written media, fans, and even the drivers themselves should stop acting as though women racers are taking part in a sub-class of the main race. It is time for driver comparisons to be based on ability alone. [...]

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