Stop The Gender Comparisons
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.