How to get women into cars, automotive fields and motorsports

Now, before you start making arguments against what I’m about to discuss; I want to make it very clear that I am all for women in the automotive field. We do need to have this discussion because if you haven’t noticed, the automotive interest around the country is falling hard for various reasons involved the stupid notion that cars aren’t cool anymore and are the sole reason for destroying the planet.

Beyond that, why are we alienating half of the population? From a business standpoint it makes absolutely no sense. Women have just as much, if not more often buying power than men, make more of the financial house hold decisions and are increasingly becoming the bread winners of the household. We alienate them on various levels, many of them subtle and some of them are flagrant.

So, why am I on my soap box? Because, a man needs to be the one to say it; Bring more women into car culture.

Bikini Contests have to go

I might lose a few friends over this notion but truthfully, these abominations needs to go the way of Old Yeller. Not because they degrade women or any of that feminist crap that they shove down your throats and not because bikini contests are usually millimeters away from a strip club. I make this argument because of the message it sends to our young girls and females. What message is that? Take a look at the spectacle itself; women strutting their physicality and sexual attractiveness to a hoard of overwhelming men to be judged solely on how big their breasts are and how they look with baby oil slathered on them.

The message we are sending to young girls and women is that to be important, you need to be pretty; you need to have large breasts and show them often to men.  It truly doesn’t matter what education level you’ve got, how well you can drive a car fast or how well you can repair a broken alternator, nope; How big are they?

I’ve got a message for you ladies, if you start to base your worth on your attractiveness or what some random drunk dude thinks of your cleavage, you need to rethink your priorities in life and stop listening to the hidden bullshit messages about your worth in automotive culture.

Stop making being ‘female’ an issue

I’ve recently re-watched the entire last four 24 hrs of Le Mans (youtube is wonderful) and something struck me like a lead pipe across the teeth. The commentators fielded tweets, text messages and emails during the entirety of the race and it was pretty informative, something that was very helpful. They got one question from their twitter feed, from an American I might add, that asked about how many female drivers there were in the race.

What astonished me, not only because I knew that several of the drivers were female based on name recognition, was that the commentators including the previous female Le Mans driver now pit reporter, didn’t have a clue how many female drivers there were. Why? Because they didn’t give a shit. None of that matters to them, again I asked myself; Why?

The simple answer I came up with was, priorities. In the European various racing series you have a powerful emphasis on winning. When that priority is in place, you hire the best people and the best team you can afford. Winning is everything, success equates to sales and sales drives profit. The European commentators for the 24h Le Mans race didn’t know how many female drivers there were because it truly didn’t matter. The women in the race were hired because they are good at driving and gave their teams the best chance at a podium.

The less we point out the proverbial elephant in the room the better women will do in the field.

Positive Female role models

This one really cheeses me right the hell off, especially because the whole female role model thing can’t be talked about unless someone invokes the name Danica Patrick. Well, I got some fucked up news for you; she isn’t a role model, she shouldn’t be a role model and frankly, she doesn’t want to be one either. If you think for one damn minute that Danica is in this to prove something for women in the field then you haven’t looked close enough at her to notice.

Ever see those GoDaddy commercials where she laments having to wear short shorts and a bikini or whatever skimpy thing they came up with, yet there she is wearing that very outfit their trying to make light of? Face it, the woman is only out for #1; herself. She’s a walking PR campaign. Does that bother me? Not in the slightest, all the other drivers are out for themselves, why shouldn’t she? However, none of the other drivers are expected to dress half naked for their ads, they get to wear their racing suits. This, despite the fact that Carl Edwards for example, is one of the most ripped and toned drivers on the circuit and that’s never exploited to expand the female NASCAR base. As I’ve always said, if you are going to have standards, at least make them double. You’ll note that I never once talked about her ability to drive a race car, time will only tell if she’s good enough to run at the top. She’s certainly a better driver than I am.

We need more women drivers like Sabine Schmitz. She’s a fantastic driver, she never uses her gender as a tool or a weapon and doesn’t sell out to the sexuality that seems to be predominantly derived in American automotive fields.

Rylee, a race car driver explains my point;

Helping the women that are actually interested is the biggest thing, I can’t count the amount of young ladies (16-17 years old) that have come up to me after a race showing genuine interest and motivation but then the parent or the friend that they are with scoffs at them and says, ‘yeah, right…’ and they lose the glisten of possibility in their eye that quickly. A little confidence in the female gender, both from males and females, to tackle major things like racing is necessary if more women are going to step out against societal norms!”

Teach them early

Women, just like men need to be introduced something at an early age with a little bit of early success to get their interest. Get your daughters and neighborhood kids together to work on a car. Bleed the brakes, explain what things are and what they do. Knowledge is the key to removing fear in all things and the automotive field is no different.

Nothing irks me more than watching a movie or TV show and having the female lead character try and act like she knows something about cars and they end up making her look like a complete idiot because the writers themselves probably don’t know anything about cars. Remember that scene in Transformers where Megan Fox is trying to tell Sam what kind of fuel system was in his car? Yea, not even fucking close.

Get them interested in racing by having them race

One of the things I think that is sorely lacking is giving girls a chance to get out there and mix it up. It doesn’t have any be anything spectacular or grand, it just has to give them a good experience of what it feels like to go fast. The adrenaline pumping, the thrill of passing someone and the rush of putting the car exactly where you need it to be for maximum speed. Go-Karts might be a good way to go about it, there’s little danger of hurting anything valuable and it’s pretty cheap fun.

The other option is to get them into Autocross. I’ve been trying to extol the virtues of autocross for years to anyone who will listen. You can bring any car you want assuming it passes a tech inspection and drive it as fast as you can around a very controlled environment. These places have lots of run off room, nothing hard to hit such as a concrete barrier and are very inexpensive to participate in.

After running a few events, you really do start to get frustrated with regular people on the road, “YOU AREN’T ANYWHERE NEAR THE LIMIT OF YOUR CAR! YOU DON’T NEED TO BRAKE THAT MUCH! GO GO GO!!”

Sheryl writes;

my husband kept bugging and I finally tried autocrossing and I love it! I was super worried about making a fool out of myself at first, but the thrill of getting behind the wheel and the competitive side of me stepped up and I’m sold on it! “

Tim tells us:

I put mine (wife) behind the wheel of a kart at NOLA motorsports and taught her a few things and now she’s hooked! Get them driving and competing…most woman will love it…. Some how racing is looked at as a mostly a man sport, proble cause we r more exposed to it. But I can tell you I have raced against a few women and when they do catch on the are very smooth and fast.”

Don’t belittle them when they express interest

The worst thing anyone can do to someone who wants to try something new is someone telling them they can’t. It doesn’t usually come in the form of direct feedback but in the subtleties of the conversation. The low level condescension, the attitude of pretty good… for a girl! bullshit that really needs to go away. Don’t act like their stupid for not spending their entire life reading a Chilton’s manual like we all did when we were kids. In fact, go out of your way to nurture these people who simply want to learn.

I can’t tell you how many stories I get from women about buying a car and the level of chauvinism from the sales people it’s almost unbelievable. Don’t you want to check with your husband first?  And, This might be too much car for a little lady like you, are just a few examples of things I’ve heard from women.

Guess what? Women are people too and they don’t like being talked down to as much as we men do, GO FIGURE!

Suzy makes a good point by saying;

“I would definitely start with treating the field and sport no different than you would treat a male nurse or stay-at-home-Dad. Women are great with mechanics and motor sports because we are natural problem solvers. Including young women and girls in your actions and activities organically, will help determine whether or not they have a proclivity for the field or not. It’s no different than exposing them to things like politics, technology or arts and crafts as possible vocations.”

Ben brings up a good point;

“Honestly, they have to want to give the automotive world/field a chance. Most (but not all) choose to follow the stereotype of girls don’t know anything about cars and they give up right there and don’t want to learn. We have to break that stereotype. How? idk.”

Teach them that they belong under the hood, not on it.

This point ties in a lot of other points I’ve made throughout this article, but it still needs to be said. If women get the notion that they can be under the hood just like the boys, then they’ll be less likely to think they only deserve to be on the hood.

Men, think about it this way for a second, if your daughter came running up to you and said that she was excited because she got to stand in front of a car in a bikini, would that really make you feel proud as a father? Or would you feel more proud of she blurted out that she got hired as team manager for a racing team doing strategy? (Look up Leena Gade)

Which one would you rather hear?

Teach women to drive a stick shift (Show the fun!)

Even though it’s getting harder and harder to find a car with a stick shift, it really is a skill that everyone really needs to know. Especially if they want to get into racing, the third pedal is a necessity. Show them how fun it can be to shift hard and make virtually any car feel like a race car.

Show them how to down shift and if you can (if you know how), show them how to blip-shift, the joy of getting that skill right is just beyond cool.

All girls races/instruction

Now, there is some debate and admittedly some inner struggle myself with this concept, but it may be a step in the right direction.

Some might argue that reducing the men in the equation would help women feel more comfortable and feel less “stupid”. To a certain degree, I get that. While, I may be fairly patient when teaching someone something, that’s not the case with other men I’ve noticed. I’ve seen often where the male will explain something, his girlfriend/wife/daughter/whomever asks a follow up question and the answer comes out pretty condescending, whether they meant it or not, it happened and she got the message.

On the other hand, racing is a sport (yes, a sport, deal with it) that doesn’t require height, weight or strength requirements that give men the advantage. Actually, if anything, women in this case have the advantage due to their average size compared to the average male. A hundred pound difference in a car is a massive advantage. Ask any racer if they’d take a 100lbs off their car, would they do it? Cars and driving don’t have a genetic component to them. It’s not something we were able to use natural selection to get the best of the best automotive features. So, why then should women get their own races? It’s a valid argument.

In America, as it sits, the attitude towards women in automobile fields really does lend itself to having separate classes, at least for the time being. If this were Europe, we’d have no need for them; the general attitude is different.

For the pro side, Tim:

“Hpde or auto-x classes where their significant other/ spouse is not allowed to attend so they don’t have to feel embarrassed about making mistakes or have pressure from the partner. Most of the women I know state this as the number one reason they don’t get involved.

On the con side Tom writes:

Women don’t need a “special” class to compete in auto racing. Just ask Sam Silver and Rylee ReAnn Michaelson. I think it is simply a point of connecting people who have an interest and aptitude to the entry point of the sport. I think what you are talking about can be addressed with a Novice class, don’t you think? It really doesn’t have to be Chromesome related. It is only natural for a newbie to be concerned with how they stack up against experieinced competitors. Showing any new person how to get invoved and how they can develop skills should be the priority.”

And finally; The all male, good’ole boys club needs to go (i.e. Male chauvinism). 

Guys, let’s be frank, this bullshit needs to stop. The for a girl attitude needs to go away completely. What’s more interesting is that we tend to do it covertly and we don’t even notice. It’s not just one or two people, it’s all of society. We think certain things of women that affect how we treat them. Women can’t be domestic abusers, women can’t drive cars like men, women don’t like engineering and math, women are meant to be pretty as her best asset… these are examples of female bias that are subtle but pervasive in our society.

Not to mention the overt sexism we display over and over again, but don’t take my word for it… listen to what the women who deal with it have to say:

As Michelle put it on our Facebook page,

“I think most women feel intimidated because some mechanic talked down to them at one time. If they are interested they will be involved. Take her to a drag race or autocross, patiently explain the inner workings of the motor. I’ve been hooked since my first drag race at age 5, but not all women will love it like I do. It is not just a male thing anymore and that’s awesome. You just have to make it interesting.”

 From Lee Ann:

 when I stepped into my dad’s shoe’s Tractor Pulling my dad said it’s a MAN’S sports you are going to have problems with the good old boys and I did I have been called every name in the book and every reason found wrong with my tractor my dad even took the tractor away because of the talk even though I got 1-3 almost every time I pulled an ATPA no lower than 11 out of 65 plus.”

Bryan writes:

“Take the intimidations away. As with most “gender dominated” activities, one of the biggest factors is the individual gets intimidated by a combination of things. Not knowing enough to even listen in on a conversation, not having any practical skill confidence so they fear failure, and the general feeling of being out of place. I’m sure part of it is also the financial investment, though class racing helps balance that out. It all applies to motorsports, firearms, etc. Dissuasion by parents, friends, etc as kids are growing is probably the greatest factor. You almost need a non-competitive series of classes/events to lay groundwork, more or less expose people to it. I absolutely agree with Tom that it’s not gender specific. Mary Pozzi and Debbie Farrington are 2 other women who can certainly compete and got past the stereotype. Make the info available, and accept anyone of any age who’s interested in it feel supported.”

Eric can be reached for comment email here

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