The idea seems straightforward enough: promote women in racing by creating an all-new series, just for women. A plan for one landed in the inbox of several pro drivers this week. But it’s instead been called out by those who see deeper problems here, tugging at the core of these women’s very desire to race.
Soon after, Verizon IndyCar Series driver Pippa Mann took to her website to bring attention—and derision—to the new proposed all-female racing series she was offered a potential seat in. Mann, whose only IndyCar start so far this year has been the Indianapolis 500, was pitched on racing in the series along with several other high-profile female drivers.
Needless to say, she’s not a fan of the idea. Calling it a “Handmaid’s racing series” in reference to the book and now Hulu series where women exist in a society where they are literally second-class citizens, Mann said this on her website:
As female racers we are racers first, and our gender comes second. We grew up dreaming of winning races, and winning championships, against everyone – the same as every male racer does. We did not grow up dreaming of being segregated, and winning the girl’s only cup.
The backers of this all female championship are not spending their money to support racers like me, in appropriate series where I could be competing full time. Think for a moment how many top line female racers they could put in good equipment in multiple series—all appropriate for the driver’s actual experience level instead of simply using gender as an identifier.
[...] Instead of doing this, these people are creating a circus, and they want us as the performing animals. They are reaching out to people like me—preying on vulnerable racers starved of sponsorship for full time rides, and hoping enough of us are desperate enough to get back in a racing car (that we ignore every instinct in our bodies telling us how wrong this is) and just say “yes”.
That’s a big enough step alone, but if you sign on the dotted line, you can be sure that they will want you to also smile, and claim this new segregated series is actually a great idea, and how really you don’t mind not being a racer anymore, and being classified solely by your gender first. Oh, and did I mention they want your commercial rights too?
Mann started the #WeRaceAsEquals hashtag on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook, and plenty more female drivers have become vocal about their own careers and views over the days since.
Since that post went up, Jalopnik obtained the proposal for the championship from an outside source. The series claims to be the first-ever female single-seater racing championship, and the proposal said a management team has already been formed.
The series, according to the proposal, will have an exhibition race and testing later this year before running six races in 2018 that are “all tentatively booked.” The proposal said there will be five races in Europe and one in the U.S., all acting as “support races of other race meetings.” It aims to have 12 cars.
The series’ proposal starts with the brag that it will be “the first motor racing single seater event to create a female world champion,” and aims to go from startup to the “highest profile international racing championship second only to Formula One” in three years.
That may sound good to investors, but any casual racing fan will tell you rivaling F1 in just three years—regardless of talent—is an insane claim to make and an impossible goal to achieve. Besides, it’s no secret that women-only sports draw less money, less attention and less resources than ones involving men. Look at the WNBA and make your own conclusions.
(Further, separating things into strictly men and women leaves out a segment of the population who don’t concretely identify as one or the other, or who have made the transition from one to another. This is 2017, but it looks like everyone just wants to take a step into the past.)
Jalopnik has reached out to the series for specifics on its goals and clarification on the team that formed the idea for it, in attempts to find out how many—or if any—female voices were involved in its development.
The real catch is in the proposed contract: The series vows to supply the car, pay all costs and employees associated with it, provide travel and lodging, and pay prize money. The proposal said it’ll select drivers based on talent, and signing the contract means you’re roped in for three years.
The all-expenses-paid racing series and a prize offering of an F1 test makes it less easy to turn away. A driver speaking for more than one of her fellow female racers said the idea put them in a tougher position than just being upset about the segregation of men and women behind the wheel. The proposal made the drivers, all talented race winners whose funding fell off, wrestle with their own desire to race and the thought of being singled out as a woman.
One competitor who wished not to be identified said these female drivers are serious athletes, and that the situation this puts them in is heartbreaking—that female drivers have a natural urge to get in the car but also a deep desire is to race as an equal. But if all the series needs is 12 women, there easily could be enough who want an F1 test badly enough to toss the concerns aside.
Janet Guthrie, the first woman to compete in the Indy 500 in 1977, told the Indianapolis Star the series would be a “freak show” and that it “automatically implies that women are less capable than men.” From the Star:
“(The sport) really would not have been of interest to me,” she said. “The object of the game, after all, is to beat the best drivers in the business. And I don’t think that a women’s series does anything at all to advance the cause of women drivers.”
Further, what even is the value in segregating racing by gender? Are women-only races any less dangerous? Are the crashes any less brutal, the fires any less hot, the bones any less broken if men aren’t involved? No.
Some high-profile people known to make bullshit commentary think women aren’t able to compete with men because of “mothering DNA” and the inability to be taken seriously, but let’s be real: There is no reason why a woman willing to risk her life going around a course at 200 mph should not be able to go up against a man willing to do the same.
And, to add to what Guthrie said, perhaps the worst part about this proposed female racing series is the illusion of an opportunity for advancement. As you might recall, the proposal said an F1 test “will reward the winners.”
So, this all-female series that’s supposed to be second only to Formula One will reward its most talented women with a test session—just a test session—in the first-rate series that the big boys race in.
For anybody who’s ever heard a man’s idea about where a woman should fit in, that sounds about right.
Update, June 24 at 4:30 p.m. ET: A representative for the series responded to our emails, saying the championship was owned exclusively by women when it began. She also said it is her personal goal to have a management team of over 50 percent women once that’s decided.