For those of us massive nerds out there, it’s an exciting day when a motorsport article is published in a scholarly journal — and it’s an even rarer day when that motorsport article focuses specifically on women. And that’s exactly what happened earlier this year in a study that confirms that female drivers not only experience massive amounts of sexism but that those experiences are largely what keeps them from participating in sport.
The article, titled “More than ‘just a driver’: A study of professional women racecar drivers’ agency in motorsport’’ was written by Jill Kochanek, Megan Davis, Karl Erickson, and David Ferguson, and it was published in this January’s edition of Psychology of Sport and Exercise. You can check out the full article here.
Most women who have participated in motorsport in some way — be it as a fan, a driver, or an engineer — have found their path to motorsport barred by deeply-ingrained sexist attitudes. This is, for many people, unbelievable; I truly wish I got paid every time a man asked me if I can prove that women drivers aren’t getting sponsorships specifically because they’re women. This article is about as proof as it gets.
The study adopted a combination of inductive and deductive approaches, which basically means that the researchers spoke directly to women in motorsport about their experiences and used it to build a framework against which they compared the larger social framework to understand just how female agency is impacted in racing — and, also, how to get more women involved in motorsport. That last aspect was boiled down to four different approaches:
- Entry into race car driving, largely through familial or fatherly influence
- Challenging marginalising beliefs, behaviours, and industry barriers
- Navigating the space: negotiating gender and its (dis)empowering effects
- Promoting girls and women in auto racing
Basically, we need to rethink the way we approach motorsport in order to promote the participation of women, who have their own unique skills, challenges, and requirements when it comes to competition. And, yes, we should have a vested interest in encouraging female participation because sport generally mimics larger social trends.
“Exploring how female athletes navigate auto racing is vital to elucidate how women experience and respond to their marginalization as agents who may simultaneously reproduce and resist the gender order,” the authors write. “Specifically, this study will critically interrogate taken-for-granted assumptions of male superiority in a sport space where female athletes race against men, and may be uniquely positioned to both reinforce and transform gender boundaries.”
So, there you have it. Social science confirms that women in motorsport face discrimination in racing, and that we should actually be considering changing that if we want women to be, you know, well-accepted and equal members of society.