This past weekend, checkered flags decorated downtown Montreal as it hosted the Canadian Grand Prix, a Formula One race that generates around $90 million ($75 from tourists alone) for the city which includes the tickets sold for the race itself, the hotels and overall festivities associated with the event.
Although the Grand Prix isn’t interesting to me, per se, what does strike me is the overriding theme of male entitlement and female subordination. One might suggest I distinguish the race itself from the festivities surrounding it, but it’s important to stress the relationship that exists between the two. Truth be told, the F1 is about much more than just fast cars — the exaggeration and normalization of sex class dynamics is prevalent throughout the event. The articulation between the advertisement, brand marketing, female objectification and hyper veneration of masculinity is what makes the Grand Prix what it is.
Indeed, at times the gated festivities where men gaze at women as they do modified engines reminds me of an eerie materialization of what Mary Daly called the Playboy’s Playground, a male defined paradise from which women need to break free in order to discover themselves. It’s all too surreal, especially if we look at the underlying misogyny portrayed by two paternal figures in the racing business.
First we have the chief executive of the Formula One Group, Bernie Eccelstone who spoke of a “wonderful idea” that occurred to him, saying that “women should be dressed in white like all the other domestic appliances.” And that, sure, he’d like to see more women in the F1 (because they would “attract a lot of attention and publicity and probably a lot of sponsors.”) but he would prefer to see the “right girl” excel, “perhaps a black girl with super looks”. Then we have the former president of the International Automobile Federation (FIA), Max Mosley, who was involved in a very public sex scandal involving a prison-themed “sadomasochistic orgy with five supposed prostitutes in a London sex ‘dungeon.’” (some say it was Nazi-themed). Later, Ecclestone claimed that he should of stood behind Mosley because he has “big balls”.
Although this may seem like nothing more than ad hominem, these two patriarchs exemplify the same logic that feeds and maintains the culture of the Grand Prix, which is about men adhering to a version of masculinity defined by patriarchy and a belief that anything goes. Male entitlement is about, among other things, the normalization of sexual acquisition of women as a class — be it for visual stimulation, sexual exploitation, or the extraction of resources.
Many feminist theorists such as Sheila Jeffreys and Christine Delphy have pointed out that masculinity and femininity are inseparable because their very existence is maintained by one another in a hierarchical process that naturalizes power distribution. And of course, under patriarchy, power is attributed to men. In Sexuality,Pornography, and Method: “Pleasure under Patriarchy”, Catharine MacKinnon itemizes this idea:
Dominance eroticized defines the imperatives of its masculinity, submission eroticized defines its femininity. So many distinctive features of women’s status as second class-the restriction and constraint and contortion, the servility and the display, the self-mutilation and requisite presentation of self as a beautiful thing, the enforced passivity, the humiliation- are made into the content of sex for women. Being a thing for sexual use is fundamental to it.
Over the years, the Grand Prix has organized itself in a way that celebrates male action and capital, while women are provided jobs based on subservience.
The majority of drivers in the race are men — in 2012, you could count the women who participated in Formula One since 1958 on one hand. It’s no surprise to see that women outnumber men in the promotional field, where “[insert brand name here] girls” or “grid girls” exist to be looked at or to sell anything from cell phones to beer. But women at the Grand Prix aren’t only selling cold drinks: they’re being sold too.
On any given day in Montreal, men have access to over 400 erotic massage parlours, strip bars, peep shows, and escort agencies. In previous years, it had been reported that girls were running away from foster care and youth centers during the Grand Prix period — usually at the requests of their pimps — and taking up jobs in massage parlours, among other things. During major sporting events, efforts have been made to campaign against human trafficking, and although the number of trafficking victims during this period have been debated in the academic and NGO communities, there are plenty of examples wherein the demand and amount of prostituted women increased in the cities hosting these events.
For example, during the 2006 World Cup in Germany, prostituted women in brothels were working “double shifts,” overwhelmed by the demand for their “services.” In the United States, an increase in sex trafficking cases was linked to the Super Bowl XLIX and online ads for prostituted women increased by 50 per cent during the Super Bowl XLVIII weekend.
What the Grand Prix and other masculinity-embracing events do is give incentive to women and girls to act on the message that’s already being pushed on them: the sex industry is always hiring.
This is how prostitution becomes an option (especially for financially disadvantaged and Indigenous women) — this is what “choice” looks like.
Groups of survivors and abolitionists in Montreal have been criticizing this kind of sexual exploitation and making these connections for some time now. Although the Protection of Communities and Exploited Persons Act was adopted last December, with the promise $20 million in funding for groups that help prostituted women (it’s been pointed out that this amount is insufficient), it’s going to take more than annual funding to disrupt the intersecting gears of capitalism, racism, colonialism and patriarchy that render prostitution a viable possibility in the social female psyche.
Employment options offered to women last weekend were predicated on the normalization of objectification under patriarchy. Jobs created for the purposes of fulfilling male fantasy and entitlement are not viable “choices” for women — let this be clear.
Alexandra Pelletier is completing her MSc in Communication and politics, studying media discourse around Bill C-36. She lives in Québec.