Why aren’t grid girls being celebrated as empowered feminist icons?

How can liberal feminism celebrate the end of grid girls while continuing to argue in favour of “sex work” as an empowering choice for women?

The recent news that  F1 Grand-Prix events would no longer be using “grid girls” is being widely hailed as a win for women. But why should a woman’s choice to make money as a sexy sideshow be inconsistent with gender equality?

Much of the grid girls controversy relates to the idea that sexually objectifying women at public events is problematic for the status of women. Or that it sends negative messages to girls about the role of women in sporting culture and in public life more generally.

But the term “grid girls” is a tad misleading, because we’re actually talking about adult women. And, if that’s the case, why not leave them to their own choices? If women can choose to be CEOs, or stay at home mums, or casual workers with no job security, why can’t they choose to be grid girls?

Surely grid girls should be seen as symbolic icons of liberal feminism. They are capitalizing on their potential sex appeal to men as a form of employment. In a sex sells culture, it seems rather odd to be telling women they can’t use their own bodies as commodities to get ahead and be empowered in the world.

And some women love the job. Just read the testimonies from grid girls who rave about the joys of “glamming up,” despite crippling high-heels, bleeding feet and rampant sexual harassment. Any woman who has a problem with this scenario is probably just old and jealous of all the male attention that grid girls receive.

This is what we usually hear when feminists criticize women’s “choices” about sexual objectification and exploitation. So why is this different?

Maybe you think that whether or not individual women are reportedly happy to be remunerated for hanging around racetracks in impractical lycra outfits is irrelevant considering the whole notion of grid girls plays into outdated and harmful gender stereotypes.

Maybe you’ve noticed all the reporting and research that links gender stereotyping, gender inequality, and violence against women, and perhaps you think that progress in this area is more important than upholding a mind-numbingly stupid, sexist tradition.

And maybe you’ve even seen through the flimsy arguments that we must let the tradition continue, lest feminists be seen as robbing grid girls of gainful employment.

If you’ve managed to get this far in questioning the patriarchal propaganda about the benefits of getting women to dress up in over-sexualized, super-skimpy clothing and calling them “girls,” good for you.

This is an important step, and the pressure to remove grid girls shows shifting corporate and social attitudes to the acceptability of using women as pornified props. No doubt we can thank the rising visibility of feminist activism and movements like #metoo, for highlighting sexual harassment and hurrying this shift along. But there is a startling hypocrisy at the heart of mainstream criticism of the grid girl, and the cheering that has greeted her demise.

Take the Melbourne Grand Prix in Australia. It’s held in the “pimp state” of Victoria, which has one of the most established systems of legalized brothel prostitution anywhere in the world. Indeed, the Grand Prix is frequently reported to be one of the busiest times of year for licensed brothels. It is therefore completely duplicitous for MPs, in this context, to decry the sexual objectification of women in motorsports, whilst continuing to normalize an industry that requires the sexual objectification of women in order to function.

This hypocrisy has been mirrored elsewhere. Some prominent feminist commentators hailing the end of grid girls as a victory for women and girls are the very same people who champion individual women’s choices when it comes to “sex work.” Some who go so far as to claim it is unfeminist to critique stripping, are now saying that women standing around and looking pretty is a passé notion.

They are are so close to joining the dots, and yet, so far.

The reality is, if you can’t extend the logic of grid-girls-as-harmful to prostitution-as-harmful, then you must believe that there is a particular group of women who are somehow different, who thrive under conditions of inequality, enjoy sexual harassment, or deserve abuse.

Those who condemn grid girls, but stay silent on the harms of “sex work,” should stop pretending they care about women’s liberation; all they are really celebrating with this change is the ability of a car race to protect its “family friendly” brand.

Meagan Tyler
Meagan Tyler

Dr Meagan Tyler is a Senior Lecturer at RMIT University in Melbourne, Australia and is the public officer of the Coalition Against Trafficking in Women Australia. Meagan is the author of "Selling Sex Short: The sexological and pornographic construction of women’s sexuality in the West" and co-editor of "Freedom Fallacy: The limits of liberal feminism."

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  • oneclickboedicea

    Sexism positive ‘feminism’ busted.

  • Robert Gonzalez

    One of these women is a “grid girl” and another is an actual prostitute. By libfem logic the prostitute pictured here is somehow more empowered. I don’t understand.

    https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/fe19fcc14c678eb95e4d8e3aefad01eaa895083678c8130ff28818e118b5c738.jpg

    • Because little girls don’t dream of growing up to be prostitutes, but they might dream of being grid girls, or Miss Universe. Since being a prostitute is a more remote possibility (for most of them, I guess) it’s easier to misinterpret it. Or more pressing to misrepresent it, to keep from getting stressed out. Or both.

  • GerryJCapone

    These days… all official language seems dead on arrival. For compartmentalizing has reached a new peak esp. in all levels of public discourse.

    That’s why what appears to be amazing public realizations of sexual assault by powerful men that normally speaking, would almost cause a feminist revolution, don’t even touch the major male sexual institutions of prostitution, pornography, rape, s-m, and so forth. These male supremacist entities gleefully carry on APART from the headlines which after all have to do with “sexual harassment” and thankfully not with the “porn industry.”

    I guess it’s called dissociation. Or the capacity to sever the mind from the body… the controller over the controlled. The one is empowered, the other dismembered.

  • Thom Prentice

    After watching the Superbowl, I am wondering why the LibFeminists aren’t demanding an end to the gridIRON girls whose skimpy patriotic bump and grind welcomed the male football players on to the field. As Gore Vidal wrote, in America, sex is never far from violence.

    I also wonder why the LibFeminists aren’t demanding either an end to football cheerleading per se or at least demanding attire for cheerleaders that is somewhat more modest than the stripper / prostitute / gridgirl objectifying fashion worn by pro, college and high school football cheerleaders. Indeed, the sexualizing cheerleader and gridIRON girls costumes might serve to make some men “feel” like they are women and desire to dress that way … and additionally demand their ‘right’ to tinkle in womens restrooms.

    • Evets

      Why do sports teams need to have cheerleaders in the first place? I think there should be more women and girls playing sports not cheering the men and boys on from the sidelines.

  • shy virago

    This is great. I find myself being so careful around other ‘feminists’ because to even mention
    abolition will bring on an argument. In the same way you can’t talk about trans ‘women’ and the
    take-over of women spaces.

  • Jani

    The elephant in the room is the porn industry. Everybody who defends it seems to think it’s some sort of happiness factory where it’s all peace and love, and hey, it’s all free because it’s run by such kind people. Misogyny and sexual assault and rape might go on in Hollywood, and it might happen in the music industry, and it might happen in the media and news industries, and in tech, and it might happen to hotel cleaners and farm laborouers, and…. and …. but in the porn industry? Oh no. Never. No woman is ever raped, or abused, or beaten, or drugged in porn. It’s all “fantasy” don’t ya know? It’s all consensual. They love their jobs, those “girls”. Yeah? Well, we all know that’s bullshit. But the toxic influence of porn is found throughout society from top to bottom. I wasn’t the only one who observed the similarities between Weinstein’s sexual assaults and the typical porn scene. And not just Weinstein, the descriptions of the other high profile rapists and sexual abusers were very porny. If we want to address misogyny we have to kick this porn shit to the curb. Porn is the theory. Rape is the practice. Porn is the theory. Rape is the practice.

    And in case you didn’t hear me the first time: PORN IS THE THEORY. RAPE IS THE PRACTICE.

  • Cassandra

    FANTASTIC!!!!!

    A small plea to all feminist writers:
    1
    Please stop using the phrase “gender equality.” “Gender” is a made-up thing used to hurt females as a class. “Sex” is the correct term when speaking about female or male.
    2
    Please stop saying “violence against women” without the crucial adjective “male.” There is no other kind of violence against women I suppose, but it must be named. It’s “MALE violence against women.”

    This has been a public service announcement from the RF Language Conservation Society. Back to our regular LibFems are Nitwits programming.

  • Cassandra

    “HOW do we want to fight sexism in society, while still upholding sexist concepts, because a few (privileged) women enjoy them?”

    BINGO!

  • Veronica Viramontes

    Thank youu!

  • foamreality

    Hallelujah! Thank you. There was a report in the press about a big corporate Gambling conference in the UK the other day where they were employing pole-dancers at the conference. The women were made to sign NDAs too -as with the presidents club scandal. Similar outrage ensued (rightly so). But I am baffled that the Porn industry, which is probably even more exploitative, more sexist, isn’t getting similar coverage. When is the outdated practice of watching porn going to get the same treatment? I was told by a friend when discussing this with her that ‘its different because sexism is specific to the job, unlike gambling’ . Is it less worse when the girls aren’t the central focus of the business? Surely its even worse!? Am I missing something? When is the mainstream media – after Hollywood, formula1, parliament and the presidents club – going to turn their focus on the largest legalized sexually exploitative corporate industry in existence? The porn ‘industry’ has been known to exploit women for decades, and its not a secretive institution like Parliament and Hollywood so it doesn’t take much journalism to expose the horrific abuses. And its all on film. Many girls have already spoken out about it. Porn Inc is run by rich powerful men so it fits the trajectory of current sexism scandals. And it needs addressing urgently. The media is silent on it (as far as i can see). Though it is an important and welcome expose, I worry the Grid girls story is a distraction. My fear is the # metoo movement will fizzle out and people will get bored of these scandals and the porn industry quietly gets off the hook. Its almost as if there is a concerted effort by the main stream media to avoid the massive fucking elephant in the room. Still at least we are starting to see the droppings.

  • Independent Radical

    That’s why I feel about most sporting events. I think it’s marginally better than males beating each other up to prove one is stronger than the other or males shoving each other to the ground to get a ball. Though racing is dangerous and environmentally destructive at least it isn’t violent.

  • Alienigena

    And women are passive bystanders rather than active participants. But who would want to participate in most sports, let alone contact sports. I have female colleagues who play hockey recreationally but it has never had any appeal to me. Guess I am not a team player. As someone who doesn’t even really like men I find it puzzling that I seem to be more disturbed by the violence in contact sports (boxing, UFC, football, hockey) and the damage it does to the brains and bodies of participants than women who are actual fans of such sports. I just don’t find sports that compelling. I was never someone who enjoyed phys ed in school though I did run cross country for a few years and was always been involved in some kind of physical activity (hiking, swimming, X-country skiing, horseback riding, skating, etc.) outside of school.

  • Alienigena

    “Breeding tribalist and competitive mindsets in men (and women) seems like one of the major pillars of patriarchy to me.”

    Liberal feminism and cool girls seem to think that feminism is about making women honorary males rather than overthrowing the systems that oppress women and enforce a particular worldview on everyone who wants to participate in the modern world. Participation in society seems to have to be on terms acceptable to men and their handmaidens.

  • Cassandra

    I was just joshing with you, Independent Radical. I agree with you.

  • Cassandra

    I don’t think I ignored context; I am not used to your writing the way I am to Meghan’s, so I didn’t pick-up on the sarcasm/humor. “Gender equality” is just such an entrenched phrase now, and its place in the everyday vernacular of people who should or could know better distresses me greatly.

    I apologize if you felt I was scolding you.

  • foamreality

    Lots of people enjoy socially destructive work. Police or porn bloggers for example. I don’t think enjoyment is sufficient justification.

  • Bill W.

    Why isnt there a call against cheerleaders at American Football games?

    • marv

      Male expectations and culture are nearly untouchable there.

  • Veronica Viramontes

    Unfortunately stupid libfems are getting on this and ARE mad that the grid girls “lost their job” (although if women had true economic empowerment those girls should be able to easily find another job). It’s extremely aggrivating because these “feminists” are actually fighting to get the jobs back I heard. Also I’m as a boxing fan(I really enjoy seeing men get KO’d) I was hoping they would follow suit with the ridiculous ring girls who look so fake they actually freak me out. But no, those girls are complaining about how it’s not right to take away their jobs and that it’s anti-feminist if their job is taken away because you are taking away their “choice” (I actually almost barfed during the interview b/c the ring girls made me so mad b/c they are obviously NOT feminists as they only care for their well-being and not that of most women) Hmmm ever think that even though you don’t “feel” degraded(because you get to make easy money from it) it is degrading to woman as a whole that our role in sports is literally to just be sexual imagery for the male viewers. (and honestly how do they not feel degraded they like aren’t allowed to ever speak and have to smile the WHOLE time like they job description is literally to shut up, smile and look cute/sexy, if that’s not demeaning than idk what is). @meagan_tyler:disqus I would actually like to start a petition to end ring girls though