As someone all about body positivity, it’s admittedly disgusting that the entire profession of “Grid Girls” is being disbanded in one fell swoop (as opposed to, say, letting the individual teams decide for themselves whether or not the practice fits their brand image), and all under the banner of alleged “progressive” mindsets and outlooks inspired by the #metoo movement. Notice the linked article from The Independent’s rather condescending tone, calling the job “unskilled labor” to make it feel diminutive while complaining the job objectifies women. The irony of this situation has its head up its ass.
I seem to be out of touch with what feminism stands for, which is personal agency, liberty, and choices, all unhindered by arbitrary societal expectations and perceived norms. Want to wear sexy outfits and parade around in front of massive crowds? Go for it, break a leg. Want to go into a technology field like engineering or programming? Great, can’t wait to see what you can do. Want to stay home and focus on raising your kids? Awesome, have fun with the little scamps. Want to get married? Want to stay single… you get where I’m going with this. Additionally, it’s important to also point out in these matters that your job does not define you as a person. You are not your job. You may have skills and personality traits that make you especially adept at your job, but if anything that just says your work bows to you and not the other way around.
Then again, I am torn on this issue because we have to call a spade a spade. The use of showroom models or booth babes or grid girls in advertising/branding/marketing (which is what it is) is, at the end of the day, pandering. It’s titillation for the sake of titillation. That’s not saying it’s a bad thing, merely that it’s superficial at best and condescending to your audience at worst. It’s like when DC Comics insists that their books are for readers both male and female alike, then put Starfire in the mother of all plunging necklines and then wonder why people are asking why she can’t have an outfit closer to what she wears on the Teen Titans animated series. It’s like when the games industry insists on how inclusive and egalitarian it is, yet I’ve pretty much given up on the Soul Calibur series after the third installment because it’s to the point the only female character who isn’t given breasts bigger than her head and the physics of helium balloons is Talim, who is only spared this redesign because she’s 15 years old. I know these are extreme cases and in no way fully represetative of the comics or games industry, but regardless of the scope, the hypocrisy should be obvious. You can’t insist on wanting to appeal to a broader demographic if your entire marketing strategy makes Don Draper look like Mr. Rogers. Look, I like sexy characters in my games and comics, but there’s a world of difference (dare I say diversity) between Bayonetta and Negasonic Teenage Warhead in terms of keeps me invested in their respective stories. Moreover, sometimes I just want to play the game. I just want to read what happens to the team. I don’t need sex appeal to sell me on every single piece of media I may wish to consume and appreciate. Frankly, if that’s your biggest selling point, the selling point you want front and center, it likely means you don’t have much else to offer.
On the whole, I think this has less to do with any sort of pro-feminist mentality and more to do with the entirety of motorsport covering its ass. This point is hard to articulate because it sounds as though I’m victim-blaming, feeding into the systemic oppression that holds the wrong people accountable for the actions of others. I can only promise that’s not what I’m trying to do. This is pure speculation, simply me trying to look at a situation from the perspective of those who made this decision… poorly. In simplest terms, the fewer people you’ve got out there in sexy outfits interacting with fans (dare we say flirtatiously), the fewer possible lawsuits and litigations you may potentially have to worry about. I mean, how can you possibly be accused of spying on your models in their dressing room if there’s no dressing room? How can you be accused of extorting sexual favors out of your low-ranking female employees if the only ones you would have to worry about are the drivers and maybe some members of the pit crew and management? Of course, this all falls apart when we remember this is not a decision of the individual teams, but the venue hosting them.
In the grand scheme of things, the people being hurt worst by this are the models themselves. For many of them, this was a career, or a legitimate means of supporting endeavors towards a career. They’ve effectively had the rug pulled out from under them, literally told overnight that they don’t have jobs anymore. If this were left up to the individual teams to gradually phase out the position, reduce the number of models (some teams had dozens) with fair warning or grace period, maybe expand their positions to have more responsibilities (not that it’s an easy gig, but I’m sure they’ve got downtime they can afford to fill with something else), or retrain them for other duties beneficial to the team, this would have been a better way to handle the situation besides some knee-jerk reactionary rhetoric from on high. Granted, that last option is still available to the teams, but making this move mandatory puts an onus on the teams where they have to make a difficult choice and in a very short amount of time.