Regular readers of this blog will have long been aware that we at Mediolana are not an easily shocked bunch, but the news that Formula One (‘Formula 1’, ‘F1’) has abruptly terminated the presence of grid girls – promotional models who perform various logistical tasks, such as helping spectators with directions and holding umbrellas above stationary cars pre-race in the event of rain – at their events sent us into deep contemplation.
The grid girls ban –which comes into force with the start of the 2018 FIA Formula One World Championship on 25th March – comes hot on the heels of the Professional Darts Corporation’s abrogation of their utilisation of walk-on girls. But despite some apparent similarities, the two cases could scarcely be more different.
Not only are grid girls an F1 tradition which spans many decades – in contrast to their purported counterparts in darts, which are a recent innovation – but their aesthetic is a world away from the gaudy, tabloidesque presentation inflicted on females working in some other sports. Promotional models who work in Formula One convey a completely different brand proposition in which elegance and sophistication are richly in evidence. And while grid girl uniforms can vary somewhat in terms of quality, the general standard is very high indeed; some grand prix, notably those in Azerbaijan and China, have made wonderful use of local traditional fashion motifs to produce strikingly beautiful and iconic official clothing.
Moreover – and this is where it begins to get perplexing – in the context of the recent wave of sexual abuse scandals, the grid girl ban seems weirdly illogical. Most if not all promotional work undertaken by models on Formula One duty is in full public view, and nearly all said work is conducted in groups. Models who have worked in this sector aver that grid girl work is the one of the best gigs going: from the inside, there does not seem to be even a hint of complaint, let alone anything more sinister going on.
So why has this swift and unilateral commercial edict come to pass? Formula One itself claims that is has to do with ‘brand values’ and that the practice of grid girls ‘is at odds with [contemporary] societal norms’. On the latter point in particular they may be correct, and we respect the organisation’s reasoning. But the question must be asked: whose norms? Certainly not those of motor racing fans: a 12/2017 Internet poll conducted by BBC Sport found that 60% of F1 followers agreed that ‘grid girls should be part of Formula One’. And not those of the models involved, either; they are understandably furious that one of the most glamorous, interesting and lucrative professional opportunities in the field has been annulled, seemingly without so much as their being consulted.
Let us be clear: the norms which are being perpetuated by Formula One’s decision are those of the people cheering this move. These entities may be well-intentioned, but they are nevertheless spreading a perverse and soulless doctrine which results in the following:
- The deliberate erasure of beautiful women from public life;
- The de facto criminalisation of beautiful women; and
- The undermining of women’s rights through moral vacuity.
This last point is incredibly damaging. The ‘societal norms’ cited by Formula One are the same values which target utterly trivial matters with relentless crusades while letting gross and unforgivable abuses of women’s fundamental human rights – such as the right the life – go unchallenged indefinitely. ‘Societal norms’ which celebrate the absence of grid girls at, for example, the Mexican Grand Prix – and which are silent on the matter of narcocorridos which glorify the gruesome murder of women in that same country – are, to our mind at least, self-incriminating. They risk constituting nothing less than a form of neo-misogyny in which all women – and therefore society – are regarded as mere collateral damage.