Formula 1 will no longer use 'grid girls' and people have a lot to say about it
In a particularly significant moment in history for women, with a global spotlight put on combatting sexual harassment in the workplace with the #MeToo and #TimesUp campaigns, a big move has been made in the world of sports this week too.
On Wednesday, Formula 1 announced that "grid girls" – the young female models who sport special outfits emblazoned with sponsor names and hold umbrellas and name-boards for drivers – would no longer be used at the auto racing events. The organisation said in a statement that the employment of women as "walk-on grid girls" is "at odds with modern day societal norms".
The news comes days after the Professional Darts Corporation announced that the glitzy "walk-on girls" who escort male players to the stage would also no longer be used. And all this comes after a cry from The Women's Sport Trust to ban roles that are meant purely for women.
As a leading voice for gender equality in sport, The Women's Sport Trust issued a statement to HuffPost UK, saying that its issue with the use of models in sport as "walk-on girls, grid girls and ring girls is the message it gives about how women are valued in society".
"Sporting viewers are expected to admire the successful, talented, strong men taking part in competition, with the role of women purely based on their physical appearance," the statement reads.
“Sport mirrors and magnifies society. If we depict women in sport in a way that reinforces a narrow stereotype, we add to the pressure young girls in particular feel to look and act a certain way. If we depict women in a central, powerful and sporting role, we create a positive, modern and accurate image to inspire others.”
They emphasised that women are purely there as "embellishment" to the sport in these roles. Sean Bratches, managing director of commercial operations at F1, expressed a similar sentiment.
"While the practice of employing grid girls has been a staple of Formula 1 Grands Prix for decades, we feel this custom does not resonate with our brand values and clearly is at odds with modern day societal norms," he articulated. "We don’t believe the practice is appropriate or relevant to Formula 1 and its fans, old and new, across the world."
However, the announcement has incited mixed responses. Some are supportive of the move, agreeing that the choice is a positive one in helping to shape how women should be portrayed in sports and society at large.
While others, including former chief executive of the sport, Bernie Ecclestone, have slammed the decision and labelled it "political correctness gone mad". 87-year-old Ecclestone told The Sun: "I can't see how a good-looking girl standing with a driver and a number in front of a Formula One car can be offensive to anybody."
"You should be allowed to have grid girls because the drivers like them, the audience like them and no one cares. These girls were... part of the spectacle," he added. (It should be noted that in 2016 he said female drivers would "not be taken seriously" in F1 and they are "not physically" able to drive cars as fast).
Many grid girls themselves took to Twitter to voice their outrage at being put out of work so suddenly, and for being excluded from discussions about the decision.
But the issue isn't really about being offended for anyone. It's about how we continue to show younger generations how to value women. Grid girls and the like – while maybe empowering for the girls themselves – tell people that a woman's appearance is her most important asset.
Melinda Messenger, who worked as a grid girl for four years, told Channel 5: "I actually think this is a good thing. I think it’s a sign that we’re heading in a really positive direction.
"I personally had a great time, I made some good money out of it, I had fun but really, looking back, essentially all I was there for was decoration and I think that’s the issue. I think we are changing and we’re moving forward."
The first F1 event without grid girls will be at the 2018 FIA Formula One World Championship season, starting on March 25 in Melbourne.