Above: How one Sydney blogger reacted to the end of grid girls.
I’ve long considered—I still consider—myself as relatively unscathed in the online harassment space. It’s happened, good lord how it’s happened, but there are women who’ve had it so much worse. Had it more viciously, more regularly, and who seem to have felt it so much more viscerally. My coping strategy is the genuine belief that there’s something severely wrong—psychologically/emotionally/intellectually—with a man who’d contact me just to call me a cunt and wish for my maiming. These missives never feel personal, rather, expose the insecurities and frustrations of the sender. Depending on my mood—and on how much violent content there was—I’ll thank them profusely (read: sarcastically), alternatively, I’ll send them a link to ACORN.gov.au. At this stage, I don’t name and shame: I eschew the muck and the mire and try really hard not to hurt people. Even those who without a shadow of doubt completely bloody deserve it.
Aside from the offensive communiqués sporadically following my media appearances, there have only been two occasions when there’s been an orchestrated onslaught. In 2015 I dared gently criticise Mad Max: Fury Road. Among the responses were wishes for my rape, for my death. This week’s torrent makes me look back on the brevity of the Max Max fiasco and pine a little. Again I’ve learnt the consequences of treading on men and cars.
Late last month Formula 1 decided to do away with Grid Girls. Judging from the diatribes still hitting my inbox, there seems to be a belief that I, and my fellow Feminazis, have successfully waged a social justice campaign against this integral institution of masculinity. Our scalps were a fistful of Fosters pageant sashes and a pair of hot pants; we’re apparently holding these totems aloft, marching around town in vag-power triumph. Shock horror I don’t wield this kind of power; F1 came to this position without any campaigning by me. Management seemingly just woke up, looked at the calendar and decided that in 2018 Grid Girls no longer fit their brand. (As Formula E discovered 12-months prior, sans hoo-ha). Delving deeper is just a search for a scapegoat.
The momentum of #MeToo and #TimesUp compounded with F1’s necessity to broaden their appeal beyond P-plater revheads undoubtedly necessitated change. To pretend this is a story about political correctness run amok grossly misunderstands economics, modernity, and one again cheaply paints feminists as killjoys.
Following the F1 decision, I was asked to give commentary to channels 7, 9 and Radio Melbourne. To me, abolishing the Grid Girls was a good, if predictable decision: it’s 2018 and women being reduced to decorating men’s sport is an anachronism. And no, I wouldn’t be surprised if other sports start questioning the sense of cheerleaders. Sum total of my comments. I’d never previously put an ounce of thought into the Grid Girls, and aside from thinking of them as a relic from a time long passed—and, if pushed, as a metonym for continuing gender disparity—I don’t view F1’s decision as some amazing feminist victory: F1’s decision just reflects the Zeitgeist.
Of course, as any feminist who has ever dared take her ideas to town knows there’s a price to be paid for talking about any of this, to dare take anything away from men, least of all their access to boobs. Feminists after all, are well versed in the formulaic sanctioning that follows. We’re all jealous, apparently. Spinsters, lesbians, hirsute cat-hoarders, unfuckables—I stopped counting at 50 messages that called me a cunt—and a bevy of other supposed slurs intended to corral us back into the kitchen.
There I was deleting their scumbaggery from my social media pages, blocking a procession of grammatically-challenged degenerates from my accounts and it dawned on me that it’s still just about men and cars. Apparently the masculinity of those blokes comfortable enough to threaten and abuse me is inextricably tied to tyres and tits.
I didn’t ask F1 to take away the Grid Girls—my activism is exclusively of the question-asking variety—and prior to the January decision, my sole career commentary on racing were apprehensions articulated about taxpayer contributions. Ah, but the boys—fearful that they’ll now have to conjure other ways to be a man—needed someone to blame.
Just as I support sex workers, I wholeheartedly back a woman’s choice to be a model or a Grid Girl or an academic or whichever way she gets coin under capitalism. It’s not for me to decide whether she’s been exploited; equally ’empowered’ is just a bullshit buzzword unhelpful in the context of employment. But this isn’t a story about the plight of those newly unemployed Grid Girls, just as anti-smoking campaigns aren’t about the plight of Philip Morris workers.
In a world where there is (rightfully) heightened sensitivity around harassment, around consent, to blur the lines—to stir titillation into events that are supposed to be all-inclusive and family-friendly—is risky. It’s risky for the Gird Girls, sure—after all, just how safe are they walking among fans who dispatch rape threats with gay abandon?—but it’s even riskier for their employers who are under the microscope, scrutinised to ensure they deliver a safe working environment free from harassment, from hostility.
The men who are harassing me are—two clicks later—invariably exposed as having a profile picture featuring a penis-extension vehicle and a deluge of posts exposing the holy trinity of vomitous values: flag fetishism, pro-Trumpism and some kind of Ban the Burqa meme. It helps to both contextualize their threats, their slights, their unabashed misogyny and usefully flags the high-level rage and low-level comprehension of segments of the online Right.
These are men struggling with concepts like equality, economics, and with the reality that their brand of masculinity—one bound a little too intimately to the recreational sexualisation of women and vehicles—is rapidly becoming a relic. We could speculate that this is a result of decades of equality campaigning but attention—and accolades—should be shared with the F1 honchos who’ve recognise we’re not in Kansas (or 1960) anymore; not in our treatment of women and certainly not in the optics of our sport.
Lauren Rosewarne is a Senior Lecturer at the University of Melbourne. She is the author of nine books and is a co-host of ‘Stop Everything!’ on Radio National.