There’s no hypocrisy in putting grid girls out of work

Formula 1 recently announced that they would no longer have scantily clad women acting as “grid girls” during races. This seems like a no-brainer to me, but there has been a wave of backlash against the decision. The main argument against it appears to be this:

These women have chosen to use their looks to make money, which is their free choice. And now pressure from a bunch of angry feminists has made them lose their jobs. So much for respecting women’s choices. 

Variations of this argument have recently appeared in the Mail, Mirror, Metro and Times.

And it is a terrible argument.

It wrongly assumes that feminists must support a woman’s right to be paraded for her looks on whatever platform she chooses.

But this just isn’t true. Imagine if Prime Ministers Questions decided that, to raise their viewership, a woman would introduce proceedings every week in her underwear. That would be absurd, whether it gave a job to a young woman or not. People don’t have a god-given right to dress in a sexualised way to advertise a brand. Feminists aren’t hypocrites if they don’t support giving people such a platform.

When brands like Formula One promote Grid Girls in the way that they do, it has damaging effects on other women and on society. It implies that women should be seen as decoration – only relevant for their looks – while the male drivers are heralded for their sporting ability. What kind of message does that send to young girls who see them on TV? This isn’t the same as being anti-sex, or saying that women shouldn’t be able to dress how they like in their everyday lives. It’s about context. Why should there be a platform for parading half-naked women during a race? How is that relevant to sport? 

The fact that Grid Girls object to this is unsurprising. They chose to do the job, so of course they don’t want it to be abolished. But the argument was never that Grid Girls should be scrapped to protect Grid Girls. It was that the presence of Grid Girls promotes a view of women which is damaging to other women. By doing their jobs, they are damaging the movement for gender equality.

Big brands make people redundant all the time. The only reason anti-feminists are suddenly so concerned about the welfare of Grid Girls is because they’ve seen a chance to paint feminists as hypocrites. But there’s nothing hypocritical about this. Feminists don’t have to support the choices and interests of every woman in every situation. That’s just a straw man which people love to tear down.

* Ben is a Councillor in Sutton, and the Vice Chair of the Environment & Transport Committee at Sutton Council. He has been a member of the party since the 2015 election, and used to work for the Sutton Liberal Democrats as a volunteer organiser. Ben now works for a charity promoting the greater use of Restorative Justice in the criminal justice system.

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  • David Evans 9th Feb '18 - 3:50pm

    I don’t think that “It wrongly assumes that feminists must support a woman’s right to be paraded for her looks on whatever platform she chooses.”

    However, I would strongly suggest that It assumes that, in a Liberal society, liberals would strongly support a woman’s right to be choose to use her looks in any job she chose. Note the non-judgemental terms used to describe the choice a woman may make.

    It may depend which values are the stronger the feminist or liberal.

  • um….

    I do appreciate both sides of this argument and that having women act in these roles does send out a message.

    1. I don’t believe that Lib Dems are puritanical and we should be careful that we are not.
    2. Arguably it is worse and more “exploitative” for a person to work in a dead end factory job than these jobs. As some of the people themselves say they may have worked hard to get that body and take care of themselves. As Lib Dems we do not deny people the ability and right to use whatever talents, skills, beauty or intellect they have.
    3. It is debatable who is being “exploited” here – the people that look at them or the people that work in these jobs.
    4. Why is it OK to have some jobs where essentially people work in jobs where people look at attractive people – models, actors etc. and not other jobs?
    5. It seems to me that it is (increasingly) unobjectionable when men appear say shirtless etc. but (increasingly) objectionable when women appear scantily or “sexily” dressed.

    I do appreciate the views expressed in the article and indeed have a large degree of sympathy and understanding with them – but I think we need to careful as Lib Dems.

  • It is hypocritical. Largely working class women getting told by largely middle class ‘feminists’ what to do doesn’t strike me as particularly empowering, to be totally honest.

    Have you ever met any grid girls, or women who work as ring girls, or in similar promotional industries (which are also now under threat)? Did any of those ‘progressive’ voices on social media who pushed for this ban, even bother to ask what said girls thought? Incidentally, I do have a few acquaintances who work in those industries and they love their jobs.

    As Liberals, I thought we believed in people’s right (and ability) to think for themselves, make their own decisions, and come to their own conclusions. Presumably, those women who find grid girls to be sexist and damaging to gender equality – and they’re perfectly entitled to do so – managed to all by themselves.

  • Simon McGrath 9th Feb '18 - 6:28pm

    The motion on sex work passed at Confernce last year said “Every person has a right to bodily autonomy, and it is not for the State to decide what they can or cannot do with their body, including engage in sex work if they so choose. ”
    It would seem odd to apply that to women selling their bodies for sex but not to those who chose to wear skimpy clothing.

  • Peter Watson 9th Feb '18 - 7:26pm

    This strikes me as the sort of issue where Lib Dems can tie themselves in knots trying (and often failing) to not sound like Labour when a desire to be liberal bumps up against discomfort with some of the choices people might make.

  • I agree with Paul Walter here. This is not about illiberal Government regulation, it’s about a sport rightly concluding that having scantily clad members of one gender parading themselves as a minor sideshow before the main event is not appropriate.

    Any sport worth its name should stand on its own as a spectacle without this, and Formula 1, like football and rugby these days, has a significant number of female fans. No hand-wringing is needed, its simply time to move on.

  • Clearly any sport has the right to run its sport in the way that chooses. That’s not the question – the question is whether it was right to and whether the pressure exerted on it to do so was right. Frankly we all know that it wasn’t Formula 1 or Darts waking up one morning and thinking it was wrong but not wanting to be engulfed in a media storm after the President’s club debacle.

    And I do understand and am somewhat sympathetic to the issues involved. I think we do need to careful though as a new puritanism is not liberal and it is not IMHO ultimately in women’s or men’s best interests. As @Simon McCarth says we support the right of either gender to work using their body and of course it needs a willing employer it. And of course millions labour in difficult conditions – in jobs that seem a lot, lot worse than this.

  • Malcolm Todd 9th Feb '18 - 10:23pm

    “But the argument was never that Grid Girls should be scrapped to protect Grid Girls. It was that the presence of Grid Girls promotes a view of women which is damaging to other women. By doing their jobs, they are damaging the movement for gender equality.”

    Exactly this. It’s a pity that the first four commenters seem to have overlooked this very clear statement of the point in their eagerness to dispute an argument that isn’t being made.

  • Malcolm – I didn’t overlook it all. I thought my response to that was fairly clear, but there we go.

    Exactly how is it a victory for the ‘movement for gender equality’, when you have one group of women telling another group of women that their own experiences and opinions don’t matter at all because they simply know whats best for them (women)?

    As said already – puritanism isn’t Liberal – nor is an attitude of moral superiority particularly endearing. The Labour party are the ones who usually can’t trust people to think for themselves, not us.

  • Thanks for the comments guys, a couple of things I think people are overlooking.

    1) I’m not advocating this to protect grid girls. I’m willing to assume they like their jobs and maybe they feel empowered. My objection is that the role sends an image of women which is damaging to other women – thanks for highlighting this Malcolm.

    2) There is a difference between having a right to do something and having the right to a platform. When you say that a woman has the right to use her looks in whatever job she chooses, it sounds nice, but it’s not true. Take the PMQs example in my article. Would you support the existence of that role? If not why not? It’s her right to do that job right?

    The reality is that a platform is a privilege which by definition isn’t a right to everyone. I have the right to spout my opinions to people who will listen, I don’t have the right to do so for 2 hours on bbc1 each morning. Of course women can dress how they like in their day to day lives. That’s not the same as saying the role of Grid Girl in formula 1 somehow must exist because some women would like it to.

    Also, this isn’t a ban. This is just formula 1 making a decision, under pressure from feminists who think that role was harmful. Arguing that formula 1 must keep this job as it is to protect the freedom of its workers to do that job is very strange…. (And it would have interesting implications for the job market if that logic was followed in society!)

  • Absolutely Malcolm. The argument that these particular women should be allowed to do whatever job they fancy doesn’t make sense when none of the rest of us (male or female) get to pick our jobs.

    The presentation of Formula 1 has always made me feel uncomfortable for a number of reasons, and the presence of Grid Girls is just one of them. We need to remember that it is part of the entertainment industry, and that decisions are all based on making money from viewers, sometimes via sponsors. When your particular band of entertainment relies on promoting men as talented playboys and the women are pretty decoration, then it sends out a horrible message to everyone who watches. That there are people who are so used to that power imbalance that they think it’s all just a bit of fun, or harmless is in itself telling and a sign of how important it is that it’s ending.

    Formula 1 have decided instead to have the practical element of that particular work done by up and coming junior racing drivers or both sexes. This has to be better for the sport. Anyone who misses having the Grid Girls to ogle can just buy a lads mag and let everyone else focus on the sporting side of the event.

  • It was a private company decision, not a state one. Fashions change.
    However, I do think it’s odd that grid girls are seen as damaging, but there are regular articles advocating decriminalising sex work which often involves vulnerable people (both genders) with drug problems being exploited from their early teens. I wouldn’t say this was hypocrisy. However, it is does seem somewhat confused and troubling.

  • Phil Beesley 11th Feb '18 - 1:49pm

    The decision to ban grid girls was made by the company owning promotional rights for F1 and which wishes to improve the F1 brand. The company wants to make money.

    In the last two decades, F1 has been associated with on- and off-track cheating, unfair distribution of team income, unusual settlements with legal authorities, and some slippery people. If you wanted F1 to have a more wholesome or inclusive image — whilst tackling the other deeper concerns — you’d think about presentation.

    Grid girls were banned because they are associated with bad times and bad attitudes. And as Paul Walter noted, the management company is trying to think how 21st Century people think.

  • David Evans 13th Feb '18 - 2:10pm

    Malcolm Todd – Indeed the argument in favour of the decision to abolish grid girls had not been made from a viewpoint that Grid Girls should be scrapped to protect Grid Girls. It had only been made from a point of the author’s view that “By doing their jobs, they are damaging the movement for gender equality.”

    All that I and the others were doing, in a considered and Liberal way, and not in any sense an eager manner, was pointing out that it may be that the author considers grid girls damaging to the movement for gender equality, other Liberals consider it to be, on balance, more illiberal than liberal.

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