Yes, I might be “late” in the mind of some. Many people, especially women, already talked about this topic, before and after the Weinstein gate. Let’s be honest, sexism and sexual harassment/assault at work existed before Harvey Weinstein and will still exist after him. And I thought it might be the time for me to voice my thoughts on this topic, regarding my place in motorsports.
There is a sort of tacit thing in motorsport that a woman has to be mansplained everything about her work environment in racing, and if you want to change it, you would be asked to kindly shut your pretty mouth up. Many middle-aged white men editorialist like reminding us where our place should be in their mindset and calling us witches as soon as we dare say something against them. And yet I rather not enter the ‘feed the troll’ game, I found myself facing a “You’re a woman therefore your opinion is not relevant” guy on social media as early as last week.
This way of forcing us to stay in our place leads to something more worrying than the lack of voicing: the impossibility to call out the ambient sexist behaviour of the sport. I am not here to talk about the endless Carmen Jorda debate, but I would rather talk about the marks of disrespect we women go through in our work.
First of all, I would like to start saying I am not the one being treated the worst in the paddock, I have a friend whose bum makes the cover of online galleries about the series she is a strategist at. I owe this to my fellow team members who accepted me as a real member of the team, although I am not present at the factory as much as I wished I was. Despite some trials of making me make coffee on demand at first, I am now respected and understood within the team. The worst part is when I come out of the awning.
I am not particularly fond of crowded places, and walking alone through a flow of men can really become challenging at times. The evenings are the worst times for me, and obviously, this has to be the moment I walk the most in the paddock. The fear of finding myself facing a group of men, rather intoxicated with beer and other types of alcohol, surrounding your little and thin body, this can lead you to stay in the awning and send emails or texts to a person you could have physically met in 5 minutes.
I have been hugged and touched against my will in the paddock this year. I can deal with the whistles and the catcalls from fans and team crews. But as soon as it gets physical, I cannot deal with it properly. In this situation, you just freeze because no matter how you will try to explain them that you don’t want to, they will not listen nor understand – they were the kind of men who shout “FRAU” when they see a woman in the paddock. You try to convince yourself it is not your fault if you stand out as a very young woman wearing -oversized- team gear in the paddock, but it usually does not succeed.
It is difficult to find support in those situation although every single woman you know has been through this kind of behaviour and sometimes has seen way worse than being hugged against your will and then being shamed of it (yes, because these men found me the day after and laughed about it in front of my colleagues). And you also do not want to talk about this to your fellow team members because they have a car to run. All of this can make you feel like this is what you have to go through, to work in motorsport.
I am not lucky enough to say I have overcome this fear in the paddock, mostly because it triggers memories I will not talk about today but who give me trust issues about men. Before some guys come at me and shout that hideous “NOT ALL MEN” to my face, I know that not all men are like this, but you will excuse me from being afraid of fans that are conditioned by racing marketing about women’s place in motorsport, only being here to carry a name-board and being watched on the grid.