Ruminations on Danica Patrick

As someone who’s grown up around racing, though not been a huge fan, I’ll admit I find Danica Patrick something of a figure of fun and cannot bring myself to defend her against ‘sexist’ attacks from people within the sport. I know that there are lots of people who genuinely believe that Danica Patrick is a great race car driver and is somehow important because she’s a woman in a sport that’s almost monolithically dominated by men. I’ve even heard her referred to as ” Danica Patrick: Racing Superstar”, which to me is as funny as “Olivier Panis: Racing Superstar”. Don’t know who Olivier Panis is? Look him up. I’ll give you a minute. I’m not surprised you haven’t heard of him. He and Danica have won the same number of races, though arguably, his win at the Monaco Grand Prix (one of the most impressive road courses in the world) has a bit more glamour and cachet than the Bridgestone Indy Japan 300 (a fairly run of the mill Indy Oval). The difference is Danica is a woman. But she’s not JUST a woman. She’s marketed herself as a woman and as a sex object. You’ve probably never heard of or maybe forgot about Lyn St. James, who retired with two wins at Daytona and a win at Sebring. Probably because she hasn’t appeared in superbowl ads that foreshadow the prospect of her having sex with another woman. There’s also Sarah Fisher, who had a fairly long, if not highly successful IRL career; while she never won any races, she had two podium finishes. Again, you probably don’t know about her because she didn’t get sold to you as some kind of sex object.

My, and many other people’s, problem with Danica Patrick it’s not that she’s a woman; it’s that she’s a mediocre driver who has sold herself on sex appeal rather than the ability to win races. You can be a fan of Danica, you can cheer for her at races, you can be mad when the top performers in her sport say that she’s not competitive. Just don’t pretend that Danica is somehow good for women because she’s in racing. There have been women before her and there will be women after her. I, for one, am hoping that Danica can someday be knocked off her perch by a woman driver who’s made a name for herself because she can win races, not because she’ll take off ┬áher clothes for advertisers.

Update:
Quick fun fact: according to wordpress, I’m the only person talking about Lyn St. James, one of only two people talking about Sarah Fisher, and possibly the only person in english blogging about Olivier Panis!

Also, Olympic medalist Hilary Knight’s “Knight’s Blog” makes a good point about the “Sexy Double Standard”.

5 responses to “Ruminations on Danica Patrick

  1. This post and the post you linked have given me a direction to take my reputation rules / social contract system in an interesting direction. Not sure if they’ll go in the final game system (I’ve already expressed how I think character level is a good indication of reputation), but I design game systems for fun. :P

    I’m reading about objectification and dignity. Fun stuff. :)

    Er, oh and racing. I’ve uh, I’ve been to see a race once or twice. <_<

    –Dither

    • As stated, I’m not really a fan, but with a father who is a massively devoted fan of Indy Car and F1, I absorbed a lot of knowledge about the sport and the individuals who were in it.

      One thing that I know, which is one of those unfortunate sexist scientific facts is that since men have greater upper body strength than women, male drivers will naturally have a massive advantage over women drivers in a number of racing leagues for the following reason: open wheel racing cars do not have power steering of any sort. On Road course with lots of turns, drivers are repeatedly using their arm strength to combat the massive G’s they endure going into those turns. For this reason, female drivers (Danica is a prime example of this) do better on Oval tracks, where the car can be specially balanced and turns are consistently in one direction and comparatively slower (less curve, so actually gone through faster, but the physical act of turning the car is slower). Men can simply take turns faster and at higher Gs because they have the natural build to muscle through those hair-pin turns at high speed. It’s for this reason that you’ll likely never see a successful woman driver in F1, since those are exclusively road courses. Danica went to Nascar, in part, because the lower speeds and lower G forces and oval tracks all help remove some of the physical hurdles that she faced in half of the Indy car tracks. (Plus, there she would get to be the “first” and “only” woman, as opposed to being one of nearly half a dozen women in the Indy league. Sure, she might have been the best of them, but still, competition is competition.)

      Fun fact, one of the ways that open wheeled race car drivers train is by rotating 50-100 pounds of weight suspended from a 2-3 foot pendulum using a tiny replica steering wheel to build the necessary strength to make those turns.

      I know way too much about a sport that I barely follow… Thanks, dad! :O

    • Which, uh… is to say that sexual dimorphism must be something more nuanced than a simple stat or attribute difference. Or something… ::mumble mumble gaming mumble::

      • Arcanum: Of Steamworks and Magick Obscura (not the other Arcanum you mentioned) grants a simple +1 Strength to men and +1 Constitution to women. I like it. I think I might even adopt it.

        –Dither

      • That’s simple and minor enough that it works reasonably well. Takes into account biology to a small degree while allowing for reasonable stratification of individual ability.

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