If Danica Patrick Was A Man…

Danica Patrick is a professional racecar driver. You’ve probably heard her name, or seen her scantily clad in GoDaddy.com commercials during the superbowl.  She spent many years competing in the IndyCar Series and recently switched to the more lucrative NASCAR.  Her racing profile is strong.  In 2011 she ranked 26th in the Nascar Nationwide Series, competing in less than half of the races and she is currently ranked 10th in the world amongst women and men alike.  But that is not why people know her name.  Have you heard the names Brian Scott (currently ranked 9th), Tayler Malsam (currently ranked 11th), or Johanna Long (currently ranked 18th)?  Probably not.  The issue with Danica Patrick racing in NASCAR isn’t over her ability to drive, but about how she earned her spot to race.

With a net worth $18 MIL- ranked 3rd on the Forbes list of Highest Paid Female Athletes, only behind tennis stars Maria Sharapova and Caroline Wozniaki, Danica Patrick brings a lot of financial support to NASCAR.  (www.therichest.org) And, NASCAR being a sponsor driven (pun intend) sport, Danica brings not only herself but also a slew of sponsors with her.  In the 2012 Superbowl, she was in a GoDaddy.com commercial shown to be applying body paint to a model, as shown in the images below.

If a male athlete were to be in such a commercial, they would receive such incredible amount of negative attention, it would likely require a formal apology.  Though this commercial was criticized, Danica never had to apologize for her actions.  It is shocking that Danica Patrick, someone who has a platform to be a positive influence on many women, squander it in this way.  As we observed in “Killing Us Softly,” the images that we see in the media, not only sell us on a product, but lifestyles and concepts of how we should be, act, or look.  Being nude with the words “GET NOTICED” written across the model’s chest, women are being told that their bodies are the way to gain attention, not their talents, abilities, or intelligence.

If Danica Patrick was a man, her winnings from races would be the same, but her earnings from sponsors would be far less.  Sponsors like the “selling power” of Danica, so they pay her very well, better than the number 9 ranked NASCAR racer, Brian Scott, whose income doesn’t crack the top 10 of highest paid NASCAR drivers for 2011.  (www.therichest.org) The other shame in this situation, is that if Danica Patrick wasn’t taking off her clothes for advertisements, or wasn’t as attractive as she is, her earnings would likely be even less than Brian Scott- an equal caliber racer.  As we learned when studying sexism in the work place, women make about 77 cents to every dollar a man makes.  This ratio is probably even more dramatic when a woman is doing a “man’s job,” as Danica does with her racing.  Also, it was noted that children usually describe females based on appearance and males based on traits and activities.  Perhaps this is something that perpetuates into adulthood, which causes Danica to overemphasize her feminine appearance.

Which brings us to the second point.  When you google images of Brian Scott, you find images of him in a firesuit, next to a racecar, or actually driving.  When you google images of Danica Patrick, you get Danica in a bikini, next to a model car, wearing stilettos, or in a firesuit pulled below her hips in a bikini.  Out of 9 images screenshotted collectively above, there is only one of Danica in a firesuit at a press conference after a race.  But, there are zero photos of Brian Scott in a Speedo.  Even google searches of the better-known Dale Earnhardt Jr. yield only photos of him on the track or in a firesuit. However, this is not entirely Danica’s fault.  We are given what we demand, and there is very high demand for Danica dressed scantily clad.  This creates a perpetuating cycle of Danica in a bikini, then saying that she just wants to be seen as a “driver,” but both worlds cannot coexist.  Her appearances away from the track influence how people view her on the track, even if she is only there to race.

The oversexualization of Danica makes it harder for her to talents on the racetrack to get noticed.  It also makes people more critical of her driving.  When Danica made her NASCAR debut this year, she was involved in 3 crashes, none of which were initiated from mistakes that she made.  With a male driver, this fact would have been considered bad luck, but many commentators began to question her presence in NASCAR and blamed her gender as the source of the crashes.  Gender was not the reason that Danica had these crashes, neither was lack of experience.  Cognitively, there are very few differences between men and women.  The sport of racing requires endurance and some strength, but mainly gusto and skill.  But, there is an overarching perception that females are worse drivers than men in day-to-day living- a stereotype that makes its way to NASCAR.  Throughout many studies on visual/spatial skills, including one conducted by Voyer, Voyer and Bryden in 1995, there are only small difference in spatial abilities between men and women, slightly favoring males.  These are the kind of skills that would most directly affect one’s driving ability.  If Danica were male her mistakes would be judged without consideration of her gender.   However, many people feel that Danica’s looks are the only reason she has a professional driving career.  If that were the case, she would be ranked 35th on the NASCAR circuit, like fellow convert Travis Pastrana.  Pastrana used to race motocross, transitioned to rally car driving and gained significant celebrity clout, eventually earning him a spot in the NASCAR circuit.  No one is saying that Travis Pastrana isn’t ready for NASCAR because he’s a man.

Overall Danica Patrick has a challenging road to walk.  Being marketable is an integral part of being a professional athlete, being really good at your sport is not enough by itself.  If a male in her position was sexy and showed it, he wouldn’t be criticized for selling out, exploiting himself or being a bad example for other men.  But Danica is.  I am extremely critical of Danica Patrick and how she chooses to make her money, but women are not men.  Even if we are equals in all cognitive capacities, we are still fighting stereotypes and working to earn equal treatment.  By exploiting her sexuality, she is making a more challenging path for women, demeaning women and our abilities, and even demeaning her own talents as the 10th fastest human on 4 wheels.  At a press conference Danica asked a reporter “I don’t quite understand why when you’re referring to a girl, a female athlete in particular, you have to use the word “sexy.”  Is there some other word that you can use to describe me?” To which news reporter Ross Shimabuku commented, “Oh, I got a few words.  It starts with a ‘B’ and it isn’t ‘beautiful.’”  Implying that if Danica would like to be referred to as something other than sexy, then she’s a “B*TCH. (www.feministe.us) Granted, Danica sends us mixed signals, wanting to be seen as sexy in photoshoots away from the track, but expects us to forget all of that on the racetrack.  However, this would never happen if she were male.

Gender and gender rolls affect us all greatly.  We are all perceived differently because of our gender and our actions, even if they are the same as actions of the opposite sex, are held to a unique standard.  Over time this can change, but we need to view ourselves as equals and act like equals, before we will be treated as equals.