06/29/2012 Uncategorized

If Danica Patrick Was A Man

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 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.  ( 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 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.  ( 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. ( 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.



15 responses to “If Danica Patrick Was A Man”

  1. Damon says:

    If…….if………if, sounds like somebody is a little bit jealous.

    • jenhudak says:

      Yes, I suppose I am jealous. I am jealous of the platform that Danica has and seems to be squandering. Am I jealous of her appearance, her status, her money or her life? No, I’m perfectly happy with mine.

  2. Damon says:

    Are you jealous?

  3. Jan says:

    Jen – This is a great post! Very well written and describes the double standard and struggle that faces females (especially female athletes). I hope athletes like you continue to raise the awareness of these issues so my daughter (now 18 months old) won’t have to deal with this inequality when she’s older. Thank you for the good read and sweet skiing!


  4. I loved this article! This is a way to sell yourself without having to sell your soul. It is so important for those in the entertainment industries and sports industries to realize the influence they have on younger generations. I wish more would take it seriously and understand the gift they’ve been given and the responsibility that goes with it.

  5. shem says:

    Great blog, well be following 😀

  6. matt says:

    I sure hope you don’t saddle your daughter with all your baggage. If you don’t, she may just grow up not writing bitter articles about how unfair life is. There are ways in which men inherently have advantages and disadvantages just as women do. Yet there is no masculinism movement. Not that there should be, but c’mon. If there were ever a group of men who got together and started pointing out areas in life where men don’t have the same opportunities as women, they would be villified, or worse. While i am totally in favor of equal pay for equal work, and any other rights that any group may be lacking, i can’t agree with your article or attitude. If only you saw the good in your life, rather than the hardships in others. And who knows, maybe your daughter will grow up to be a rich doctor? Or marry one, and never work a day beyond a teenage part time job. One thing very few men get to do. And before you go thinking i’m bitter, i should tell you i had to think for a few minutes to come up with a scenario where a woman has more opportunity than a man. Something that i never think about, till i read your blog.

    • jenhudak says:

      I don’t believe I’ve ever complained about how unfair life is. Thanks for the misinterpretation. And this article is in fact about a woman perhaps being overpaid because she is a woman. I believe in equal pay and equal work for equally qualified individuals. I believe in equality more than you know. Maybe my daughter will grow up to change the world and not make a penny. That would make me more proud than any cent earned without doing any good.

  7. Kevin says:

    Jen, great post! I wholly disagree with Matt and others who somehow think you come off as bitter or jealous–I guess I’m deviating from the trend of defensive males 🙂 As someone whose career is devoted to studying human behavior in the workplace (I’m completing my PhD in industrial/organizational psychology), you not only make some fantastic observations that are spot on, but you back them up with references. I can totally appreciate this.

    Interestingly, although decades of research suggests very little in the way of biological gender differences (e.g., skills/ability, intelligence, etc.), we still have very different expectations as to how males and females should act–especially in the workplace–which translates into gender role stereotypes and its consequences. Anyway, I think you make a great point that a male with Danica’s “track record” (pun intended) would be making far less money as well as waves in the media. Keep doing what you’re doing and continue to be an inspiration to skiers and snowboarders, both male and female.

  8. […] woman is fast behind the wheel of a car.  (You can read more on my assessment of Danica Patrick here).  But because of how much she has allowed her appearance to be exploited, people actually lose […]

  9. […] woman is fast behind the wheel of a car.  (You can read more on my assessment of Danica Patrick here).  But because of how much she has allowed her appearance to be exploited, people actually lose […]

  10. […] […]

  11. Anthony Koyer says:

    In reading this I agree with what you say to a point. But There are sports personalities out there everywhere who do certain things that are way off par with there sport. I don’t think Danica is going out there asking to get offers to wear a bikini, it’s the product or magazines doing that. They are out to make a buck and sex sells. I don’t see danica getting naked for anyone or in any magazine, and if some one offered me a to. Of cash for what I personally thought was something ok to do or indorse, heck ya I would do it. As far as the role model thing goes, the parents that make the choice ( or not) to bring kids into the world are the ones that should be role models, and make sure there children are looking up to what they deem proper models that have the same mores the parents do. Danica or anyone else should not have to worry about putting on a bikini because it may send someone’s daughter the wrong signal. You obviously are a strong hard working woman, so mak sure your the role model for you child not Danica and I’m sure your kids will turn out fine..

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *