Next week marks 100 years since some women in Britain were granted the vote – it seems to be forgotten that, despite all men over 21 years of age being able to vote after the Representation of People Act, only women over 30 who occupied a house were deemed fit to vote.
It was another 10 years before equal suffrage was to be achieved. At this time the destiny of a woman was very clear – get married and raise a family.
Campaigners like Millicent Fawcett and Elizabeth Garret Anderson had carried out and pursued a peaceful struggle to open professions like medicine to women. Yet still, only the privileged few, whose fathers or husbands were enlightened enough to permit it, got a foot on the ladder of opportunity.
Today almost all jobs are open to women, and yet we have yet to get an even gender representation in Parliament or standard equal pay.
But there is one industry where process towards equality has been particularly slow: sport.
Male played sports continue to dominate the TV schedules and news headlines. Women who have beaten the odds and the system, such as Assistant Referee Sian Massey-Ellis are subject to scrutiny on their appearance which would never be imparted on their male counterparts.
In fact, after Sky Sports pundits Andy Grey and Richard Keys were embroiled in a row over their sexist comments on her; The sun saw fit to print a front cover of Sian dancing in a vest top and denim skirt with the headline ‘Get ‘Em Off.’
Further to this, some sports – boxing and motorcar racing in particular – have not only continued to be overwhelmingly male dominated, but have continued to use women in roles that I can only describe as ‘accessories.’
This week it seems, those responsible for the Formula 1 brand openly recognised its use of ‘grid girls’.
They deemed it out of date and not conducive to the image they wish to portray. In a Press Release Sean Bratches, Managing Director, Commercial Operations at Formula 1 said:
“Over the last year we have looked at a number of areas which we felt needed updating so as to be more in tune with our vision for this great sport. While the practice of employing grid girls has been a staple of Formula 1 Grands Prix for decades, we feel this custom does not resonate with our brand values and clearly is at odds with modern day societal norms. We don’t believe the practice is appropriate or relevant to Formula 1 and its fans, old and new, across the world.”
Formula 1 should be congratulated for their change in policy here and let us not forget this was a commercial decision, taken to protect commercial interests.
Clearly F1 decided that girls doing nothing more than looking pretty and having champagne poured on them was not a good image.
This has, perhaps predictably, not prevented the coverage that has followed; accusing them of ‘cowering to political correctness’ and that ‘jealous, ugly feminists’ have ‘banned’ women from jobs they loved.
Objectification of women is endemic in our society. Just look at the recent events at the Presidents Club. People claim the women concerned enjoy their work, choose it etc. No doubt this is true, but ‘work’ of this type contributes to a society in which women’s role is seen as being for the pleasure of men in a world where they are portraying that the nearest women can get to the top or be a success is by fawning all over the men who actually win something.
Then there is the vilifying of feminism and the repeated use of the word ‘feminist’ as a derogatory term.
A brief browse through this weeks tabloids or twitter attached to the hashtag #gridgirl gives no doubt about the vitriol aimed at women who dare to praise the F1 decision.
Women who call themselves ‘feminists’ can expect to be called ‘jealous,’ ‘ugly,’ ‘prudes,’ and such like as a matter of course.
So 100 years after women won the vote it seems the idea that ‘women should know their place’ still persists.
We still have a long way to go for gender equality.