Why is everyone so upset with Formula One driver Lewis Hamilton? He only did literally what the whole of motorsport has been doing metaphorically to women for decades.

To backtrack, for those unfamiliar with the story: this week British F1 driver Lewis Hamilton won the Chinese Grand Prix, and celebrated by shaking up a bottle of champagne and spraying it directly into the face of a podium girl.

By this I mean he held a magnum of Mumm approximately 30cm from her head and sprayed the contents straight into her eyes like a manic toddler with a water gun, but with less self-awareness.

From the photos it’s pretty clear the woman didn’t enjoy the experience (strange, I know), and the awkward moment soon went viral, provoking outrage across the media.

Hamilton was branded a “gold plated arse”, a “pig” and many other names not fit to print, while his defenders claimed it was just a bit of fun and an occupational hazard that F1 hostesses just have to put up with.

It’s this last point that I think is the most pertinent.

Because to my mind, complaining about women being mistreated on the F1 podium is rather missing the bigger issue, which is that women are systematically mistreated as an intrinsic part of motorsport in general, reduced to not much more than sexy props to please the male participants and spectators.

You can rightly criticise Hamilton for being an inconsiderate yobbo, but given the racetrack is a world where women are objects that exist purely for men’s pleasure, should we really be surprised at his behaviour? The sport practically encourages it.

Podium girls, grid girls, hostesses — whatever you want to call them — are sexually objectified, ogled and dehumanised and it’s all just an accepted part of their job. But apparently no one is shocked until an idiot sprays them with French bubbly. Apparently we need their humiliation to be sopping wet and obvious before we realise what’s going on here.

The same issue was highlighted earlier this year at the Clipsal 500, after female strippers allegedly “flashed their boobs for bucks” in one of the corporate tents.

Race organisers immediately launched an investigation and assured everyone that they “don’t condone this type of behaviour” and that the event was still “family friendly”.

I’m not sure if any of them are aware of the concept of irony, but Clipsal being outraged over women flashing their breasts at an event where one of the main attractions is the Grid Girls is a pretty good practical example of it.

The Clipsal 500, and other motorsport events like it, pays women to parade around in next to nothing specifically for men to gawk at, but apparently if the bras come off it’s a scandal that can “taint the event’s family friendly image”.

This is the same event at which Penthouse magazine (that noted family friendly publication) held a trackside party featuring models wandering around in barely-there lingerie. That was A-OK with race organisers because ... I dunno, it was fashion? It was art? As ever, the line between what is acceptable for women to do with their bodies and what is not is blurry, ever changing, and almost always drawn by men.

You can’t on one hand pay women to parade around in next to nothing for men to ogle, but then condemn others for stripping. Likewise, you can’t turn a blind eye to motorsport’s overt objectification of women, and then condemn a driver for doing exactly that.

By allowing one set of behaviours, you tacitly approve the other.


First published in The Advertiser, April 15, 2015.