The following open letter was written by firebrand pro mountain biker Amanda Batty for her blog. This is a missive I’ve been waiting for, the way one waits for the proverbial second piece of footwear to strike the ground. I’ve long thought that podium girls to be an ugly holdover of the patriarchy, and I’ve waited for a woman with the right mix of kickass and genius to scorch this little plot of ground. That Batty wrote this just confirms my faith that she’s one of the better voices in cycling. I’m grateful she was willing to allow RKP to reprint this; it’s that good—Padraig.
Dear Podium Girl:
Yes, I’m addressing you. You may be a Grid Girl or a Booth Babe, too. Either way, whatever position you might hold within the sporting industry, this is for you.
A few of you ladies are quite upset about the recent decision by Formula 1 to dissolve your job titles and let you go, and you’ve spoken out about people who “speak for you.” Not only do I applaud this decision because I have advocated for this move for years, but I responded with a hearty ‘IT’S ABOUT DAMN TIME”…. But that’s not the point of this essay. This missive is a direct response to those of you who have complained about being let go and decried this progress, exclaiming that you love your jobs and that it’s your choice whether or not to work those jobs.
You’re right—it is. It isn’t, however, your right to be upset when a changing market means that your job title is irrelevant. It also isn’t your right to demand that you get your job back. Why? Well, because you are what the business industry refers to as a noncontributing commodity. In changing business, you are what gets cut first. Not only are we not ‘speaking for you’, those of us who have fought for your departure aren’t making assumptions about you because it’s not about you. None of this is, particularly not even your involvement in our various sports and the reason that you even had a job in the first place. It’s always been about male preference and what a few select versions of men want to see in “their” sport. But it’s not their sport any more than that was your job, you see: these sports belong to everyone. These activities should be welcoming of everyone, not just straight men who demand that sexual objectification and appeal be part of their sports’ experience. You are no more part of these sports than the decades of sexual marketing that was ill-thought out and ignorantly created in the hopes of gaining more profit… And as they have gone, so should you.
Grid girl, I feel for you—I actually do. Investing years and countless dollars in your appearance, posing with people you’d probably like to NOT have to touch, being constantly nice…. Damn. I really do feel for you. But again—you’re a non-contributor. You don’t actually add anything to the sport that you’ve latched onto, nor are you investing in the market or industry. You don’t bring value to any of the sports, nor do you attract the kind of audience that actually spends money. Research has proven this. Time and time and time again. What your job was, essentially, was that of a sexual object placeholder.
I know. It doesn’t sound good. (It’s not.)
My friends, your job relied solely on the assumed idea that only straight men participated and spent money inside of that sport and accordingly, their experiences were the only thing that mattered. That assumption was not only completely wrong, but also extremely unprofitable. Companies and entire sports have actually lost money by employing you and promoting the idea that women exist solely for the pleasure of straight men, and they’re finally realizing that women spend money…. We spend a lot of it. We’re also viewers, athletes, employees, company owners and participants in these wonderful sports, and we don’t tend to want to be seen as sex objects. Research has proven this, too.
It’s a rough life.
But from a female professional athlete to you, here’s some unsolicited advice: go get a job that relies on expertise outside of your appearance. Or don’t. But whatever you do, please stop insisting that you contribute to my sports and the other activities that I actually participate in and where I am absolutely an equal, and not the sum of my body parts or my appearances. Please stop insisting that it’s your right to be employed in an industry that not only underpays me (by a lot!) but where we still have rampant issues of discrimination, sexual abuse, assault and the refusal to see women as equal parts. The thing about your job, my dear, is that it makes doing MY JOB (that’s based on skill and experience) extremely difficult, on multiple levels. Whether you intend it or not, your lack of contribution and presence undermines my very real contributions to the sport—from contract negotiations to inspiring new generations of athletes who are valued for their athletic prowess instead of their looks, your job has put women who have invested in these sports at risk.
I know that this is probably really difficult to hear. I can’t imagine how hard it must be to have someone tell you that not only is your job title obsolete but that you’ve done real damage to industries and sports simply by doing that job.
Is it your fault that the job existed in the first place? No. But is it your job to be better than a sexual placeholder in a sport you have nothing to do with and add absolutely nothing to? I dunno. That’s for you to decide. But the women advocating for the dissolution of your job are not only real women, we’re real people. We’re leaders in our industries and we’ve been here. We’ll be here long after the next crop of booth babes come and go, and we’ll still fight for equality and market share as we try to bring more women and girls into our sports.
Perhaps you’ll even be one of them.
Professional Mountain Biker
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