By Aaron Waldron
Arguments over gender rights and equal treatment are raging in this election year, but these national (and global) phenomena are apparent on a much smaller scale - even within our little 1/10-scale world. From two-legged advertisements to outrightly offering them as a souvenir, the place women hold in RC racing ranges from cringe-worthy to downright ugly. It’s no question that this supposedly family-friendly hobby has an identity crisis, but this industry needs to take a serious look at how it treats women.
Whether it’s modeling for an advertisement or standing in a trade show booth, female models have been used to draw attention to everything from kits to bearings. Unless it’s a ladies-style t-shirt, though, she’s never relevant - which is only where it starts to get weird. Sometimes it’s as simple as a woman holding a car awkwardly, cradling it with her arm like a child as if to prove she’s never held an RC vehicle before and received little instruction from the photographer. At its worst, you try not to cringe at an unprepared person trying to explain something in a web video with a script she memorized moments before - or watch as she sits in the background.
This isn’t motocross. RC companies trying to sell the lifestyle of “racing with our products will attract hot women in bikinis!” are simply incapable of coming up with a marketing scheme that’s convincing or original. If you feel you need beautiful women to get your potential audience to notice your products, perhaps the items you’re trying to sell aren’t that interesting.
Women who participate in RC aren’t given much more value. Many tracks offer women free race entries in a well-meaning, but ultimately chauvinistic sales tactic - you think the only reason she’s going to get hooked on racing is if she doesn’t have to pay for it? You'd be better served by offering every new customer a handful of free entries to ease the barrier to entry for a potential lifelong enthusiast, rather than only singling out women. Just because Ladies Night at the local bar attracts a crowd of men on Monday evenings to buy them drinks doesn’t mean that same predatory tactic should be used to get an extra racer or two on the drivers' stand.
There have been a handful of fast women drivers who earned widespread acclaim, but it’s not uncommon that freshly-initiated female racers are offered sponsorship deals and the opportunity to get featured in a press release in situations when a man of the same skill level wouldn’t likely receive the same treatment. With that heightened exposure comes increased scrutiny and pressure, which can turn away even the most excited new racer. Whether or not you feel she deserves it, though, if you’re teasing your buddy for “getting beat by a girl,” your mother is probably ashamed of you.
By far the worst usage of women in RC racing is the “trophy girl.” Here’s some context: the original “trophy girl” was introduced to full-scale auto racing at the turn of the 20th century - back before women were even given the right to vote in the U.S. - and these aspiring models were contractually obligated to kiss the winner. The concept is about as derogatory as you can get: “because you performed well, you get your picture taken with a scantily-dressed female!” Of course, in today’s world of cell phone photos and clamoring for every possible racer to come back next year, even the guy who finished 7th in the C-Main can take his picture with his arm around someone’s wife, girlfriend or daughter who may not have realized that when someone offered her $100 to stand around for an hour, she may very well be verbally harassed or even lightly groped. I’ve talked to many trophy girls at races over the last several years who fully expected full-size cars, not toys, when they arrived at the race they were hired to attend.
This is especially egregious when the winning racer is a 10-year-old standing awkwardly between the trophy girls while the camera-toting mob yells, “kiss him! Kiss him!” The women, who were paid to be there, feel obligated to please the crowd and typically fake it. Who does this really entertain? And what is this teaching our young people?
Trophy presentations for full-size auto racing events typically take less than five minutes. Gaining access to the podium area usually requires press credentials granted only to those who possess the decency and are contractually obligated to delete less-than-flattering photos, rather than post them all over social media. It might not be so bad if the trophy presentation for even the most well-organized RC event wasn’t a dumpster fire of an afterthought, but some of the things I’ve heard racers say once the girls show up (knowing full-well they’re only going to see them once for about 15 seconds) leap way across the line of not-acceptable-to-say-to-another-human-ever, such as “don’t be such a sissy - grab her ass!” and “hey son, you’re the perfect height to put your face in her boobs!” Of course, when someone in a skimpy outfit spends thirty minutes passing out trophies and taking hundreds of photos, there’s plenty of opportunity for a nearby smartphone owner to snap a wardrobe malfunction for later viewing.
No matter if it’s inflammatory YouTube comments on a poorly conceived video, the rant of a hothead walking off the drivers’ stand screaming “why the hell is she sponsored anyway?” or a group of guys sitting around a pit table panting over a sneakily-snapped cell phone pic like a group of 13-year-olds huddled over a stolen magazine in the pre-Internet days, there’s one thing in common - the presence of women at RC events being unfairly exploited.
If we truly want to change the stigma of “a bunch of dorks playing with toy cars in a dark warehouse,” perhaps ceasing to pay women to be in our presence is a good start.