Yesterday I went to the drag races. Growing up, that was the sport we watched in our house, not football, not baseball, I was the little girl who grew up with cars.
I love everything about it, speed, power, noise, nitro, the complete excitement of watching the cars run, the competition. People don’t realize what really goes into drag races. It’s so much more than just running a straight quarter mile.
Unfortunately, one of the hardest things to deal with as a young girl and young woman is that it is a male sport so even attending the races, you will be faced with sexism. To some (not all) a woman is meant to be in tiny shorts with a shirt that is about 5 sizes to small sitting atop a car to take pictures with or maybe hand you a free sample of something, maybe beer? We are to be shouted at, we are to be gawked at.
I was so excited to start my time at the races. My idol, the first woman of drag racing, Shirley Muldowney was signing. She still has records that haven’t been beat. I’ve met her once before but any time you can meet your hero is amazing.
In line I was with my partner and an older man in front of us turned around, looked at me and said “I bet he (pointing at my partner) dragged you into this line and you don’t know you you’re going to see”. Then he laughed. He wasn’t trying to be mean or anything, he was trying to start an innocent conversation. He was older and typically older generations assume genders still fall into the stereotypes they grew up with.
I wasn’t angry, but I was frustrated. I smiled back and laughed saying “I was the one who dragged him to the races. My dad taught my baby sister and I everything about drag racing. Mukdowney is my idol. You shouldn’t assume a woman doesn’t know what she’s taking about.” Then I laughed, I wanted to correct his incorrect assumption, but I didn’t want to be mean about it. I knew he really wasn’t trying to be hurtful, but it still did hurt.
The next experience was when I was looking at car products with my dad. The salesman came up and stood next to me, saw me picking up products reading about them. Several minutes went by and he didn’t ask if he could help me at all. Once dad walked over to the stand I was next to, the sales man immediately asked him if he needed help and if he could be of any assistance. It goes without saying that women typically experience this lack of service when dealing with mechanic shops, car dealerships and other car related retail shops. Again, another frustrating moment, so I left. I told my partner I see how much I’m valued here, let’s go.
The final moment was leaving the drag races, walking though the parking lot at night. Men were shouting things out windows, one guy was screaming how he wanted ‘boobs’. As I walked by an R.V., a man knocked on the window. First, my partner looked up and I heard the man say “Not you, the girl” and then he said something unintelligible. That type of street harassment and cat calling is so hurtful to me. I hate it. I hate having to worry about what I’m wearing or the location in at. It’s not like I have any particularly raunchy clothing or I’m dressed in something revealing, I’m not at all, but I still have to be careful. I hate having to be near my partner or my father to avoid this harassment. It makes me feel like nothing
I don’t think my partner really understand how hurtful those things are to me, or to most women. I don’t think a lot of men really understand how humiliating and upsetting these things are. I think some believe it’s innocent fun or a joke.
I know it shouldn’t affect me, I mean it’s a bunch of men and that shouldn’t bother me, it’s just words. Just like parents tell their children about bullies, let it go, their words can’t hurt you, but you know your child is still hurting.
What bothers me too is that, last year at the races I was walking with my mom and sister and a man shouted incredibly lewd things to me and no one said anything, they just looked. My mother though (in a mother’s fury) whipped around and said “She is young enough to be your daughter, you’re disgusting!” That was very true, he looked twice my age (or more) and it felt good that someone said something. I wasn’t alone.
This year I did find my voice though. I refuse to remain silent when I’m treated like this and never again will my mouth stay shut, especially when the phrases directed at me are aggressive, lewd or disrespectful. I always hope for the future to change, I think we all do, but it would be nice to live in a time where that hurtful behavior (the cat calling, not the first man) will be unacceptable and bystanders refuse to remain silent about that.
Also, I hope that maybe one day my partner will understand what it’s like to be a woman and to be accosted like that. He does see a variety of behaviors as completely unacceptable and will stand by me and any decision I make, any reaction I have to a situation. He will support me and that is always the best place to start, I just don’t think he always gets it, like my male friends, it kinda just goes over their head sometimes.
Have any of you ever been frustrated or hurt by street harassment or sexism? Both men and women feel free to answer, this topic is definitely not limited to women.