Many of us can recite the names of the great American race car drivers who blazed the motor racing scene in the 20th century: Petty, Parnell, Earnhardt, and a dozen more. Today, it is impossible to have a conversation about motor racing without mentioning the names of these superstitions – and the women who married them. In this article, we’ll examine the “secret life” of NASCAR and its male-dominated culture, as narrated by women who were there. Some of these women are now well-known, some are famous, and some are infamous. But their stories are all connected by a common thread: male chauvinism and misogyny that defined the era. If you’re a woman who is either curious about or concerned about the subject, keep reading.
The Making of NASCAR
In 1909, the first official National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing (now NASCAR) race took place in Springfield, Massachusetts. It was a 200-mile road race that pitted motorized vehicles against each other. The original rules stated that all vehicles had to use the same tires, have the same number of gears, and be driven four-wheeled sedans. In subsequent years, the rules changed to permit the use of heavier vehicles and motorcycles, as well as the integration of new technologies such as radio and electronic fuel injection.
It wasn’t until the early 1950s that women started participating in organized motor racing. In that decade, thousands of women began racing across the country as the gender gap began to close. But even today, more than 80 years later, men still overwhelmingly dominate the motorsport world. Only a handful of women have ever competed for the NASCAR championship. The few who have broke through the glass ceiling still speak out against the culture of misogyny and insist that their contribution to the sport should not be overlooked.
Women Inmates Break Into Prison To Aid In Escape
On April 15, 1944, a group of women inmates at the McNeil Island Federal Penitentiary in Washington State mounted an unsuccessful breakout attempt, braving extreme temperatures and inhospitable terrain to escape. Inspired by the stories of women who had been there longer and faced more extreme conditions than they, the inmates used every bit of gear they could get their hands on, including homemade tools and weapons, to tunnel their way out. One of the main obstacles the women had to overcome was the electrified fence surrounding the prison. To get past it, they would have to find a way to disable the circuit and allow themselves to be captured.
While the circumstances of the women’s prison break are certainly unique, this type of initiative is anything but. Inmates have staged hunger strikes, created work parties, and even gone on suicide watch in protest of the prison’s oppressive conditions. Some have gone so far as to plan and execute breakouts in groups, lending support and strength to those who could not accomplish it on their own. The women’s rights movement was in its infancy when these women bravely broke into prison to aid in their escape. And yet, even now, we must ask: could this type of organized effort and collective action be the key to equality for women in prison?
What Will Happen To The Girls Left Behind?
If you’re a woman who is about to enter the workforce, you will be bombarded by advertisements for baby-biodistribution devices such as the Pill, which promise to make your life easier and more convenient as you start a family. While it would be wonderful to have these kinds of resources to help us navigate the often difficult process of becoming a parent, what happens when they aren’t available? Will your employer provide you with a plan to have children, or will you have to fend for yourself like so many others?
In the case of Martha Reeves, the Supreme Court of Arkansas ruled that she and her husband, George, jointly owned the egg that she had obtained through in vitro fertilization (IVF). But George, who is six years her senior, was not present to parent the child. So, the court awarded custody of the daughter, Barbara, to Martha, who was subsequently granted financial support from George, according to the Arkansas Supreme Court ruling. While this may seem like a win-win for Martha, a similar scenario could play out for hundreds of thousands of women across the country who are expected to enter and succeed in the workplace while also raising a family. But what happens when they can’t?
The truth is, there isn’t adequate social protection for women who cannot have children biologically. Many states do not recognize same-sex couples or single mothers as “couples” who are entitled to Medicaid, for example. And if you do happen to be able to obtain employment-based healthcare, it will be prohibitively expensive to add hormonal contraceptives to the coverage (as well as other treatments and medications that you might need as a mother). Without the Pill or other forms of birth control, many women will be forced to navigate an uncertain world of child care, foster care, or single parenthood, with all of the potential pitfalls and challenges that this world has to offer.
There have been many famous female NASCAR drivers, including Billie Jean King, Janet Guthrie, and Amy Alcott. However, most of these women were able to break into the sport at a time when it was acceptable for women to be competing in races. Today, with nearly 100 years of gender inequality behind them, this is no longer the case. In fact, many NASCAR teams, drivers, and owners are actively working to promote equity and advance the cause of women in motorsport.
Over the years, women have faced discrimination, harassment, and even death threats in races. In 1947, Babe Zaharias was shot and killed by a spectator at a race in Dayton, Tennessee. And in 1971, Ginger Covey-Anderson was killed in a car accident during a race in Kansas.
A Culture Of Silence
One of the things that struck me most about my visit to the Martha Reeves Center in Fulton, Missouri was just how normalized the experience of domestic violence against women is there. In the United States, one in four women will be the victim of violence from an intimate partner. But as horrifying as these figures are, they aren’t even the most alarming part of this story. The worst part is how little attention this issue gets in comparison to other social problems, like poverty and police brutality.
Many victims of domestic violence don’t even bother to report the crime to the police. In fact, one study found that 48% of battered women interviewed for the survey said they did not want the police to know about their situation. Not only is this shockingly high, but it also indicates that there is an entire segment of the population that the government is totally unaware of. This is a major problem, especially when you consider that one of the primary functions of the police is to protect the public from violent crimes. So, if the government isn’t even aware of what’s going on within its own borders, how can we ever hope to make any significant dent in the overabundance of violence against women?
It’s time for this culture of silence to come to an end. Women like Martha Reeves and the inmates of the McNeil Island Federal Penitentiary have changed the sport we know and love, bringing an element of social justice and empowerment to the forefront. In the years to come, we can look forward to seeing more women break down barriers and inspire others in equal measure. Until then, however, let’s learn from history, accept the present, and work hard to make the future better for all genders.