Laurie Toby Edison

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Danica Patrick: She Races Tomorrow!

Laurie and Debbie say:

Tomorrow is the Daytona 500, and Danica Patrick stands a pretty good chance of winning it. For those who don’t follow race car driving, the Daytona 500 is a major NASCAR (stock-car driving) race, and Patrick is the first woman NASCAR driver to make the very top rank in the sport.

Patrick won the pole for Sunday’s Daytona 500 by posting a lap of 196.434 mph in her No. 10 Chevrolet. She is the first woman to claim such a position for the Daytona 500, or for any Sprint Cup Series race. She outran 44 other drivers to earn the best place to be at the start of the race.

Her performance during qualifying should make NASCAR fans proud and excited. Patrick didn’t just break a glass ceiling. She sped through it like it never existed. She and her team deserve great credit.

Patrick’s fellow drivers are intensely competitive, and all of them will try to best her Sunday. But even the drivers like the buzz that Patrick’s success is creating for their sport. Patrick the racer is now what other drivers will focus on — not her biography, her celebrity or her gender.

The other drivers may focus on her as a racer, but the world will continue to focus on her gender, her relationships, and other non-race-related things about her. It’s no accident that if you look for pictures of her in Google images, you are offered a top-rank link of “Danica Patrick no clothes,” for example.

In the feminist blogosphere, we see some commentary about Patrick’s politics. Chloe at Feministing says:

… for a lot of feminists, Patrick is a tough case; she has an endorsement deal with GoDaddy, known for its sexist advertising, in which she sometimes participates. That’s a larger conversation, one about the paucity of endorsement opportunities available to women athletes, and about choosing your battles. It’s a conversation we need to have, especially if Patrick wins at Daytona. GoDaddy commercials make me want to vomit. But Patrick’s chance to make history, and to open up racing to other women, makes me want to cheer for her this weekend.

Chloe doesn’t take this quite far enough. Patrick is competing in a sphere that is not directly political. She is breaking ground for women, and women’s ability to compete with men, in a sport that is second only to professional football in size of American TV audience. She is offering thousands of young girls something new to dream about.

What we think of her politics and her choices is not on the same axis as why we cheer for her and want her to win. In many arenas, including sports, science, art that is not directly related to gender politics, and business leadership, women’s visibility is important in a way that is unrelated to their feminism (or lack of feminism). If she was making art that demeans women or puts us at risk, her politics should be on the table. If Patrick was a politician, a litmus test for her politics would be appropriate; it’s neither reasonable nor right to be delighted that Cathrynn Brown in New Mexico is a woman, given her repulsive anti-abortion anti-women positions.

Since she’s racing, we think it’s simple: Go, Danica! Bring it home!

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Laurie Toby Edison by Carol Squires

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