“Walk-on girls,” “Grid girls,” whatever you call them, they all serve the same functions: hype up the crowd, wear the sponsors’ logos, and most of all, look pretty. It’s a sports modeling job, plain and simple. You fill the entrance pit at the races or entertain the crowd between rounds of darts. Sexuality is absolutely an aspect of the job, but this doesn’t mean it’s always a bad job. Furthermore, taking these jobs away from women in the name of feminism makes absolutely no sense and anyone who claims this is a good idea doesn’t give a fuck about the lived experiences or needs of the women they say they want to help.
Recently, the Professional Darts Corporation announced it would no longer have walk-on girls accompany their competitors as they come out to perform on stage. Formula One has also announced that they have ended the practice of using grid-girls to promote their sport and have instead decided to use “grid kids” to welcome their drivers to the track– as if child labor is more defensible than just letting women keep their jobs. Not to mention, because these grid kids are said to be “youngsters from motorsport clubs” who will be getting the chance to rub elbows with the professionals, these children will likely be volunteers, meaning that F1 conveniently gets to replace paid labor with free child labor and label it progress.
Now, as an anarcha-syndicalist, I believe that the people who know how to best operate a business are the workers themselves. So why then, in a conversation centered around sexist exploitation of workers, are the workers themselves not at the center of the conversation? It’s because these companies who fired them are full of shit. This is just a massive corporate layoff disguised as social justice. Instead of trying to figure out how to not sexualize their employees, it is much easier to fire them and play it off as feminism for PR points.
If we really want to help those women, then let’s actually ask what their needs are. From what has been said publicly by those laid off from the industry, many found the job to be safe and rewarding and are greatly upset that outsiders are claiming the loss of their jobs as a win. To quote former PDC walk-on girl Daniella Allfree, “It’s a shame this vocal minority have ended our job, like they’re doing us a favour.”
If we’re really concerned about walk-on girls being put in a role that is defined by sexual exploitation, then how about redefining the role a bit? F1 has already taken steps towards this end by experimenting with using walk-on kids but so far only at the expense of these women’s jobs. Instead, they could have had walk-on models of all genders and ages, mascots, and more, all hyping the crowds up together. I mean, minus the sexual aspect, is the role of a walk-on girl any different from that of a hype man?
So let’s call this what it is – an attack on women’s jobs – instead of trying to dress it up as some sort of feminist victory. Such rhetoric only allows for corporate interests to profit from a good public image at the expense of now unemployed women. As this trend threatens to continue across various sports, we must stand in solidarity with these workers and fight against such layoffs.