In Good Conscience

More power to today's women, although F1 girls go off the grid

Bob Dylan warned us. The lyrics he wrote for The Times They Are A-Changin' are as appropriate today as they were in the Sixties.

Scary, isn't it? Fifty-four years ago and counting.

I recall the words that Dylan addressed to lawmakers, and to mothers and fathers: "Don't criticise what you can't understand, your sons and daughters are beyond your command."

Especially the daughters.

Am I alone in wondering at the pace of the sex revolution in and around sport, and society?

The Grid Girls banished from Formula One.

The Walk-on Girls removed from professional darts.

It is highly unlikely that the "grid kids" will be paid the same as the glamour models, some of whom said they were able to fund university degrees out of their F1 earnings.

The celebration of 100 years since women were allowed to vote in Britain.

The women in Iran removing their hijabs and risking jail.

The Philadelphia Eagles cheerleaders in costumes used as a free TV commercial for New York fashion designer Vera Wang.

The 230 North Koreans known as Kim Jong Un's "army of beauties" entering the Winter Olympics arena down south in Pyeongchang.

And a campaign group known as It's a Penalty, standing vigil at both the Super Bowl in cold Minnesota and in South Korea.

It's a Penalty explains on its website that it aims to "prevent the abuse, exploitation and trafficking of children globally, positioning major sporting events as platforms for positive change". Apparently the Olympics and the Super Bowl, as well as the Hong Kong Sevens and the Gold Coast Commonwealth Games in Australia (both in April) represent big business for exploitation of under-age girls by criminally sick men.

Times a changin'? Not exactly. Historians note that back in the male-only Ancient Olympics, prostitutes were plentiful.

Fast forward 2,500 years, and we enter the Me Too era. That, like many things these days, started in the US.

Some of us are more confused than ever about where where this is leading us.

Take motor racing, for example. Dressing up the grid with young women chosen for their model figures is not wholesome in the eyes of Liberty Media, the American corporation that took over Formula One last year.

Sean Bratches, the new managing director of commercial operations, explained the board's reasoning this way: "While the practice of employing grid girls has been a staple of Formula One Grands Prix for decades, we feel this custom does not resonate with our brand values and clearly is at odds with modern-day societal norms."

One man's view of modern societal norms is regarded by others as a denial of the right to work.

Rebecca Cooper, now no longer a grid girl, wrote on Twitter: "Ridiculous that women who say they are 'fighting for women's rights' are saying what others should and shouldn't do, stopping us from doing a job we love and are proud to do. PC gone mad."

Ms Cooper went on: "If we don't do something to stop this, where will it end? No grid girls, no cheerleaders, female singers being told what to wear on stage, no models in magazines? I'll fight for my right to choose what I wear, where I work and to keep a job I love."

Liberty, nevertheless, believes it knows what resonates with modern society. The new plan is to have kids, the rising generation of go-karting, perform the roles that the women did for decades in adorning the grid.

Bratches described the move as an opportunity for the aspiring junior racers to "stand beside their heroes". It will be "an unforgettable experience for them and their families... an inspiration to keep driving, training and learning so that they can dream of one day being there themselves.

"What better way to inspire the next generation of Formula One heroes?"

If the youngsters - mostly boys, one presumes - feel chosen, well and good.

It is highly unlikely that the "grid kids" will be paid the same as the glamour models, some of whom said they were able to fund university degrees out of their F1 earnings.

For someone, somewhere, that might even become a campaign against child exploitation.

The messages get mixed. It became customary in the United States for cheerleaders to file lawsuits against National Football League (NFL) owners because they were paid a pittance for putting on their assiduously rehearsed routines alongside men paid millions to play the brutal game.

One class-action "wage theft" lawsuit, by about 90 former members of the Oakland Raiders cheerleading squad, resulted in a US$1.25 million (S$S1.66 million) settlement in 2014. The women finally received their money last year.

The times indeed are a-changin'.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 10, 2018, with the headline 'More power to today's women, although F1 girls go off the grid'. Print Edition | Subscribe