The Woman at the Top

Lyn St. James.  Janet Guthrie.  Sarah Fisher.  Danica Patrick.  These are the four women who have taken a place in Indy car racing despite their sex, showing yet another place in which women should be taken as seriously as men.  Danica in particular became very popular as rookie of the year and as an almost girlish competitor as well.  Now her continuation in the Indy car circuit has paid off – she won her first race yesterday, the Indy Japan 300.

What does this mean for the future?  Will Danica, now that she’s won an Indy race, switch over to NASCAR (which has had about three times as many female drivers as Indy car racing) after the end of her current contract?  Will the 24-year-old pursue a new career objective in a different area?  Will she continue to be a draw for Indy car racing, which continues to shrink in popularity when compared with other racing types?  Why does racing continue to be a male-dominated sport?

I’ll attempt to answer the last question, which I seem to have the best handle on.  While it’s obvious that some professions (such as fireman or construction worker) are more difficult, though not impossible, for a woman due to a necessary physical strength, racing does not require this sort of brute power.  It does require certain skills, such as hand-eye coordination, which are often (but not always) more developed in men.  However, I would say the key skill has to do with risk and judgment.  From statistics on investing, it has been noted that men are more often risk-takers.  It takes a certain type of person to willfully risk life and limb by testing their nerves against machines, or nature, or each other.  Women do it every day, as skiiers and snowboarders, cliff divers, acrobats, stunt women, and race car drivers.  However, I would guess that many of these areas are and will continue to be male-dominated, for at least as long as the female mind is generally wired towards species preservation.  Perhaps someday, more than a few of us will be able to take that hindbrain in hand, and tell it once and for all just exactly what we are risking, and what we can afford to lose.