Photo: Charlie McKay/ Hairpin Journal
Earlier this week I spotted a post on Leah Tokelove’s social media pointing to an article on a website called The Hairpin Journal. It piqued my interest because it was questioning, in what my sensitive little feelers took to be, with unnecessarily negative language – Ladies Class Not Such A Classy Move.
The Hairpin Journal also promoted the story on their instagram feed where a debate flared. 'Classes should be based on riders ability not gender', said one comment. Another added, 'Ladies class is silly, especially at an event like DirtQuake...'
One more commented 'Many competitive sports require a divide between sexes due to their strength or weight related nature. Given motorcycles are not ridden as such, segregation between genders seems unnecessary'. Women don’t need their own class. Especially not at a fun race like Dirt Quake?'
Both Anna and Anthony from the DTRA commented saying that the DTRA will never have a women’s only class.
There were more comments stating that it was good idea, and others, from men, saying it was a bad idea. I was left feeling the tone of some of the comments was overly negative to DirtQuake – to paraphrase, Look at the patriarchy demeaning women AGAIN.
Perhaps, because I was the person who implemented women’s only classes at Dirt Quake, I was reading between the lines more than I needed to, but the Hairpin Journal’s headline had set the tone for how I read the comments.
The debate stuck in my mind and made me wonder, What is so wrong with a women’s class? I’m a card-carrying, Guardian-reading leftie, but I’m also a middle-aged white man, so perhaps I’m viewing it wrongly.
Outside of motorsport, there is not a single sport I can think of where the genders are not split, except in mixed teams, like tennis and perhaps round the world sailing? Why should motorsport be different from 99% of sports?
If level playing field mixed racing is the way to go why are women so chronically under-represented in every single area of motorsport? There are, at most, two women in each high level racing series. That is between 1 and 2% of places on the grid in a series like BSB, MotoGP, AFT or World Superbike.
When Sideburn ran Dirt Quake the women’s class sold out every time we offered it. Hairpin Journal asked if there would have been so many female entries had there not been a women’s class. DQ 1, no women’s class, one female entry. DQ 1, no women’s class, one female entry. DQ III, women’s class, 12 female entries. How many women racers were involved in UK dirt track before DirtQuake? Zero in my recollection.
Look at pro flat track. Lots of people point to Shayna Texter or the UK's own Leah Tokelove and say 'See, there's no need.' But look at the history of this sport and there are always outliers who do compete, but they're exceptions. Go back 20 years in pro flat track and you can count the number of women who have made the grade on one hand. This is clearly saying that women ARE NOT racing, not that women CAN NOT race. So why? And I'm not even talking about pro sport. Look at any motorsports (and I do, a lot). Women are massively under-represented.
When The Hairpin Journal countered one of my comments with 'How would you feel about a class for 'People of Colour'' I did wonder who I was debating with, but that too is a serious question. There are even fewer minorities, people of colour, non-white competitors in motorsport than there are women.
The DTRA is very encouraging and friendly club, and makes great efforts to welcome all racers. It has been involved in women only race school test weekends, the DTRA x Club VC Dirt Camps. These camps sell out in days, with 30 or more women attending race schools at Greenfield Dirt Track, and they always have fantastic feedback.
Two riders featured in Sideburn (Leah Tokelove, SB25 & Lucia Aucott SB32) now handle the training at Camp VC events in Wales (when in the past it had been male instructors), so things are going in the right direction, but to think the war is won, because 7% of the DTRA membership is female, across all age groups, seems bizarre.
The DTRA's Anthony Brown states that he looks forward to the day when the DTRA grid is 50/50 male/female, but will that happen without more overt encouragement? A question we will never know is would more female racers move from the sold out Dirt Camp events to the DTRA if there was a women's class. They have 30 or more women taking taster courses, yet there is, by my reckoning, only seven regular female adult racers in the whole of the DTRA, a club with over 140 (update: over 200) active members.
So, I think, even with a rookie class in operation, an experimental or even occasional women only DTRA race class has a place in such an intimidating motorsport as flat track.
Feel free to discuss. And don't forget Leah's Days of the Dirt Women Only race schools.