By Guest Blogger, Country-Fried Mama
This week, Guest Blogger, Country-Fried Mama, discusses the challenge of finding strong and capable role models for her young daughter. Country-Fried Mama is a transplanted Yankee raising two girls in the land of college football, sweet tea, and refined manners. Visit her blog at www.countryfriedmama.com and follow her on Twitter @countryfried.
As a recent transplant to the deep, deep, DEEP South, there are plenty of cultural norms in my new home which I am still struggling to adopt. The local affection for auto racing is one of them. A few years ago, I probably could have named one or two NASCAR drivers if pressed. I couldn’t have identified a single competitor in the Indycar Series.
My knowledge of auto racing remains pretty much nonexistent. I like driving around; I just don’t enjoy watching someone else do it on television. But even I now find it virtually impossible to avoid knowing who Danica Patrick is. She wasn’t the first woman to drive in an Indycar race, but in 2008, she became the first woman to win one. And this year, she’s moving to NASCAR, a much more exclusive boys club where she has an opportunity to use her fame and skill to open the door wider for more women drivers and appeal to a broader market of fans.
But the way she portrays herself off the track could blow it for her and for the little girls who might otherwise choose her as a role model.
If you do a Google image search on Danica Patrick, there are few pictures of her actually racing. You might see her posed near a car, but chances are good that she is nearly naked and sprawled on the hood rather than showing off her abilities behind the wheel.
I imagine Danica Patrick’s parents must have taught her that girls can do anything, even the stuff that seems reserved for the boys. My husband and I are on a mission to illustrate that idea to our nearly four-year-old daughter. It hasn’t been easy. We can tell Miss D. in six different ways that women have power, but the typical princess story tells her otherwise, and she loves princesses.
So my husband was pretty excited about sitting down with Miss D. recently to watch Danica in an ARCA stock car race. Here was a princess we could support, a woman literally keeping pace with the men in a rough environment. Our daughter stood in the living room wearing her plastic tiara and Cinderella shoes and cheered for Danica.
Then the network cut to commercial, and we scrambled to change the channel.
Clearly, our knowledge of Danica was new and narrow. We didn’t realize she’s the number-one “spokesgirl” for GoDaddy.com, which appears to subscribe to the Hooters philosophy of marketing.
To Danica’s credit, she is not stripping off her clothes to reveal skimpy tank tops and short shorts in these commercials; she is merely starring beside women who do. But as it turns out, the commercials we saw that day were tame in comparison to other pieces of her media portfolio.
I don’t fault Danica for going out and getting herself a paycheck. Good for her. She was one of a tiny number of women to break through a glass ceiling that was probably harder to crack than the paved track of a banked turn. There should be rewards for that kind of achievement.
But along with those rewards comes responsibility. When Danica shed her anonymity, she gained influence with an impressionable audience. When Miss D. sees Danica celebrated on TV, does she see a competitive, talented professional driver? Or does she hear a woman saying, “It’s not what you can do; it’s how you look while doing it?”
I was only mildly interested in the ascension of Danica Patrick. No matter how she chose to portray herself, it was unlikely I would ever have become the kind of committed fan who buys an RV and spends a week tailgating at Talladega.
However, Danica might have been a great example to my daughter that girls can do anything boys can do, including driving dangerously fast around and around a racetrack, if that’s how they find their joy. Had Danica chosen to skip exposing herself in magazines like FHM and Sports Illustrated in favor of highlighting her talent, I might have felt better about encouraging my daughter to cheer her on in front of the TV.
No matter where Danica finishes in her races this season, though, she lost us as potential fans.
How do you inspire your daughters to go for their dreams? How do you utilize - or discourage - the influence role models can exert over them?