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with Aliza Sherman

If you own a business - home-based or otherwise - this is the blog where you'll find practical tips and smart ideas about entrepreneurship. I've started and run 4 different businesses so "been there, done that." I'll also invite successful entrepreneurs to share their best advice with you.

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Danica Patrick had a chance to hook me – and my daughter – on auto-racing. She blew it.

Categories: Work/Life

10 comments

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.

//creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/.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?



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10 comments so far...

  • I try to constantly remind her that gender roles are not as concrete as they are made out to be. But everything in society seems to want to pigeonhole. From McDonald’s “boy toy” and “girl toy” scheme (whatever happened to just plain “toy” with meal) to peer pressure that “girls don’t like science” (I wish I could take that “friend” out of her circle but they’re in the same class).
    I try to think of women who do everything she says “only boys do” to counterbalance and let her think she can do it if she likes it. And if she looks at the toy and sighs “but its for boys” then gosh darn it, she’s going to get the toy she actually wants (even if you do have to ring it again cashier, don’t assume). And “Sally” may not like science but your aunt has a degree in sports medicine so yes, girls DO like science and you can too.

    Mich  |  March 2nd, 2010 at 5:11 pm

  • Hey there, Countryfried Mama!

    I completely agree. I wanted so badly to cheer Danica on, but as soon as that Go Daddy paint job hit the car I knew I was doomed.

    So, no Danica for me. But there are some great golfers who are women, and it’s a more diverse field - Ai Miyazato, Paula Creamer, Cristie Kerr, Ji-Yai Shin, Lorena Ochoa - all good people and good golfers.

    Plus golf is way better than auto racing. And you live in a place where, in theory, you can play year round.

    As for NASCAR, Go Jimmy johnson and the Lowe’s 48 Chevy!!

    Sue Densmore  |  March 2nd, 2010 at 7:02 pm

  • This was yet another reason why we had extra TV time during the Winter Olympics–so that my daughter could see young women snowboarding, bobsledding, and downhill skiing (figure skating, not so much). She even got to stay up past her bedtime to see the women’s ice hockey gold medal game, medal ceremony included. She loved it all, but then, luckily for me, she’s never been much of a princess girl. In fact, she asked me about them for the first time ever just last week (she’s 5)–and I took the opportunity to explain the concept in political terms. Unglamorous AND a lesson in Democracy 101: win-win!

    Roving Lemon  |  March 2nd, 2010 at 7:13 pm

  • Oh, how I wanted to cheer on Danica, for all the reasons you mention. But you’re right that even though she’s “made it” in a man’s sport, she’s still playing by the marketing world’s gender stereotypes. Maybe that was the only way. But I had hoped, just as she did on the track, she would carve out her own route. For her sake (and my daughter’s and yours).

    Stacia  |  March 2nd, 2010 at 7:58 pm

  • Brilliant post. While every woman can make her own choice how she makes her money or what she does with her body, famous women should know that they are role models too. It’s too bad that so many of them feel pressure to be sexy over who they are.

    faemom  |  March 2nd, 2010 at 8:21 pm

  • Thank you. Thank you. thank you.

    I feel the same way…http://www.boondockramblings.com/boondock_ramblings/2010/02/hey-danica-put-your-clothes-on-and-drive.html

    Lisa @ Boondock Ramblings  |  March 3rd, 2010 at 1:37 am

  • As a former sportswriter, I totally get the Danica marketing machine. She is not trying to be a role model for women or girls. She is trying to play the game the only way her marketing people see how - to play the sexy card so men will want to watch her, support her sponsor, etc. The reality is that NASCAR caters to the lowest common denominator, and she is too.

    One of the reasons I became a sportswriter was that I had a role model in the newspaper I read everyday. So I encourage my girls to find their interests first - and then find the female role models in that arena.

    Great post!

    Laura from Chambanamoms  |  March 3rd, 2010 at 1:53 pm

  • Of course I would encourage my daughter. I did amateur stock racing when I was younger and I moved from there into riding dirt bikes, although I never progressed into actual motocross.

    One of my dreams was (and is) to race the Dakar rally on two-wheels. And there are plenty of good, female role models if you need a female role model, but mine were always men.

    Danica Patrick always annoyed me because she’s not all that shit hot a driver anyway (she’s been racing for a long time and her track record for wins is not impressive). The hooplah surrounding her has always been about her gender and not her skill - and she’s always been a poser (for magazines).

    My role models have been the talent, not the gender - and I’ll tell you this: Years ago, I crested a cliff on my dirt bike and froze up. A kiddy rider went sailing by me, father bringing up the rear, and down the hill like it was a speed bump. After making this loop a few times, the kid stopped, took off HER helmet and asked if I needed help. [facepalm] Her inspiration to ride? Her role model? It was dear ol’ dad, still bringing up the rear.

    She was 10. Now THAT is inspiring for this female and if I had to say I had a female role model, I’d take that kid any day.

    Phe  |  March 3rd, 2010 at 4:57 pm

  • I agree. I applaud you for your efforts to raise Miss D as a confident woman who can do anything. It is HARD– and I think especially so as a southern belle.

    I enjoy reading your posts! Especially the ones when you have pictures of Belly and Miss D! You have two cute kids!

    Christi W  |  March 3rd, 2010 at 5:03 pm

  • I’m sorry but I find her immensely inspiring, she’s celebrating her athleticism whooping all the boys in the boys club AND her gorgeous exterior. good for her, I applaud her using ALL her assets, not just counting on one . . . so does Serena Williams, so does Lindsay vonn (hello SI swimsuit issue?)

    gretchen  |  March 4th, 2010 at 6:21 pm

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