What real fans who happen to be women look like. Photo via Elizabeth Werth

Being a woman who loves racing is exhausting.

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Being a woman who loves racing means wanting to go to a race but not wanting to go alone, because going alone means subjection to harassment. When I went to a 2015 Pirelli World Challenge race, I had men ask for pictures with me because they “try to get pictures with sexy little things at every race they go to.” During that same weekend, a man sat next to me in a grandstand, his three friends surrounded me, and he proposed a bet: we choose a car, and if his car wins, he gets my number and a kiss.

At the IndyCar race in Toronto, during the two hours I was at Friday practice by myself, the man who approached me confused IndyCar with Formula One, protested when I tried to correct him, and wouldn’t accept me trying to leave until I told him a made-up boyfriend was waiting for me to bring him his tickets at the gate.

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Being a woman who loves racing means constantly being questioned and second-guessed. The round of questioning a woman is subjected to feels more like an interrogation than a friendly conversation. When I’m asked how I got into racing, it’s because I need to prove my worth as a longtime fan and not just as some silly girl who decided to show up to a race one day. There’s almost a set script. “Who’s your favorite driver? Team? Why did you choose them? Why did you travel for a race? You really like racing that much?”

Being a woman who loves racing means that if you fail any one of the many qualifications and requirements you’re supposed to meet, you can’t be a real fan. I can see the disdain—the exact moment where I’m written off—when one of my questions falls short of expectation. Oh, you haven’t been a Formula 1 fan since you left the womb, well… Oh, you don’t understand the complicated engineering terms I’m throwing out to you, well…

Lovable F1 backmarker Marussia, repping America proudly on its endplates in 2015. Photo credit: Lars Baron/Getty Images

Being a woman who loves racing means being constantly undermined. When I told men I was a Marussia fan, they wanted to know if I was aware that they were the worst team on the grid. When friends told men they were Mercedes fans, they rolled their eyes and wrote it off as the woman choosing the team they saw at the top of the time sheets. When I support for a driver, more often than not I’m asked if I support him because he’s cute.

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Being a woman who loves racing means having to choose between being vocal about the problems in motorsport—and there are many—and being silent, subjecting both yourself and your fellow women to more of the same. It means being branded a “rabid feminist” if you criticize. It means hours of arguing. It means stating your point over and over and over, to one man after another. It means no one listening to you, to the case you’re making, to the logic you’re presenting. It means standing up for yourself, and having your experience undermined in the face of the status quo. It means “Can I just play devil’s advocate for a second?” It means “tradition.” It means men scrounging for every example they can to shove in your face and say, “See? This one single woman doesn’t believe in what you’re saying, stop being so sensitive!”

Being a woman who loves racing means you don’t have the luxury to get to see yourself in motorsport in a non-visually appealing way. It means grid girls holding signs on the grid. It means women with sponsor logos branded on crop tops and booty shorts. It means women posing next to cars. It means women as decoration next to the drivers at events, on podiums. It means albums of photos on Motorsport.com titled “Paddock Beauties.”

This year’s Daytona 500, where the Monster Girls were out in force. Photo credit: Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images

It means seeing the exact moment when a man stops seeing you as a person and starts seeing you through the heart-eyed lens because “wow, you like racing?” It means a barrage of unanswered DMs from men who all want to get to know the girl who watches F1.

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Being a woman who loves racing means some iteration of the above, every single day, for as long as you exist as a visible feminine presence in the sphere of motorsports. And y’all, I am tired.

Which only makes it worse when shirts like the “Girls who love racing are rare. Wife ’em up” make their rounds, and you have to watch the people you admire—drivers, pundits, fans, and friends alike—take part in perpetuating a stereotype that you spent every day trying to reverse. For them, it’s a justification for their behavior, justification to not have to think about what it means to reinforce the objectification of women in a male-dominated sport, justification to sit back and let the status quo run its course. For women, it’s a step backward that we now have to redouble our efforts to overcome.

I know that these things aren’t done intentionally, or with malice. I know that for many, it seemed an innocuous enough shirt. But that doesn’t negate the fact that this kind of thing is Not Okay and does more harm than good.

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It doesn’t negate the fact that the people spreading this kind of message are the ones who have the power to be heard and taken seriously and therefore need to be more conscious of the things they’re saying. It doesn’t negate the fact that it creates a climate detrimental to female race fans – and yes, even female race fans spreading that same message.

A group of female fans watching qualifying for the 2009 F1 European Grand Prix. Photo credit: Ryan Pierse/Getty Images

The group of fans that I attend races with is entirely female. We’ve met, traveled the world, and watched races together—all of us women. It’s one of the most passionate, well-informed, friendly, funny, and incredible groups of race fans that I know.

And yet not a single woman in that group has been afforded access into the world of motorsports fandom with the same ease as a man would have. Not a single one has been free from criticism, ridicule, questioning, or objectification. It breaks my heart that such a talented group will have to fight tooth-and-nail just to achieve a fraction of the respect they deserve. This is not the kind of welcoming committee I want to see represent my sport.

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I don’t treat racing events like parties of the eighteenth century. This is not me presenting myself in my quest for a husband. I don’t attend to be “wifed up” by starry-eyed men seeking their manic pixie race car dream girl or ogled by those who think any woman at the track is there for their specific entertainment. I don’t attend because I want to steep myself in an a testosterone-drenched atmosphere where I am exclusively singled out, objectified, or harassed because of my gender.

I go to racing events for one reason, and one reason only. I am woman who loves racing, and I’m just here to watch race cars and have a good time. I only ask that I be respected for that.

This post originally appeared here on The Grid Girls podcast co-host Elizabeth Werth’s blog and we wanted to share it. You can find Werth on The Grid Girls podcast here, on her blog here or at numerous tracks throughout the year.