I Want to Like Danica Patrick

But we can do better than this

IndyCar driver Danica Patrick has a lot going for her.

She’s the fourth woman ever to compete in the Indianapolis 500, her fourth starting position was the highest ever attained in the race by a female driver, and she was the first female driver lead the race at Indianapolis. In last year’s Indianapolis 500 she finished third, one spot better than her 2005 finish, and a new record for a female driver in the race.

She’s young, she’s beautiful, and she’s been so successful making history for women through meaningful participation in a traditionally male sport that I REALLY REALLY want to like her.

But her own actions make it awfully hard to do that.

Her actions and associations off the racetrack only confirm sexist stereotypes that the greatest contribution a woman can make to any sport is to look pretty and take off her clothes. It’s ironic that a woman who has made such positive contributions as a woman in racing would be the same person who drags women right back down again.

I’m sure Patrick’s GoDaddy sponsorship is earning her big bucks, but that company’s ad campaigns featuring sexually suggestive scenes and mostly undressed women is beyond demeaning. Patrick’s own barely-clothed participation in those ads (and other places like the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue) are a professional embarrassment.

Dear Danica, I want to tell her, You are a race car driver. That is really cool! You do not need to humiliate yourself to impress us.

I remember when Patrick first came on the racing scene and Formula One president and CEO Bernie Ecclestone scandalized most of us when he said in response to Patrick’s fourth-place finish at the Indianpolis 500:

“You know I’ve got one of those wonderful ideas ... women should be dressed in white like all the other domestic appliances.”

At the time, I was outraged that a man would so publicly diminish the accomplishments of a woman—disrespecting and objectifying her simply because she was female.

But when I look at Danica Patrick’s actions since that time, I wonder if there is anything left to be indignant about. Patrick is proving Ecclestone right. He doesn’t need to disrespect, demean or objectify her anymore. She’s doing a fine job of that, all on her own.