What do you think of when you hear “racing?” The roaring of engines? Drunken fat men cheering? Bikini-clad women waving checkered flags at the finish line? I hear the victory bells of equality!
So gender equality in racing is no reality yet, but women the world over are staking their claim in this quest of man over machine. NPR, CNN, and BBC ran stories recently on The Speed Sisters in the West Bank – a growing group of competitive female race car drivers tackling gender politics on the race track in the Middle East.
And since I believe in activism, show some support for these fearless leaders by friending them on Facebook or following them on Twitter. On their Facebook fan page you can see some really amazing photos of their fun and daring endeavors.
Here are some segments from the three articles. Check out the articles in their entirety by clicking the links.
The eight-strong team is made up of Muslim and Christian women aged 18 to 39.
Not only are they challenging their male counterparts on the track, but also the often conservative nature of Middle Eastern society.
They recently competed in their first race as a team on what has always been a male-dominated circuit.
In another event they took part in, 50 competitors of both sexes had to race against the clock around the car park of a vegetable market in Jenin.
Matthew Bannister spoke to Suna Aweidah about how she came to be a competitor and how male attitudes towards her and the team have changed.
Khaled Khadoura, head of the Palestinian Motorsport Federation, says that it took no time for women to move from novelty racers at the track to serious competitors. “I’m very proud to see our young women today taking an interest in race car driving, and training in order to improve themselves,” Khadoura says.
But not everyone is happy to see her on the track. Despite the growing popularity of racing across the Arab world, a number of Muslim clerics have spoken out against the sport.
Teammate Sahar Jawabrah says she’s heard men call it haram, or forbidden, but she thinks they are ill-informed. There is nothing wrong with racing, she says.
While most of the men at the races applaud just as loudly for the female racers as for the men, some say they are uncomfortable with women at the racetrack.
Tareq Sarsou, a 33-year-old Ramallah store owner, says that while he was impressed by the sport, he isn’t sure it’s appropriate for Palestinian society. “I would not allow my wife, my sister or my daughter to race here,” Sarsou says.
In this season’s races, nearly all the women fared well against the men. And one of the Speed Sisters earned a spot in the top 10 rankings.
Like many of the women on the team, Ennab says she began her racing career almost by accident. “I love cars, I love speed, so I drive fast. And after they see me in Ramallah when I drive fast they told me to come to the federation and join,” she says.
“I think for me, driving isn’t like any other sports; men and women can compete in the same race. And you know what — they’re beginning to get there,” McLuskie says. “At the beginning of the season we had one of our girls who won her category. And you should have seen the faces of those guys.”
Noor Daoud is 20 years old and car-crazy.
She wears black-and-yellow overalls rolled down to her waist, her curly hair tied back in a ponytail, and holds her helmet loosely in a perfectly manicured hand: This Palestinian woman who freely accepts she’s a tomboy.
Daoud has been driving since the age of 11 and used to run errands in the car for her mother in East Jerusalem. She was tall for her age, which is how she was able to reach the pedals.
Some of her male friends have come along for moral support and she says when other men see her race, they have no idea at first she’s a girl.
“They think I’m a boy, they don’t know I’m a girl,” she said, adding that she gets some raised eyebrows when she takes her helmet off. “They’re really surprised, they say ‘How can she? Where did she learn?’ And I never learned really, nobody taught me, it’s all me,” she said.
Daoud recently had some expert coaching from British trainer and former competitor Helen Elstrop. Elstrop told CNN: “The determination I see is just much stronger in these girls, and the Palestinian women I have met. They have worked very, very hard to achieve. Just to be out there is such a big, huge step.”
As Elstrop helped to break down gender barriers in Britain in what was traditionally thought of as a boy’s sport, she is helping the Palestinian women to do the same.
“When you have a crash helmet on, when you have your overalls on, when you have the windows up, who knows [who is] in the car?” she said. “It doesn’t matter, we like a level playing field.”
That was certainly the case on Ramallah race day. Seven women were competing with 43 men, and as the cars spun past scarily close to the spectators it was almost impossible to tell who was inside.
Although a man won this race, one of the women came seventh out of 50 — an impressive achievement considering how young the sport is for Palestinian women.
Little disappointment from Noor. She said “It’s been fun watching people win … because we’re all winners, we’re all sisters. We’re all speed sisters.”