Gendered Performances in a Male-Dominated Subculture: ‘Girl Racers’, Car Modification and the Quest for Masculinity
By Karen Lumsden
This paper discusses female participation in the male-dominated ‘boy racer’ culture. Little is known about girls who join male-dominated subcultures while studies of car cultures have tended to describe girls as peripheral participants and emphasise the link between the car and masculinity. Hence this paper provides an analysis of ‘girl racers’; those drivers who are active participants in the ‘racer’ culture through their positioning in the ‘driver’s seat’. Gender is understood as ‘performative’ and Connell’s notions of ‘hegemonic masculinity’ and ’emphasized femininity’ frame the analysis. For the ‘girl racers’, ‘doing gender’ involved negotiating a complex set of norms while reconciling the competing discourses of the masculine ‘racer’ scene and femininity. In order to be viewed as authentic participants, females were required to act like ‘one of the boys’ through their style of dress, driving, language and attitudes. They internalised the gender norms of the culture rather than resisting them explicitly, for fear of being excluded from the group. However, the feminine ways in which they modified their cars allowed them to retain an element of femininity within the world of ‘boy racers’. Thus, ‘girl racers’ resourcefully negotiated their way through the culture by employing a combination of complex strategies involving compliance, resistance and cooperation with the masculine values of the group. Findings are presented from participant observation, semi-structured and ethnographic interviews with members of the ‘racer’ culture in Aberdeen, Scotland, and semi-structured interviews with members of ‘outside’ groups.
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