Helena Hicks and the nontroversy of “cleavage-gate”

Oh God, here we go; F1 Twitter ‘drama’. I realise I am probably in the minority here, and as a man maybe it’s not really my place to comment on a controversy surrounding a female writer over her body/appearance, but I think things have gone a bit too far and I want to voice my concerns. Naturally, I will ramble on far too much, as always.

Helena Hicks is a university student and journalist who writes about Motorsport. Periodically, Helena likes to post selfies to Twitter, and after a year in which Helena (a member of Susie Wolff and the MSA’s Dare to be Different scheme) has risen her profile by interviewing the likes of Tatiana Calderon, Danny Watts and Lee McKenzie, she has come under fire for this tweet in particular:

The criticism started off reasonably enough:

https://twitter.com/AaronGillard_17/status/946107753751302145

Granted if you’ve followed Helena for a while you’ll know by now she does this from time to time. I know for a fact that she is not the only one, but Aaron’s bemusement is understandable. Is it a bit vain? Yeah, in a way it’s always vain to post selfies in a tweet about racing, but the truth is, somewhere down the line in our lives we have all indulged in it, hell, I’m a big stick in the mud and yet I’m no exception. (Although in my case I do it only because the NEXTEV NIO Formula E team asks us to before the start of every FE race)

At the risk of sounding like a pretentious Media Studies teacher, my argument is that she is talking about how she wishes there was some motorsport to watch already, so the post is about her feelings towards the absence of Motorsport over the winter; the inclusion of a selfie to emote that to emphasise her point makes sense to me, although personally I think she doesn’t quite pull off the excited look that she was going for. It is fair to say that she completely misjudged how people would receive the tweet, but honestly I don’t blame her for that at all; I’ve taken far more embarrassing ones and nobody’s batted an eyelid…

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Anyway, the next day, Helena was mocked by figures in the F1 fan community, in a few tweets that come across to me as being mean spirited and demeaning. Judge for yourself: (These are probably the worst of the bunch)

Kate Hewitt went on to describe Helena as ‘unprofessional’ and suggested that she has had a damaging effect on women in the motorsport industry at large by perpetuating stereotypes about them… Might be a small exaggeration.

Unsurprisingly “Wishing race cars would make a quick return” is also now a (forced) meme amongst the F1 twitter community. Because of course, everything is a meme now.

Screen Shot 2017-12-28 at 21.28.34.png
Ben Daly has since deleted this tweet.

Making fun of someone’s actions I don’t have a problem with; we all do stupid things after all. Making fun of someone for their appearance though is very hurtful, and in this case unnecessary.

There are two common themes in these critiques: Helena posted a tweet about race cars with a picture of herself instead of anything more directly related to race cars, and also she posted a tweet about race cars with a picture of herself wearing a low crop top which shows off her cleavage. So there’s the vanity/irrelevance argument, then there’s a second argument which sounds worrying close to slut shaming. Perhaps I’m naive here but I don’t believe that most of the people writing these are intentionally slut shaming her; in a lot of their minds it’s all just a bit of fun. But that doesn’t excuse some of these comments, and I don’t think people would have pounced on this in the same way if she was wearing a sweater or something. So to me that comes over as much too creepy and controlling. I have heard some go as far to call Helena a hypocrite for promoting the work of Dare to be Different whilst posting her selfies, but why should a few pictures undermine her actual views?

There is a difference between mockery and bullying, but it is a very thin one. And to be honest when Helena says she’s being bullied I don’t think that’s an exaggeration, because things have gone much too far.

I can understand why people mock her; it’s cathartic to take the piss, the same way it was cathartic to take the piss out of Lewis Hamilton and put him to rights the day before, for the admittedly much more controversial action of posting a video where he made fun of his nephew for wearing a princess dress. That was pretty indefensible, which is why Lewis ended up retracting the video and his comments. But at a certain point it’s not about whether Lewis or Helena did anything wrong anymore; it becomes a spectacle, an interactive entertainment. After Hamilton apologised, people were bored already, looking for the next outrage to bandwagon on, no matter how pedantic. It’s strange because I think Helena is a completely different personality to Hamilton, (She even called him out over ‘dress-gate’) yet the reaction she has received, even on this smaller scale, has been similarly disproportionate, I’d argue even more so seeing as no-one is calling for Hamilton to lose his involvement in the sport as a result.

First off let me clarify that I don’t know Helena personally, although I have interacted with her a few times. I first found out about her at the end of last year through a guild of motoring journalism competition called the Williams Lyons award, I spent ages on a rubbish video entry and rushed the essay part in, but Helena clearly took a bit more time and care with her work because she won. So I wished her congratulations, and checked out her blog. A lot of her motorsport articles are well worth reading, but I also like how she branches off into other subjects; for example she was one of very few people talking about the abject poverty and oppressive regime in Azerbaijan, a subject most F1 journos won’t go near with a 10 ft. pole. At one point Helena was even kind enough to give me some feedback on an article I was writing, which is something that I appreciate.

Does Helena deserve being made a laughing stock, or being put under the microscope to be judged by her peers, for what? Her dress sense? The amount of cleavage she’s showing? In my opinion, no. Should she have perhaps posted the picture on her private Twitter account? Given the reaction, maybe, but I don’t think we should create a community where someone is excluded for something so small and normally inconsequential. I don’t think people necessarily have to understand or appreciate Helena’s selfies; if you think she bares a bit too much flesh, that’s fine. But they should never ostracise her for it. Criticism is fine, but what happened here went beyond that; people didn’t know when to stop.

At the end of the day Twitter is Twitter, and Twitter is cancer, where mob mentality spreads and a simple picture of a girl with an slightly unfitting caption causes a shitstorm. I think it’s a bit sad really how Helena gets more notice from the outrage about her choice of top than she does from her articles.

Helena Hicks and the nontroversy of “cleavage-gate”