It’s a bit of a side track (heh), but the issue of women’s participation in professional auto racing bears certain similarities. Obviously, in most of the world, young boys have historically been much more encouraged to take an interest in cars and racing than girls. So the cultural forces at work are clear.
Although many people don’t realize it, top level pro racers have to be world-class athletes. But the physical characteristics they need are not primarily strength, which would obviously favor men, but quick reactions and the stamina to sustain high G forces and cockpit temperatures for two hours or more at a time.
A few women have succeeded at the top levels of racing, most notably Danica Patrick, who was Rookie of the Year in 2005’s Indianapolis 500 and in that year’s IndyCar series. She came in third in the 2009 Indy 500, the highest position ever for a woman, and is the only woman to have won an IndyCar race. She later moved to NASCAR.
(Regarding the physical requirements for racing, in her early days in IndyCar, there were complaints from some drivers that Danica had an advantage because she weighed less than most of the men, and could therefore go faster!
However, women in racing are still such a rarity that in 2019 the W Series, a women-only racing series, was launched to help advance women in pro racing. It is in its second year (the 2020 season was canceled by COVID), and is run on the same tracks on the same weekends as Formula 1 World Championship races. The final race of the 2021 season will be at Circuit of the Americas in Austin, Oct. 23.
The announcement of the W Series was not universally welcomed, because some, including female drivers, saw it as segregation, arguing that the money used to set up and run it would have been better spent helping women get a leg up in F1.
British IndyCar Series driver Pippa Mann responded to the series’ announcement on Twitter, saying “What a sad day for motorsport. Those with funding to help female racers are choosing to segregate them as opposed to supporting them. I am deeply disappointed to see such a historic step backwards take place in my life time.”
Perhaps the most significant difference between chess and racing is that the latter takes fiendishly large amounts of money: top F1 teams have budgets exceeding $400 million. Drivers not only have to have the driving skills, they also have to be able to attract sponsors and bring cash to the team, and this is true at all levels of motor sports. Yet another barrier to women in a traditionally male-dominated arena.
And that may be part of the reason why the most successful female driver ever also happened to have near-supermodel looks (borderline NSFW), which she and her husband-manager did not hesitate to take advantage of.