Tuesday, November 3, 2015

My Thoughts on Michelle Payne and the Battle of the Sexes

In a breakthrough year for women in sports, another monumental accomplishment was achieved when Michelle Payne -- a 30-year-old veteran of the sport -- became the first female jockey to win the Melbourne Cup.

Following her victory, Payne had a stern message for not only her peers in the industry, but the sports world, as a whole.





Payne continued on to say: 
“I would like to say that, you know, it’s a very male-dominated sport and people think we are not strong enough and all of the rest of it ... you know what? It’s not all about strength, there is so much more involved, getting the horse into a rhythm, getting the horse to try for you, it’s being patient and I’m so glad to win Melbourne Cup and hopefully, it will help female jockeys from now on to get more of a go. Because, I believe that we sort of don’t get enough of a go and hopefully this will help.”

For these words to be uttered by a woman who has lived and breathed the sport since her childhood, whose siblings were also trained as jockeys and whose brother -- who suffers from Down Syndrome -- and strapped the very horse to win "the race that stops the nation" is as momentous as it is eye-opening. 

While strides have been made in recent times, there is little doubt that stigmas against both sportswomen and those who are disabled exist and yet with one win via a 100-1 longshot, the message that anyone can accomplish their dreams no matter the obstacles thrown in their way was displayed in front of one of the larger international audiences of the sport. 

The fallout has been massive with several applauding Payne's comments and others deeming them misguided or poorly timed. Questions of whether or not the sport is truly chauvinistic have been raised, again with wide-ranging responses. Blaming her for what some unfairly deemed as speaking out against the sport, however, is misguided. 

The fact of the matter is that these sorts of topics are never going to result in a singular answer. As easily as I could find five people who would say that horse racing -- and the world for that matter -- is full of male chauvinistic pigs, I could find just as many who would disagree completely. 

There is no universal truth. In this instance, the only truth is her truth. 

If Payne indicates that in her experience she feels she had to overcome her gender in order to achieve her goals, then from her perspective the sport is in fact chauvinistic and nobody should try to tell her otherwise. While others may not share the same experiences as she has within the industry, to say someone shouldn't feel discriminated against because it's not a universal truth for all is inappropriate.

As far as the timing of her comments is concerned, it's worrisome that critics have deemed said timing selfish, saying she should be a more graceful winner. It's when given this platform that role models in any community should speak out either against what they feel are injustices or to inspire the next generation. 

In a few short lines, Payne did both and, dare I say, taking the time from what was easily the biggest moment of her career was not only selfless, but it's indicative of her deep-rooted love for the sport. For her to choose a platform as large as the winner's enclosure at Flemington following a historic victory deems her message of such importance that she felt it worthy of an international audience of millions. Should one struggling young woman -- who has perhaps faced similar challenges to Payne -- find her dedication to the sport reinvigorated, the goal was achieved. 

Payne is a living example to young girls riding ponies that it can be done. Even they can win the nation's biggest race and her words merely back up her actions. 

Whether or not horse racing is universally a chauvinist sport should not be the takeaway from this statement. Instead, Payne let it be known that no matter what obstacles a woman faces, even she can win the big one. 

6 comments:

Steve Mullington said...

Well written Candice. Totally with you on this.

Wayward Lad said...

Men suffer from chauvinistic attitudes as well (I work in construction, so I should know); but it's great to have discussion on how chauvinism is detrimental - for everyone.
A tremendous achievement irrespective of the jockeys sex.

Candice said...

Thank you, Steve.

Candice said...

Completely agree it is an incredible achievement!

Scott Ferguson said...

well said Candice. Worth noting that much of the initial hysteria against Michelle's comments were stirred up by a tabloid newspaper who, according to the jockey alleged to have made the critical comment, Glen Boss, said they were taken completely out of context, and focused on one line out of a 20 minute interview. Typical of a News Corp publication.

Candice said...

Yes, I saw that re: Glen Boss. I'm glad he made public exactly what he said as quickly as possible.

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