Barbie Doll or Penny Chenery? Horse Racing, Pick a Role Model and Stick with it.
Females in horse racing–both fans and professionals–need to figure out: are we content with the image of fluffball chicks, wearing ultra-mini skirts and 8″ stilettos–talking like Mickey Mouse on helium–and just-so-darned air-headed that no one in our sport takes them–or any women–seriously?
Or are we women? Real, live, flesh-and-blood–women? Humans who happen to be packin’ lady parts, who offer over 51% of the power it will take to bring horse racing safely and successfully into the 21st Century?
(If our sport is to grow in this century, amidst all the controversies, disillusionment and attacks from outside media–never mind, our own inability to agree on what’s best for The Horse–well, we’re going to need all the passion and commitment of every single person who loves the sport. And that includes females who are informed, involved and fully engaged in every role except that of Arm Candy.)
If we are women and we’re not content with the sexualized images of females in horse racing–we need to say something about it. Men in horse racing who are not content with these outdated, misogynistic images need to say something about it.
We need to write about it, and call out companies and organizations that contribute to the continued, rampant sexism.
We must work together to change the images–and how do we do that? It’s so simple: we put down our feet, and insist that the nonsense cease and desist…
I pose this question–and I’m posting this article today–because my senses have been assaulted lately by images and concepts of womanhood in horse racing. Images that are unacceptable, reactionary and counterproductive.
Now, the thing that sent me through the roof–and that made me realize that I must address this two-sided vision of females in our sport, and that it must be today–was the moment at which three factors slammed into each other right inside my head.
I wish that you could experience it exactly as did I: three things sparking lightning in my brain, simultaneously. Since I can’t give you that TIA moment, I’ll attempt to describe each separate item and ask that you try to comprehend it as my brain tried to process:
Factor #1–The Good: Yesterday I attended the nuptials of two friends who are Thoroughbred trainers. The bride, as well as the groom, is a seasoned horseperson. She’s not a tiny, hot-looking chicklet who dresses in jockeys’ silks and poses for wagering websites. Yes, she happens to be diminutive, but that doesn’t stop her from being an assistant trainer and exercise rider. She was a steeplechase jockey for seven years. She’s buff, muscular and tough. (e.g., During the Saratoga meet, a f!lly she was galloping threw her, then kicked my friend in the head. Friend got a concussion. )
The next day, I went to her barn and saw her (Joanna Patejuk) mucking. Shocked, I expressed that she should be in bed. She flapped her lips at me, and laughed.
Apparently, real horsewomen have no time for silly distractions, like brain injuries.
Now, it happens that my friend is a gorgeous young woman. But that’s not the important thing about her. It”s most definitely not all she is, or the first thing that people notice about her. The first thing is her welcoming smile, and her laugh. And in no particular order, you notice her profound love for horses (obsession, really)–her knowledge of the equine species–her grit and determination–and that her mind is lightning-fast.
Yes, of course she was a beautiful bride. Seth (Benzel), her groom, was wickedly handsome. And it’s interesting that the first thing that enchants those who meet either of them for the first time is their magnificent, honest, real smiles. (They smiled a lot yesterday.)
Joanna is a genuine role model for females who aspire to horse racing careers, and for new fans. If “they” want to use women in racing for ads, SHE is a face that should adorn horse racing ad campaigns: her mothering love for horses and her strength shine through in everything she does and says.
Factor #2–The Bad: BetAmerica, like too many horse racing businesses, seems to think that the best representative of the sport–at least, the best way to get people to click their ad and visit their ‘site–is to slap on a picture of a hot babe whose butt as well as her face is in the camera.
Chantal (Sutherland, the jockey) is featured on BetAmerica’s click-ad on ‘sites like Horse Races NOW. The thing that made me INSANE when first I saw this ad was that the top-half of the ad featured Chantal, wearing red, white and blue silks. That’s fine. But in the ad, her head is turned to the right, facing the camera, because her back is to her audience. The bottom half of the ad reads, “It’s time to play!”–then the words drop down, and Chantal’s butt is revealed.
REALLY?!?? “It’s time to play!”–then, butt-shot?!? There are many jockeys who would be great models for horse racing ads and websites. They’re not all beautiful or handsome. That does not mean that they’re not brilliant riders who deserve a chance to represent our sport.
But let’s say that BetAmerica insists on using Chantal: a much stronger image would have been that of the jock facing the camera, arms crossed or akimbo. Facing the camera head-on, challenging the reader.
But nooooooooooo: BetAmerica thought that readers–bettors–would be far-more likely to click if the jockey appeared to flirt with the reader. (Really, BetAmerica must think that their potential customers are stupid enough to believe that a virtual jockey is flirting with them. No doubt this ill-conceived marketing concept comes from the same place as publishers of porn magazines, who depend on their “readers” to believe that, “…Yes, that naked woman DOES want you…”)
I’m quite certain that, if Javier, Rajiv or Johnny V had been chosen as models for the same ad–they’d face the camera head-on, conveying the strength and guts that it takes to ride a 1,200-pound freight train.
BetAmerica is selling sex to sell their services. It may not seem so to many of you reading this, but try to see it this way: jockeys have one of the toughest and most demanding jobs on Earth. Every one of them has to become a Force of Nature every single time they climb into that saddle. And Forces of Nature don’t flirt with their audiences.
Factor #3: She thinks she’s ugly. In the last 24 hours, I had a conversation with a friend who’s a budding horse racing writer. She’s very young–18 or so, I think. She’s a good writer, and has the potential to become a great writer if she gives herself time, patience and if she continues to study. She loves horses with all her heart, and that’s the most important part, right? (Writers who don’t love horses should get away from the sport of horse racing, and work in the realm of non-sports writing. We don’t need any non-horse-lovers around here.)
Well, my friend thinks that she’s not attractive. (She is indeed a very attractive young lady, but that most definitely is not the point.) The point is that, sadly enough, she has observed horse racing media for quite a while–and to her, it look like Only Skinny and Blonde Need Apply. 🙁
I wrote, “sadly,” but the fact is that it enrages me.
It enrages me that this talented young woman has been railroaded into believing that her talents aren’t enough to secure a career in horse racing media.
It enrages me that she believes The Lie, that Only Attractive People are Worthy.
It enrages me, that she believes that she is NOT attractive, when compared with those females in racing media whom she’s been told, subconsciously, to emulate.
And it enrages me that our sport may very well lose the passion, talents and intelligence of someone who really loves horses and who has so much to give to our sport. And if we lose this talented person, it will be solely because she thinks that she doesn’t measure up.
“Measure up”? To what? To an image manufactured in the Mattel factory? To an image of Barbie, the American Dream Woman, who still has ridiculously–and unrealistically–fabricated body measurements; big, doll-like BLUE eyes and impossibly blonde hair?
The thing that p’s me off most here is that–we have let this myth perpetuate, and in so doing, we have let down entire generations of young women who buy the myth because we haven’t done a damned thing to change it.
We in horse racing–fans, professionals, comporations, betting platforms–all of us–have let this Myth of Impossible Beauty perpetuate, and thereby, discourage the 99.9% of all females who don’t happen to look like a rock star.
We don’t have to actively encourage the myth: our passivity is all that’s necessary for harmful myths to grow and take on the false face of Truth:
By doing nothing, the monster has grown out of its petri dish; oozed out of the laboratory, and now it’s taking over Gotham.
Do you think, honestly, that ANY young man who wants to be a racing writer–or broadcast journalist, radio show host or otherwise in sports media–thinks for ONE minute that he might not make the cut just because he’s not built like a brick house, or have a face like Hugh Jackman?
Of course not: men in our society are taught that their merit comes from what they have to offer–their talents–and their strong work ethic.
Women still are taught that our value comes from outside appearance, period. And unfortunately, horse racing media has contributed to this ridiculous, harmful and culturally-backward lie.
So, yeah, I’m mad. If this dear, smart young woman doesn’t say, “Screw you” to the harmful role model of Barbie in racing media–we’re all going to lose, big time.
I am not a size 0, nor will I ever be.
I am no longer Titian Red-Blonde.
I never have looked at Barbie as a role model–and never will.
But I am a Mount Holyoke-educated, intelligent writer and speaker who has the nerve to think that what I have to say about horse racing matters.
Imagine the nerve? A middle-aged, not-so-attractive Broad who thinks that she has something to say?
If you think that I am a monster of my own creation, nah, don’t blame me. MY role models weren’t Barbies: my Mother; Grandmother; Virginia Kraft Payson and Penny Chenery are the women whom I saw as being worthy of emulation. Strong, smart, horse-loving women with more savvy than glam, they showed me how to become a woman. A professional, confident woman.
And, yes, every single paunchy, middle-aged, balding or greying man who has the nerve to tout themselves as racing authorities, in spite of their lack of “good looks”–have been my inspiration on my media journey.
Truthfully, I look around every now and then and think, “If HE can make it in racing media–so can I”–and I continue to chug along on my vocational journey.
Isn’t it interesting that the same men who think that I–or any other woman in horse racing media–should look like Cindy Crawford–look like Danny DeVito?
I wish that the young woman of whom I wrote would look around and decide that it doesn’t matter what other people think–that she’s going for it.
Our sport needs a Big Wake-Up Call: that women across-the-board in horse racing need to be represented, in every facet from advertising to board rooms.
And it’s not going to happen as long as we sit passively by, saying nothing. Nothing ever changes until The People show their anger toward the system. Well, I’m one of The People, and I’m angry.
Horse racing, we need role models for women who are fans and professionals, alike. And those role models cannot be plastic dolls, literally or figuratively. Calling all Penny Chenerys, Julie Krones and VK Paysons: bring on the powerful women–use them as role models and spokeswomen for the sport–and see how our sport grows and flourishes, as all the fans and pros are nurtured and encouraged.
Bring on the Real Women: time to toss the plastic doll where she belongs–in the backstretch dumpster, right next to the muck pile.