While watching the Melbourne Cup last week, no matter your opinion about horse racing as a sport, it was exciting to see the first win by a female jockey, Michelle Payne. As an advocate for female athletes, it was even more exciting to hear Payne calling out sexism in her sport, and telling doubters who think women aren’t strong or good enough to “get stuffed”.
Despite this strong message I couldn’t help but cringe when, in the moments after the win when the commentators were trying to fill the gaps before they could get an interview, Payne was described as a “beautiful young lady”, or words to that effect. I doubt you would have heard a male jockey described as “handsome” had he won. In addition, a few have since tried to suggest that Payne should not have called out the sexism in racing as she did, which of course just reinforces the problem.
For all the strides that women have made in sport, and the increasing acceptance of female athletes, there is a pervasive problem whereby media coverage continues to focus on women’s bodies, their fashion, or their social lives, rather than their sport. This belittles their achievements. Whilst in the case of Michelle Payne the comment on air was fairly benign, it highlights the fact that commentators still seem to find it hard to know quite what to say about female athletes. Continue reading