The headlines screamed at us this week ‘Get Stuffed’, as Michelle Payne became the first female jockey in Australia’s history to win the Melbourne Cup. She was quoted as saying when she dismounted from her winning ride ‘Everyone else can get stuffed who think women aren’t good enough’. This message was aimed at the many chauvinists who doubted not just her ability, but the ability of women in general to complete alongside men in horse racing. This, my friends, opens up the debate, why do people judge ability on gender and not on results?
It’s hardly surprising that Miss Payne succeeded in her chosen sport, her family is truly steeped in horse racing from her father who was a trainer, to seven out of her ten siblings, who have also trained as jockeys. One of her sisters many years ago was named as one of the most successful riders in the history of Victorian racing and her brother, Stevie who has Downs Syndrome played a part in the winning team, as he was her strapper.
So let’s ask the question, if any of her brothers had won the race, would we be having this debate or would we be celebrating his success?
Competing on a level playing field alongside seasoned male jockeys and winning still isn’t enough for the skeptics and obviously still doesn’t convince some people of the ability and strength of women in sport.
Also this week we heard about the retirement of Susie Wolff, the racing driver from Oban who after twenty years believes now that there is very little opportunity of her making the starting grid. Susie catalogues a variety of incidents that brought her to this decision, and as realisation dawned that it was never going to happen, her dream was not going to come true, she announced her retirement.Wolff was the only female racing driver with close links to F1 and her glamorous lifestyle was envied by many. However twenty years is a long time to wait for a dream!
Let’s think about what this message is sending out to young girls. It is telling them that not only do you have to be excel at sport, in fact be the best as in the case of Michelle, but also you have to have thick enough skin to listen to the debate that surrounds your success, in such a negative manner. It also says that you may train for a lifetime but still never get a chance to perform or to shine as in the case of Susie Wolff.
Where does this negativity start? Is it in the early stages of life when we call our young girls pretty, and our young boys strong? Are these two words mutually exclusive, can’t you be both? When we start to attribute words such as these to gender we curtail the experience, creativity and growth of our children.
With so many young girls dropping out of sport in their early teens and the subsequent problems that can bring, it is imperative that we start to change this culture. There is a school of thought amongst young women that they can’t be pretty and strong. How wrong can they be! Or how wrong of us that we have we led them to believe this!
A healthy mind and a healthy body along with a good attitude to the many different temptations that are put in front of our young people day in and out, are what we need to instill in our children. We have an epidemic on our hands with obesity becoming the norm for a lot of children. Our young people are making poor choices in relation to food and drink and exercise. Fast food and sugary drinks, supersized for an extra couple of pence, are no longer a treat saved for special days, but are now the staple daily diet of many.
So we all have to get on message. We need to encourage more coverage of strong women in our papers and on our screens. Let’s read more about the success of our athletes, let’s go in depth and preview and review all our females regularly and consistently in sport; football, basketball cricket, judo, rugby in fact every sport imaginable. Give young girls the regular visibility that young boys take for granted when they pick up a paper or turn on the television.
This has been a public health warning – let’s do this now and save our children a lot of heartache and misery in the future as they battle with the associated health problems poor diet and inactivity will no doubt bring them.