Sophie Van Den Akker poses during Melbourne Cup Day at Flemington Racecourse in 2011 in Melbourne, Australia. (Photo by Don Arnold/WireImage)
Spring is generally considered a joyful time that brings with it balmy evenings, daffodils and the appearance of adorable ducklings in unlikely places. But it also heralds the commencement of the Spring Racing Carnival, an evil tradition that has somehow ingratiated its way into the lives of women across Australia, convincing them that in order to be a ‘‘princess’’ for a day, it’s necessary to buy a twee dress, spend stupid amounts of money on a hat, and wear stillettos even though they know they will be walking on grass a lot and by the end of the day this will become so annoying they will take their shoes off altogether. Was there ever a greater scam played on women?
Every year it happens, as predictable as the turnover to daylight savings. The papers publish ‘‘Racing style guides’’. The morning breakfast programs start bleating about hats. Department stores blanket-bomb us with advertising featuring racing ‘‘celebrities’’ they have invented. We are supposed to find these women compelling and sympathetic even though, let’s face it, they are essentially riding the back of an industry (pun intended) that makes a large part of its profits from exploiting the very poor.
For even though gambling is a pastime with a less-than-salubrious reputation, during the spring carnival we are sold the lie that horse-racing is the sport of kings, and that somehow means every woman who turns up at Randwick or Flemington could be Kate Middleton on a good day.
Racegoers "enjoy the atmosphere" on Melbourne Cup Day at Flemington Racecourse in November 1, 2011. (Photo by Scott Barbour/Getty Images)
Of course, the horses themselves are men’s business. Not to mention the complex algorithms which set the gambling odds - far too befuddling for our lady-brains. For us, racing is all about the fashion. As it happens, I am a feminist who also loves fashion, but in the parallel universe of the Carnival, women are not supposed to wear trousers, which I find troubling. Apparently it’s frowned upon by the Victoria Racing Club, which sets the racing carnival dress code. Can you imagine anything so retro as a lady-trouser-ban? The last time I heard about one it was in a slice of Downton Abbey dialogue. Don’t even get me started on fascinators, which are in no way fascinating.
The trouble with the spring racing Princess Myth is that it is so vastly at odds with what ends up happening: hordes of women who left the house in their finest end up getting so drunk they can barely walk. This is when they take their shoes off, and innocent passers-by are treated to the spectacle of bedraggled women walking shoeless through the streets in a vain effort to get a cab, as they get sexually harassed by men in wrap-around sunglasses who have loosened their ties and are feeling a little cheeky after the 17 beers they have ingested track-side.
Because while the concept of drinking during the day might seem delightfully decadent and Gatsby-esque, the reality is that it just sucks. You get tired and want to loosen your dress and you start feeling hungover around sundown. No, give me the dogs over the horses any day. At the greyhound racing, you can wear flat shoes, you can sit down, and eating hot dogs is encouraged, if not compulsory. And I defy anyone to look like a princess with tomato sauce running down her chin.
Racegoers "dance" at Melbourne Cup Day at Flemington Racecourse on November, 2011. (Photo by Scott Barbour/Getty Images)
This piece was first published on October 18th, 2012 but we resurrected it today because it's awesome.