Spring racing: was there ever a greater scam played on women?

Sophie Van Den Akker poses  during Melbourne Cup Day at Flemington Racecourse in 2011 in Melbourne, Australia. (Photo by Don Arnold/WireImage)

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)

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.

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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)

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.

119 comments

  • Great article. Could you please send it to the Principal of each girls school in Sydney.

    Commenter
    WilliamofWarwick
    Location
    Parramatta
    Date and time
    October 18, 2012, 8:19AM
    • My Goodness, if it is such an ‘evil tradition’ that subjugates women into princess roles, why do they do it? I am sure women dread going shopping to buy a fancy dress and shoes, such an unpracticed activity… Horror of horrors, there is a dress code at the races? It is unimaginable that a woman should dress like a… WOMAN! It is probably an indirect result of Tony Abbots legislation, after all, according to Gillard he is Australia’s leading misogynist (although I would imagine any male opposition leader would labeled as such by the sanctimonious man hating PM).

      Commenter
      Realist
      Location
      AU
      Date and time
      October 18, 2012, 1:02PM
  • Spring racing: was there ever a greater scam played on women? yes fashion and make up

    Commenter
    Carstendog
    Location
    Here
    Date and time
    October 18, 2012, 8:26AM
    • No, fashion can be emancipating at times. Think women doing away with ridiculous bustles, long multi-petticoated confections, mandatory up-dos & wearing trousers during the 1920s. Think also of Jean Shrimpton at the Melbourne Cup almost 50 YEARS AGO in a plain but elegant dress, with no ludicrous hat or insane high heels. Now we seem to have back peddled to fashion restrictions more suited to the turn of last century - at least so far as the races are concerned. I think it has a lot to do with many Australians scrambling, over the last 15 years or so, to be 'upper class' & important rather than part of a down to earth, egalitarian society. That this is accompanied by embarrassingly hedonistic self-gratifying behaviour is no surprise.

      Commenter
      Sooz
      Location
      Sydney
      Date and time
      October 18, 2012, 1:11PM
    • So you are up with stick thin models then, Sooz?

      Commenter
      Carstendog
      Location
      Here
      Date and time
      October 18, 2012, 2:39PM
  • Spot on. For 360 days of the year, horse racing is old blokes in the TAB with form guides sticking out of their back pocket. Then all of a sudden it's portrayed as something glamorous and chic. I will never understand this.

    Commenter
    pops
    Location
    Melbourne
    Date and time
    October 18, 2012, 8:29AM
    • Its not just once a year.

      Those who genuinely love the sport know that.

      And not all of us stagger around in stillettos and get drunk and sunburnt. I look forward to it as an opportunity to dress up and spend the day with friends. Whats so wrong with that?

      Commenter
      Sarah
      Date and time
      October 18, 2012, 8:48AM
    • Sarah - the problem is that you are the minority. I have lived opposite Flemington for 12 years. I walk my dog in Footscray Park in the late afternoons which coincide with the race goers departures. It is appalling to see the amount of people staggering their way to public transport. Ladies - I think not! Gentlemen - where? There is little class at the track.

      Commenter
      Schwabbie
      Location
      Maribyrnong
      Date and time
      October 18, 2012, 10:30AM
    • How is horse racing a sport? I love sport, where people compete against other people. Horse racing, much like its equally 'bogan' brother motor sport is a past time. Horse racing is only kept afloat because of 1. Betting and 2. The Spring Racing Carnival. The punt runs the "sport". I especially love hearing all the "traditional" racegoers bleating about the "young crowd" that invades their domain every late Oct/early Nov. Without them your "sport" is nothing. I hardly think the Wednesday Caulfield meet is going to keep the sport afloat.

      Commenter
      BC
      Location
      Hallam
      Date and time
      October 18, 2012, 11:12AM
    • Sarah, it doesn't sound like it's the 'sport' that you genuinely love. None of the things you list actually relate to horse racing.

      Commenter
      Shelly
      Date and time
      October 18, 2012, 12:00PM

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