Ratings of gender appropriateness of sports

Melbourne Cup is not a specifically or inherently gendered event, the special weekend will entail extra activities that must be planned, coordinated, and executed with gender issues in mind. This year’s Melbourne Cup carnival celebration is being marketed towards females in overt and covert ways: such as by the use of hot pink typeface and a floral background plus a prominently featured section on style and fashion that uses a female model for the menu item (Melbourne Cup Carnival 2011). Yet it is precisely the gender segregation of the races from the non-race activities that bring gender issues to the forefront. In this critical analysis of the Melbourne Cup main event, the Melbourne Cup carnival, and the non-Cup-related recreational activities scheduled before and during the event, I will draw upon the following three disciplines: gender studies, marketing, and the politics of socio-economic class.

From a gender studies perspective, horse racing can itself become the subject of critical feminist analysis. This analysis encompasses such wide-ranging issues as animal rights, the sexual symbolism of horses, and the cultural connotation and history of horses. More importantly, a feminist perspective investigates the historically male-dominated profession of the jockey. Currently, more than fifty percent of apprentice jockeys are females and numbers are likely to climb (Tolich 1996). The introduction of females to the jockey profession has not necessarily signaled gender equity. Quite the opposite, the introduction of females to the jockey profession has highlighted the gender differentials in the labor market (Tolich 1996). Just as nursing is a “feminized” profession, so too has become the field of professional horse racing jockey (Tolich 1996). Although Chantal Sutherland and other jockeys have gained considerable notoriety regardless of gender, the field itself has become a “secondary labour market,” (Dwyre 2011; Tolich 1996). This should come as no surprise, and yet it signals the entrenched gender issues that continue to plague equality. How to explain the differential labor market to a group of young people involves a strong degree of media literacy. A study of media literacy within a feminist framework also allows us to explore the visible roles and positions females fill. For example, we can point out the scantily clad drinks servers at bars, the portrayal of women in beer advertisements, and the disproportionate numbers of males in the executive boxes.

Gendered labor markets do also tie in with the gendered symbolism that the Melbourne Cup and horse racing in general entail. Horses have been considered symbols of sexuality in medieval European cultures (“The Canterbury Tales: The Reeve’s Tale Symbolism, Imagery & Allegory” 2011). It would be helpful to teach the five young people about the cross-cultural symbolism of horses, and the role horses play in various cultures in order to provide a more holistic perspective of the Melbourne Cup. We could initiate a discussion for the five young people to allow them to share their perspectives of horses and their experiences with them. A feminist perspective permits a fruitful exploration of the nature of horse racing itself as a potentially exploitative event. Horse racing can be viewed within a patriarchal framework, because the races represent the utilitarian use of animals to serve the greedy interests of a patriarchal culture (Donovan 2000).

A marketing perspective is one of the core ways to approach the holiday, and will be a springboard of discussion during the event. The young people should pay close attention to the connection between mass media events and professional sports, noting how products are sold and what imagery is used. Special attention should be paid to the intersection of race, class, and gender.

Shopping will be one of the ways we will explore issues related to gender, marketing, and socio-economic class. The official Melbourne Cup carnival event includes a special section devoted to “season, style, and fashion.” Our young people will notice what products are being marketed, and why. The Melbourne Cup carnival website shows products and fashions that are undoubtedly luxury items that appeal to the upper class white hegemony. For example, extra large wide-brimmed straw hats and other headgear with lavish decorations are of no use to a working class individual, and nor are they affordable. When analyzing the marketing of Melbourne Cup souvenirs, it will be helpful to explore the ethics of product creation by examining where the items were made, and whether or not they represent fairly traded goods. Similarly, the food being sold at the event can be construed in ethical ways, if it is locally sourced and from as many organic vendors as possible.

Outside of the Melbourne Cup itself, a shopping expedition will reveal a wide range of trends that can be critically examined within multiple frameworks. Body image is a subject that will arise, during shopping expeditions, in terms of analyzing the specific body constraints of the jockey industry, but especially when we visit the beach. The beach is a venue in which to explore the intersections between gender, marketing, and socio-economic class.

Moreover, the beach is the venue at which participants reveal their bodies. The beach is a public space, but one that allows people to take off as much clothing if not more so than they do in the private space of the home. The styles of bathing suits worn on the beach and body types are often reflections of cultural norms, fashions, and social class. The connection between socio-economic class and obesity can also be explored. This will allow us to explore body image issues for both men and women. Women are expected to be of a certain body type in order to succeed at the sport of jockeying. In what way are these expectations different from those of the modeling industry? The critical analysis will investigate whether anorexia nervosa and other eating disorders are perpetuated by the media or if they stem from other issues related to patriarchal social norms.

Ethnicity will be a key subject during our weekend, because we will critically analyze the crowd at the Melbourne Cup main event and compare that analysis to other dimensions and arenas such as the beach. The geographic locations at which the event is located, and the beaches and malls we visit, will be analyzed in terms of socio-economic and ethnic demographics. We will also explore age-related issues, by paying close attention to the attendants at each event. The ethnicity of the jockeys at the event, and the role of people of color in service industry positions will be investigated as we participate in different arenas.

The day before the Melbourne Cup will involve a panoply of diverse people from around the country and around the world. Diversity will be a key subject of discussion. We will be able to analyze the role of women in sport, the role of women in marketing, and the body images of women. Women have played a marginal role in most sports, and horse racing is one that offers the potential for gender equity. Yet it is doubtful whether the playing field is truly even or not. The politics of gender, race, and social class are evident in the equestrian traditions, which entail symbols of male dominance and of social class subordination.


“The Canterbury Tales: The Reeve’s Tale Symbolism, Imagery & Allegory,” (2011). Schmoop. Retrieved online: http://www.shmoop.com/reeves-tale/symbolism-imagery.html

Donovon, J. (2000). Beyond Animal Rights. Continuum.

Duncan, M.C.; Messner, M.A.; Williams, L.; Jensen, K. & Birrell, S. (1994). Gender stereotyping in televised sports. Women, sport, and culture. 1994 pp. 249-272

Dwyre, B. (2011). A Canadian heads south and makes her mark. Los Angeles Times. April 23, 2011. Retrieved online: http://www.latimes.com/sports/la-sp-dwyre-20110423,0,4403280.column

Koivula, N. (1995). Ratings of gender appropriateness of sports participation: Effects of gender-based schematic processing. Sex Roles 33(7-8).

LeCompte, M. (1993). Cowgirls of the Rodeo. University of Illinois Press.

McEnvoy, J. & McEnvoy, J. (2001). Women in Racing: In their Own Words. Eclipse.

Melbourne Cup Carnival 2011. Website retrieved: http://www.melbournecup.com/melbourne-cup-carnival/

Sherman, Cheyene A., Fuller, R., & Speed, H.D. (2000). Gender Comparisons of Preferred Coaching Behaviors in Australian Sports. Journal of Sport Behavior 23.

Tolich, M. (1996). Negotiated turf: the feminisation of the New Zealand jockey profession. Journal of Sociology 32(2).

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