Why I won’t jump for joy over Michelle Payne’s Melbourne Cup win.

It’s something I grapple with every time a female ‘wins’ in a male dominated sport or career. The thought that, while obviously this woman kicks arse, she’s beating the men but at their own game – by having to play how the men play. 

But is this the ultimate goal of feminism? To still measure performance by male metrics? Don’t we want women to win by playing the game how women want to play it?

This article is the best articulation I’ve read recently on that idea, that we shouldn’t just be striving for equality, but liberation.

Equality is a fundamentally conservative aim. Rather, it is liberation from a system that idolises money and power and demands women “act like men” to get ahead, that we should set our sights on.

Michelle Payne’s victory at yesterday’s Melbourne Cup… may indeed prove she is equal to the pinnacle of her male competitors, but it does very little to further the concept of liberation.

Now, the journalists main point is that the cruelty of the Melbourne Cup conflicts with her views of feminism because it “is inextricably tied to my passion for animal rights”. That whipping the horses and dominating them to perform to the jockey’s needs over their own is a violent activity linked with stereotypical views on male masculinity and dominance.  

So if a woman wins the Melbourne Cup, if she pushes her horse the hardest in training, whips it the hardest on the track, is that actually us winning the feminist battle? Surely reassessing the current practices of the sport with (again stereotypically) what’s seen as more feminine qualities like empathy and compassion, would see new practices being implemented that reduce the harm and violence towards the horses. 
I guess what it really does come down to is:

 In a world that consistently fails to recognise let alone reward us, should we celebrate every victory by a woman as a win for women?

Yes, there is something deliciously thrilling about a woman taking advantage of the spotlight to tell men off and proclaim that, “Women can do anything and we can beat the world.” 

But there is the contradiction. Perpetuating and celebrating violent spectacles like the Melbourne Cup isn’t beating the world; it’s joining it. And that is the difference between equality and liberation.

True liberation will be when typically feminine qualities are seen as strengths along with masculine ones; when a male can express empathy, openness, vulnerability and not be judged as weak; when domestic violence of any kind, both physical and mental is not tolerated to or by any gender; and when women succeed because they were themselves and didn’t have to ‘lean in’ and act like a man to succeed at what is still a man’s game. 

Read the article >

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