Thursday, 05 November 2015 10:36

Smashing Glass Ceilings - an opinion piece by Commissioner Kate Jenkins

Despite women first being awarded professional riding licences in Australia close to four decades ago, there have only ever been four female jockeys to race a Melbourne Cup. To say that progress has been slow is an understatement.

When Michelle Payne shot to victory as the first female jockey to ride a winning horse in the Melbourne Cup this year, she dared to call out the inherent sexism that is embedded in horse racing and that she has encountered day in and day out.

In speaking up, Payne articulated the frustration that women in all professions and at every level may have felt in coming up against barriers and a culture that says that men are best placed to do the job.

It is little wonder that social media exploded after her speech was beamed around the country, with women and men everywhere jumping online to virtually high five Payne when she said that “everyone else get stuffed, because they think women aren’t strong enough but we just beat the world.”

By using her moment in the spotlight to speak up about her personal experiences with sexism and chauvinism, Payne became a role model for women everywhere. She was strong, brave, inspirational and carried the simple message: women can do anything.

In her speech, Payne paid tribute to her supporters who backed her and were prepared to give her a fair go.

We also heard that she almost didn’t get the chance to race because some of the owners were reluctant to give her a shot.

Payne was able to articulate why we need to overcome outdated gender stereotypes; to be a Melbourne Cup winning jockey you need more than physical strength, it’s just as much about getting the horse into a rhythm, getting the horse to try for you and being patient.

By proving that women are just as able as their male counterparts to not only compete but to win, Payne turned an outdated stereotype on its head.

It was equally inspiring to see Payne's brother, Stevie sharing in the glory of his sister’s win and sending the message loud and clear to employers everywhere that people with disabilities can do anything and a valuable asset to any organisation or workplace. 

Of course sexism, discrimination and outdated gender stereotypes are by no means confined to horse racing. We know the attitude that some jobs are better left to the men cuts across all professions and permeates every level. We know that there is a community wide problem where men who are full time workers are seen as being seen as more valuable to a workplace.

The Commission is currently working on several projects that have gender equality at their core, including a major review into sex discrimination, sexual harassment and predatory behaviour in Victoria Police.

We have seen through this work that when people think about the qualities that make a good police officer, they think about physical strength, loyalty and keeping quiet; qualities often attributed to men, or colloquially put - a tough guy who doesn't complain.

When Payne told her detractors to “get stuffed” she articulated the widespread frustration that many women feel about being held back in their careers, despite knowing that they are more than capable of “getting the job done.”

Michelle Payne clearly wants to pave the way for other women jockeys to be given a fair go. I for one will be cheering her on loudly.


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