April 18, 2013

"Can a Woman Win the Kentucky Derby?"

Since nobody remembers much about the past, it's easy to write articles about how in some particular field women are Real Soon Now going to break through the barriers of discrimination and stereotypes and achieve equality. For example, what about women jockeys? Obviously, there must be a lot of discrimination against them since they haven't achieved much. Maybe the social climate is finally changing in their favor!

From the New York Times Magazine:
Can a Woman Win the Kentucky Derby?
by Keith O'Brien 
Here is the perception: female jockeys can’t ride. They’re too weak. They don’t have the fight in them. They can’t close — not like men, anyway. Down the stretch, you need a jockey to carry the horse to the end, rally the winded animal and squeeze speed out of weary legs. Female jockeys can’t do that. Or so goes the explanation for why, almost 50 years after women first fought legal battles to become jockeys, there are so few top jockeys who are women.

The sportswriter is here winking to the handful of well-informed readers that he's actually aware of the history of women jockeys, but most readers won't notice what he's doing. My guess is that he's recounting his observations, just labeling them as Stereotypes.
Then there’s Rosie Napravnik. 
The 113-pound New Jersey native isn’t just the most successful “girl jockey” on the horse-racing circuit today; she’s one of the best American jockeys, period. Last year, she amassed more than $12.4 million in earnings, eighth-best in North America. Her horses finished in the top three in nearly half the races she entered. So far this year, she ranks fifth in earnings, leads all jockeys in victories and has picked up her third consecutive riding title at the New Orleans Fair Grounds Race Course. 
Some of her male competitors are less than charitable about the reasons for Napravnik’s success. “Look at me,” a veteran jockey was saying before a race in New Orleans last month. “I’m 53 years old, brother. I’m going to walk into a paddock, and I’m going to talk to these owners and their wives and stuff. And there’s little Rosie. She’s going to bounce out of there. A pretty little girl, good disposition. And she’s going to be talking all nice to them. Now, which one of them would you rather leg up on your horse?” ...

Now, at 25, she is one of the more provocative figures in racing, heckled at times by critics who don’t think she belongs on the track while being asked for her autograph by fans. ... 

I don't know that much about horse racing, but I had a Sports Illustrated subscription in the early 1970s when SI covered more sports than just NFL/NBA/MLB. The early 1970s were the Golden Age of female jockeys getting favorable media publicity. One female jockey, Robyn Smith, was on the cover of Sports Illustrated 41 years ago. Here's Frank Deford's 1972 cover story on her.

Then, in 1980 Smith married the octogenarian Fred Astaire. After his death in 1987, still feeling the need for speed, Smith took up flying, and by 2000 was working as a corporate jet pilot.

Another female jockey who was much celebrated when I was young was Mary Bacon, whose success on the track and good looks led to a Revlon modeling contract and the cover of Newsweek's 1974 "Women in Sports" issue. Here's the opening of a 1974 People article about her:
Mary Bacon Is Queen of the Turf 
By Mary Vespa 
In her career as a jockey, Mary Bacon has been kidnapped, knifed and shot at, and in racing accidents has suffered a broken back twice, broken hands and feet, a crushed pelvis and a punctured lung.  
Through it all, the 5'4" Mary has triumphed like some kind of charmed soap opera heroine. 

However, Bacon gave a speech at a Ku Klux Klan rally in 1975 and that wrecked her career. 

The larger pattern is that the door has been open to female jockeys for over 40 years. But, riding thoroughbreds remains a dangerous job needing a high strength to weight ratio. That female jockeys haven't, on the whole, had more success lately than they had 40 years ago suggests that racing is just one of those sports where an exceptional woman -- like Lynn Hill in rockclimbing or Judit Polgar in chess -- can make it to very near the top, but that the bell curve of talent and drive is simply shifted more in the male direction. 

But, as handy as bell curves are for understanding the way of the world, they don't make for a pleasing Narrative. A Napravnik, a Hill, a Polgar are pretty interesting as women achieving in a male field, but the press's need to frame every story as part of a trend by, say, ignoring how pro-feminist the 1970s were, gives a fundamentally distorted picture of the world.


Anonymous said...

There are many very successful female jockeys in quarter-horse racing. I see them every week at the track. Mind you quarter horse races are very brief.

Camlost said...

Judit Polgar is the real deal, though.

jody said...

elimination of all sports history before 20 years ago, except for celebrating black heroes, has been an ongoing campaign at SI and ESPN for years now.

standard cultural marxist procedure.

Marlowe said...

Liberals/leftists have nothing new to say.

Anonymous said...

o/t. According to the comments, the writer "was George W Bush's head of Hispanic outreach. She spoke on the main immigration panel at CPAC last month. No, her beliefs aren't universal, but she does have some clout in conservative circles."


jody said...

as steve points out, SI and ESPN have become what i call "3 sports plus woods".

NFL, MLB, NBA news ONLY, plus your regularly scheduled eldrick update. if he's not playing, PGA doesn't exist. if some other guy won a major that woods should have won instead, PGA doesn't exist.

other sports basically don't exist at all unless something bad enough happened that it could be construed as a spectacle which could get them ratings, then suddenly they cover it for 5 minutes.

oscar pistorious murdered his girlfriend, suddenly they are interested in track & field again. for 3 days. then lebron james tweeted something about headbands. and they go back to ignoring to ignoring track & field. because they need to discuss the relatively unexplored personality of this moderately obscure lebron james fellow.

oh! somebody bombed a marathon...that they were going to completely ignore and not even cover for 5 seconds. now they cover a marathon all day for 2 days. oh wait, that lebron james fellow tweeted again. well, back to investigative journalism. who IS this lebron james person, anyway? only hours of daily investigation can shed light on this cryptic, mostly unknown figure.

NHL, ATP, and boxing have been purged for cultural marxist purposes.

a disturbing new trend is the complete purge of NHL and it's small coverage time being replaced by coverage of women playing basketball badly.

Power Child said...

Mary Bacon's "good looks"?

The 1970s must have been pretty feminist if looking like Mary Bacon could get you a Revlon deal (especially with women like Raquel Welch running around at the same time)!

Portlander said...

"Then, in 1980 Smith married the octogenarian Fred Astaire. After his death in 1987, still feeling the need for speed, Smith took up flying, and by 2000 was working as a corporate jet pilot."

Aye. Pretty woman privilege.

They have it so easy. Well, except for dealing with their demons of outclassing most available men and then falling prey to a smooth talking PUA that knows how to play her hypergamous Id against her otherwise better interests. There is that. But if her mother properly prepares her, and she comes from good stock with a father that can provide a little insulation against the more common type of riff-raff and hustlers that are out there, she'll do OK... breeze through life, chasing whatever fancy she likes while some rich guy pays the freight.

Svigor said...

Women have at least one advantage; they're smaller and lighter. So, it's (relatively) easier to find jockeys with the right stuff among the female population. Put another way, it's at least as hard to find gifted athletes who are super-small as it is to find gifted athletes who are super-tall.

Almost certainly doesn't make up for the female lack in other areas, but still...

Anonymous said...

another glorious chapter in the burgeoning 'first woman to' section of the compendium of herstory.

Steve Sailer said...

"The 1970s must have been pretty feminist if looking like Mary Bacon could get you a Revlon deal"

They were. Horse racing was a big deal in the Secretariat era around 1973, and pretty women jockeys were a very big deal 40 years ago.

Alydar said...

A thoroughbred horse uses rein tension to help keep its balance, so there is constant downward pull on the rider. Riders must have extremely high forearm, hand and core strength to deal with this successfully. If you shake hands with a jockey, watch out, he can crush you. I've met a few women like that, but not many, thank God.

stari_momak said...

The LA Times just had an obit on a female, American, matador from the 1950s.


She died childless, never married.

Rob said...

Wikipedia on Mary Bacon's speech to the Klan:

'Mary told People Magazine at the time she was confident the remarks would have no impact. "People will only worry about what I do from the starting gate to the finish line — not about what I do in my personal life," she says. "I'm paid to win races."'

Naïve or what?

Power Child said...

Steve, my point was that while Mary Bacon was a jockey, she was decidedly not pretty, even judging by the standards of her day. Thus, Bacon's Revlon deal underscores your point about the 1970s being very Feministic. And being horse-racing-centric too I guess.

Steve Sailer said...

Right, and adolescent girls love love riding horses the way adolescent boys love riding nonorganic objects like skateboards and motorcycles. So, there are a lot more female 105 pounders who love riding horses than male 105 pounders who love riding horses.

And some of them make fine jockeys. But not that many.

stari_momak said...

I don't know, I think Bacon had that cute, celto-nymph thing going on. Here she is, no doubt a couple years past her prime in Roissyan terms. Looks pretty good to me, and I suspect Revlon sells a lot of makeup to women slightly past over the Roissyan hill.

We're not talking Babe Didrikson here.

DYork said...

However, Bacon gave a speech at a Ku Klux Klan rally in 1975 and that wrecked her career.

Mary Bacon, jockey, model and Winner of the 1975 Worst Career Move of the Year Award.

Anonymous said...

Then, in 1980 Smith married the octogenarian Fred Astaire. After his death in 1987...

Did they have any children?

Anonymous said...

There is an uproar currently going on in Formula One circles because a former driver, Stirling Moss, opined that women don't have what it takes to be good race car drivers.

He's right of course, but the British press - which covers Formula One for the English speaking world - is even more PC than their American cousins.

Anonymous said...

I had never heard of this Polgar gal. Impressive lady. And you're not going to believe this, but... she's Jewish! So few Jews in the world but so many at the top of the cognitive elite... it's almost as if there's a genetetic predispostion towards high intelligence amongst European descended Jews... but no that can't be... every respected person in the world will tell you that can't be, and so and you're a fool at best and a horrible person at worst to even suspect such a thing!

I really need to go get my head right. Thoughtcrimes are costly things, as when they're verbalized, they're "hatespeech."

Anomaly UK said...

There are a few female National Hunt jockeys in British racing. Katie Walsh was supposed to win the Grand National this year on Seabass but came 13th.

Anonymous said...

It's hard to believe there will be another Lynn HIll in climbing. She was pretty much near the top of the game at her peak. She was probably not as technically gifted as Ron Kauk, Wolfgang Gulwich, or Tony Yaniro but she's was a very good 'all-around' climber able to free big walls and hard sport routes. And, like many top women climbers, very attractive too boot!

These days no woman has sent 5.15a. Men are onsighting the top level women climbers are redpointing. If Lynn Hill grew up in this era she would still be consider a top female climber.

lost cause industry said...

Uh yeah, that's too bad about her giving a speech at a KKK rally (in 1975)--could happen to anyone, really

Anonymous said...

Equestrian sport is the only Olympic sport which is gender neutral

Wondered ( well every four years ) why this isn't also the case for some other sports ( eg shooting and archery for starters