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Why Michelle Payne's Melbourne Cup win is all about gender.

No sooner had the horse Prince of Penzance crossed the finish line, before a defensive chorus started shouting ‘THIS ISN’T ABOUT GENDER – DON’T MAKE IT ABOUT GENDER’.

We … hadn’t said anything yet. We were checking if we had won any money. Then we realised that the winning jockey was Michelle Payne who, you guessed it, had, and presumably continues to have, a vagina.

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In more ways than one she was the dark horse. The odds were 100-1. If history was anything to go by, the likelihood of a woman winning this year was 155-0.

Payne was only the fifth woman ever to compete in the Melbourne Cup. During a race in March 2004, Payne’s career almost ended when she fell off her horse, fracturing her skull and severely bruising her brain. Thankfully, she made a full recovery.

Michelle Payne is the first woman in history to win the Melbourne Cup.

Upon accepting her Melbourne Cup win, Payne reflected: “To think that Darren Weir has given me a go and it’s such a chauvinistic sport…I can’t say how grateful I am to them. I just wanted to say that everyone else can get stuffed, because they think women aren’t strong enough but we just beat the world.”

To the critics who argue that this is a ‘jockey’ not a ‘jockette’ (yes I’ve seen that written), and that the best person won regardless of gender, we wish that that was the world we lived in. We wish that gender was irrelevant, and that the chromosomal makeup of the winner didn’t matter. That is the world we aspire to.

But if I tossed a coin 100 times, and every time it landed on tails, I would become suspicious that I was playing with a weighted coin. The Melbourne Cup, up until less than 24 hours ago, was being played with a weighted coin.

Payne isn’t the first woman who has been good enough to win the Cup, she is the first woman who had the opportunity.

Gender makes an enormous difference to how, and if, one can access a particular space.

Michelle and Prince of Penzance’s trainer Darren Weir.

Horse racing is unequivocally a male dominated sport. For over a century women were present at the Melbourne Cup, but they were wearing stupid contraptions on their head, sipping champagne, and clapping with their fingertips.

That was the role women played. For a century we have been spectators.

When I was at school, let alone when my mother was at school, we could not have imagined that one day the winning jockey would be a woman.

If you had asked me yesterday if a woman was competing, honestly, in my own oblivion, I would have said “probably not”. To the preceding generations, what happened yesterday was inconceivable.

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As long as there is inequality, which I strongly believe there is, I’m going to be excited when I see it overcome.

Michelle Payne did not begin on an even playing field. Just as Obama’s presidency was partly about race, and Cochita Wurst’s Eurovision win was partly about trans, and Ellen Degeneres’ marriage was partly (completely) about marriage equality, the 2015 Melbourne Cup win is partly a story about gender.

Michelle's win is step forward for women's place in horse racing. Image via Twitter.

So, to the people who think yesterday wasn’t about gender, you can “get stuffed”.

We’re going to celebrate unashamedly the first woman ever to win the Melbourne Cup, because this wasn’t just an achievement, it was an outstanding achievement.

Australia experienced a momentous developmental milestone when a female, incidentally wearing the same colours as the Suffragettes, won Australia’s greatest race.

In 1913, Emily Davison stepped in front of King George V’s horse at the Epsom Derby in order to draw attention to the feminist cause. It is unfathomable to me, that when a woman crosses the finish line first in Australia’s most prestigious horse race over 100 years later, anyone would dare argue that this is unrelated to gender.

The culture of horse racing made this about gender. Michelle Payne made this about gender. And we are making this about gender.

Tags: amazing-women , current-affairs , social-issues
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