I’ve heard of women running races, women wearing bikinis, and women racing horses. But I’d never heard of racing women in bikinis as horses until the recent announcement by the horse club the Gold Coast Turf Club in Queensland that they’d hold a “women’s horse race” this December, with over 150 women competing for a prize of $5000. The Gold Coast Turf Club got the idea from the Hollywood Park racecourse, which has been putting on similar events for years.
Believe it or not, in a poll conducted by a local tourism website, just 27% percent of voter said they find his kind of event degrading for women, while the other 73% were perfectly alright with it. Even the members of Women in Racing, a Gold-Coast group that promotes racing, said they can think of better ways of marketing races, but they’ll back anything that has something to do with racing.
IIf women want to race in bikinis, great, but they shouldn’t have to remove most of their clothing and put themselves in a position where they’re likened to animals in order to gain recognition. The club admits the bikini race has nothing really to do with recognizing athleticism, with chief executive Grant Sheather saying: “”When people say ‘Gold Coast’ you think of beach, you think of girls and you think of bikinis; it’s a marketing ploy to build racing.”
It’s a particularly egregious example of the more general trend towards sexualizing women athletes in a way that most male athletes aren’t. “All I’m asking for is equal treatment,” Mary Jo Kane, Director of the Tucker Center for Research on Girl & Women in Sport, told the Newhouse News Service. “When Tiger Woods is on the cover of Sports Illustrated naked, holding a golf ball with the Nike swoosh in front of his genitals, I’ll be quiet.”
There are lots, lots more examples of how the media sexualizes female athletes in this YouTube video, starting at 2:26:
The Women’s Sports Foundation says that “the so-called ‘image problem’ [for female athletes] is really a code term for ‘homophobia’” and protests that “the function of the media is not to sell ‘heterosexism’ or ‘sexist images’ for that matter…The function of the media is to cover sports and athletes rather than assume their sexual preference.”
The homophobia and sexism underlying the bikini horse races is compounded by using the women racers as replacement horses, dehumanizing them by comparing them to animals.
Women shouldn’t have to be treated like animals or sex objects in order to compete as athletes. Here’s to the day where as many spectators will show up to a race where women run on a track built for humans, wearing clothes designed for the occasion.