Becky loves her horsies, and I do, too. But even though I don’t follow (or particularly like) horse-racing, I know that Rachel Alexandra, a 3-year old filly, will be running in today’s Preakness Stakes. She’s actually favored to win.
Big-time racing has always been the provenance of colts (meaning male horses; only 53 other fillies have ever run in 134 years of the Preakness; four of those have won it), so whenever a filly makes it into the “big leagues,” she always gets an inordinate amount of press, as Eight Belles did leading up to last year’s Kentucky Derby.
If you look at the racing pages or serious coverage of the race, you’ll read a lot about bloodlines and post positions. But if you look at mainstream media coverage (nightly news, USA Today, etc.), you’re going to need an anti-emetic for the headlines:
Rachel Alexandra Adds Girl Power to Preakness
Filly Adds Aura of Mystery and Intrigue to Preakness
She’s a girl, she’s a lady, she’s a mysterious beauty! She’s a sexy, sexy horse!
Other stories I’ve seen and heard touch on the resistance from some owners and trainers to Rachel Alexander’s presence: “I’m not in favor of fillies runnin’ with the boys…” and “As bad as I hate to think, there’s a lot of women out there who are very competitive and think anything a man can do, women can do too!”
Wait, are we still talking about horses?
We’re not, really. Yes, just as there are, generally speaking, biological and morphological differences between female and male humans, there are differences between female and male horses. But not all male horses (even thoroughbreds) are going to be stronger or faster than all female horses. The fact that 90% of the attention being paid to this race has to do with gender–WHICH, AS IT IS A HUMAN CONSTRUCT, HORSES DO NOT POSSESS–is a reminder that regardless of the venue, the Powers that Be see sex and gender as utterly linked, if not identical, and every arena as a place to decide The Battle of the Sexes.
I don’t have a stake (financial or otherwise) in who wins today’s race. Regardless of the outcome, I’ll be keeping an eye to the coverage to note how human (mostly male) obsession with human gender roles continues to frame the discussion about non-human achievement.
Update: Rachel Alexandra took the lead early and won the Preakness Stakes by a length. She is the first filly to win the Preakness in 85 years.