JC / Railbird


It’s He Said, He Said round two with Paulick and DeRosa, and although I think Ed’s in the right and that in general, conversations about racing, marketing, and women are good to have, I also think that it’s a luxury to be in a position where all we’re talking about is a creepy-sexist Churchill Downs banner ad.

In the Saratogian on Saturday, Michael Veitch took NYRA to task for backing off earlier statements promising racino monies for backstretch housing:

Despite numerous statements by NYRA in recent years on the importance of improving living conditions at Saratoga as a first need, it now appears purse money and other improvements are more important….

With money finally available to help improve their living conditions, the association is going to back off previous assurances? You must be kidding.

I haven’t been in a Saratoga dorm since 2005, but it seems safe to assume conditions aren’t much changed. The buildings are probably still rundown and ill-maintained, and the women’s dorms probably aren’t much more comfortable or secure. In 2005, 15% of the available rooms on the Saratoga backstretch were allocated to female workers, even though female workers made up almost a third of backstretch labor. That meant overcrowding; every room in the women’s Clare Court dorm had 2-4 residents. I shared a 9×11 space with two others for six weeks. The room fit our beds and not much else.

That there wasn’t enough space wasn’t the only issue. The Clare Court dorm was also unsecured, and while residents could lock their individual rooms, they couldn’t lock the bathrooms or shower room. There were no locks on those doors, which opened, and were often left open, to hallways accessible to anyone who wandered in through the open front and back doors. And men did wander in. It wasn’t unusual to find one lurking just outside the bathroom or trying to peep into the shower room. This was — for some women — actually an improvement. Another stablehand told me that the situation was better at Saratoga than at Belmont, where men cut peepholes.

At least in the ad the guy with binoculars is looking at clothed women.

There is a problem with sexism in racing, and it’s not only in advertising, or the patronizing male attitudes Penny Chenery is depicted as overcoming in “Secretariat.” Female stablehands live and work with — as an anonymous hotwalker recently wrote — unwanted, and sometimes physical, attentions. They live with assaults on their privacy and dignity, and occasionally, on their persons. There’s a lot of “friendly banter” in the barns that isn’t so friendly — it’d be called sexual harassment almost anywhere else — and for women living in precarious backstretch housing, the talk is tinged with threat. As for why more women don’t speak up — the reasons range from a determination to be seen as tough and not a complainer, to not knowing where to go or who to talk to about what’s happening. And it’s complicated, as I commented elsewhere, by the fact that a significant number of female backstretch workers face challenges created by class and language, as well as gender.

I’d like to be more upset about Churchill’s banner, but I keep thinking about the anonymous hotwalker, and about women like her, the backstretch workers who will move into the shabby Clare Court dorm at Saratoga next summer and who will have to wonder who’s standing in the hallway while they shower.

1 Comment

years ago some race track did not have women restrooms or showers on the backside. the men treat women like they were second class citizens. acted like they didn’t know anything about horses, training, riding or walking.something are better but they still the men think that they are kings. behind ever great man is a women telling him what to do.

Posted by women of today on October 26, 2010 @ 12:42 pm