Women’s Day?

This is a first post from amateur jockey and professional academic Emma Lyons – another remarkable woman we’ve added to the stable of cliché-crunching, stereotype-stomping bloggers in the Princess Pit!

Here she gets the bit between her teeth about the sport of racing, and how women still have many hurdles to face, when it comes to being recognised for the contributions.


International Women’s Day?

Not at Cheltenham it wasn’t.


I’ve been planning on putting pen to paper regarding perspectives on women in sport for too long. While I tend to make an effort when training, unfortunately I do procrastinate when sitting down to put my thoughts on paper.


However, the recent controversy regarding the women’s senior soccer team with the FAI spurred me into doing what I’ve been thinking about for quite some time: blogging about how women in my sport, that of horse racing, are celebrated. (or not!)


I’m an avid horse racing enthusiast and I was lucky enough to achieve one of my life’s goals: getting my amateur jockey’s licence and to ride in Punchestown (as well as many point-to-points). For me, there was absolutely nothing like it: the speed, the thrill and the energy!


So, given my love of the sport, and the ever-increasing involvement, success and recognition of women such as Rachel Blackmore (first female professional jockey in many years) jockeys Nina Carberry and Katie Walsh; trainers Jessica Harrington and Sandra Hughes and Aintree Grand National winning trainer, Lucinda Russell, I was curious to see what racing themed posts would be published online and on Twitter about International Women’s Day.


What did I find?



No reference to Irish Women’s Day, no reference to our sporting heroines, and no reference to the entries in Cheltenham with strong “female” connections – either those trained by, or to be ridden by a female. None of the prominent and widely followed sites, TV channels, reporters or race courses made any mention of International Women’s Day.


Well, not quite nothing.

There was this, from one of the race course Twitter accounts.

A picture of a glammed up “lady” advertising an upcoming race day.

Not quite what I was hoping for.





Another race course did make reference to a female of a different type – the horse equivalent – Benie Des Dieux who won a mares race last year. And that was it! No other references to International Women’s Day or women in the sport.


International Women’s Day occurred in the week before the Cheltenham Festival which is the pinnacle of the jump racing season. During the build up, all sport media channels devote a lot of air time, column inches and social media bytes covering the entries, the favourites and the fancies.


For the 2017 festival, there was a strong contingent of female trainers and jockeys. However, apart from the jaded references to Ladies Day (which include tips and suggestions such as what designer dress and tan to wear while going to the races), there was no celebration or promotion on International Women’s Day of the hopeful female jockeys, trainers and owners.


Lizzie Kelly was the first female entrant in the Gold Cup since 1984 (The Gold Cup is the biggest steeplechase event in the world).


Jessica Harrington became the 3rd women to train a winner of the Gold Cup, She also had two more winners over the festival, and as of 26th April, Jessica is the Irish Grand National, Cheltenham and Punchestown Gold Cups winning trainer for 2017.


Briony Fox won the Foxhunter Hunter Chase, the amateur equivalent of the Gold Cup which makes her the third successive female winner in three years (Another amazing female jockey, Nina Carberry won the 2016 and 2015 races).


Briony Frost after winning the Foxhunter hunter chase

Briony Frost after winning the Foxhunter hunter chase


Horse Racing is a sport that receives great public attention, and provides employment and enjoyment for the public, owners, trainers, jockeys, stable-staff and breeders (both male and female). The increased role of women in racing was really noticeable in the 2017 festival.


Given that horse racing is one of the few sports where men and women compete equally, it would have been nice to see, in the floods of of media coverage and commentary during Cheltenham, some reference to International Women’s Day. It would have been a lovely way to recognise the significant contribution women have made in the drama, interest and and success of the sport I love.


There’s a rather terrific song about pubic hair from former Dresden Doll’s singer (and infamous TED talker) Amanda Palmer, called Map of Tasmania. In case you aren’t familiar with the Antipodean landmass, it looks like this.

And if you squint, it does rather look like an unruly patch of lady garden. Although if you look at the map with the towns added, the black dots look like the garden has fleas, so let’s not do that.  And then there’s ‘How to be a woman’ by Caitlin Moran, which I’ve blogged about before, here. The book, for which alternative titles could include ‘Germaine Greer for Beginners’, or perhaps ‘Feminism 101’, also dwells quite a bit on the topic of ladies and their hair removal habits. And, it got me to thinking, waxing lyrical you might say, on the topic. If, unlike me, you have not worried, wondered, ruminated or fulminated on the topic of hair removal, then this is clearly not the rambling feminist hair removal blog post you were looking for.  Perhaps you should go read something else.

OK, You’re still here. Hmm.

You’re either very sensible, very European, some sort of hippy or a just a sick bastard. Or maybe all four. Well hello there! Righty-ho.

I’ve basically been shaving my legs and armpits since before I had hair. I’ve waxed, epillated, lasered, hair creamed and bleached the hair from my body on a weekly or monthly basis for over twenty years. So much time! So much work! And the question I had never asked myself was, WHY?

Well, hair is just not sexy is it? As a cirque performer many years ago, working with trapeze, contortion and professionally trained dancers, almost every night backstage was spent talking about it. Many of us were simply perpetually bald from the neck down. Bald as coots. Personally, I like smooth skin, but I think a totally bare muff looks rather gross, like a plucked chicken. Not to mention how appalling it is to think that we’re putting all this work in to look like a pre-pubescent 8 year old. But for dancers, hair can be untidy – it can ruin the line of a costume. Sneaky little straggler hairs emerging like spiders from the sides of bodices and leotards don’t seem to work. Imagine the delicacy of Swan Lake with a Prima Ballerina smuggling pomeranian puffs in her armpits – bit distracting. no?

Plucked chicken

So I’d never really questioned the (now ingrained) habit of deforestation. OK, the full on napalm approach of my twenties has softened to more of a regular jungle cull, with a little winter respite of sorts, but still, what was the point? And so I decided on a social experiment, I would let everything grow out. And see what happened!


So, first off, my darling husband was most enthusiastic. (Though I suspect he may have been exposed to some interesting seventies imagery in his youth. Strike one for the muff I suppose). I googled ‘unruly seventies bush’ for the purpose of illustration, but I have children, and so safesearch is locked into every device I own. And so the image that came back was this fabulous shot of Kate Bush, which I love so much I had to add.

Kate Bush

The next ‘feedback group’ was my crew, a diverse bunch of women (all gorgeous, not a lot of stray hairs either). In rowing, we spend a lot of time carrying boats on and off the water. We do this with the boat above our heads, arms locked out. You go a week without shaving, and these chicas are going to get an eyeful. And so I announced my plans. A few of them laughed, a few rolled their eyes, and some of them shared stories of such and such a friend, or this time when, and then life carried on. I gave weekly updates but no one really batted an eyelid.

The strongest adverse reaction I noted was from young men, either at the pool or while I was lifting boats at regattas. If you don’t get to see naked ladies all that often, and if most of your experience is by virtue of the darker side of the web, then you’re probably not going to be familiar with body hair. It’s kind of bonkers to think that body hair has become so abhorred. Pretty shit when you think body hair is so natural and actually quite useful. Body hair can actually reduce bacteria. And, a good bush is a handy shock absorber for when you are having the ride according to this doctor 🙂


Several things struck me. First was the range of reactions to the most visible of my experiements, the underarm hair. From comrades-in-hairy-armpits, to total rejectionists. And I felt both extremes internally. Firstly – I was shocked by how NICE underarm hair actually is. I was expecting two brillo pads to emerge from under my arms. Nope, just some wispy, almost blond (and very soft) armpit hair that was barely even noticeable. Even so, I couldn’t bring myself to wear no sleeves in the office, or if I forgot, I felt the need to glue my arms to my sides. On the other hand, I was utterly grossed out by my own leg hair. Jeez, God, NO.


I had planned to do a three month experiment. I lasted six weeks on the legs, and then, revolted by my own self, I took immense pleasure in waxing the lot. Well from the knee down. Did you know that in the States, most leg waxes are full thigh to ankle? I hear they’re waxing arms over there and all. Sure where would you be? Stubbly forearms? Shudder.


I recall, when pregnant with my first baba, I had morning sickness for about six months. I didn’t get out of bed for the last four. When eventually I surfaced, seven months pregnant and a stone lighter than the day I peed on a stick, I was the proud owner of the hairiest goddamn legs you ever saw. I recall displaying them with shock and awe to my friend Shauna. Her Corkonian husband came around the corner and caught sight of me, in all my hirsute glory, and he ACTUALLY GAGGED. Like, proper heaved! Even now, years later, living in Australia, I guarantee that memory is burned into his brain, the poor man.


So, feminism be damned, I personally can’t cope with hairy legs. But the armpits – those, those I can live with. And now I don’t really bother so much with them unless I’m going somewhere fancy 🙂  Funnily enough, my own mum was totally grossed out by the whole thing. And she’s a smart, kick ass woman that knows her own mind. Her verdict? “Disgusting!” But then, as a hairdresser she’s hardwired to remove hair, so I guess she can’t help it!


As for my own map of Tasmania, I’m happy to keep it short, but Tasmania shaped.  There was this one time, I was chatting so much to the waxy lady that she had the whole thing off before I could say ‘leave the landing strip please!’. I was bloody baltic, proper freezing for weeks! Not pleasant at all.


Here’s my penultimate word on the subject. Imagine if everyone in the world decided that shaving eyebrows off was the done thing. It would look pretty damn weird to be the only one to grow yours out. Oh my god, you’ve got two great bit caterpillars right in the middle of your forehead! Gross!! But really, the more people that do a thing, the less wonky it looks. So the more ladies who decide to groom their pit-tribbles, or make the conscious decision to NOT look like a child in the sexy-time place, the more chance we have of increasing our lady bush diversity.


So, if you’re still reading this rant, fair dues. You’ve stuck it out, you may as well cop an eyeful of the PITS OF DOOM. The first is at 8 weeks. Barely there! The second is at three months. Not quite the drama I was expecting. Kind of an anticlimax really.

8 weeks







Pretty inoffensive. Though I’d bet my mum is having to breathe through her nose right now, looking at these selfies. LOL.
Now, feast your eyes on this brilliant tune ‘Map of Tasmania’ from Amanda Fucking Palmer (sorry mum, that’s her name, I’m not swearing) on the same topic. She’s awesome, you should watch her incredible TED talk on crowd funding, buy her book or support her over on ground-breakding artists fund site, Patron.

 “They don’t play this song on the radio”. No they don’t, but they bloody well should. 🙂



Still here? I’ll leave you with some of the wierdest quotes I could find about Bush.

“I’m waxed clean – hairless as the day as I was born. But don’t say ‘Tia has no pubic hair.’ That’s so clinical. Use a nice euphemism. Say ‘She’s mowed her secret garden’ or ‘She’s cleared the way to the Promised Land.’ Because that’s what it is, right? ” Tia Carrere

“It is there for a reason and to laser it off is to lose it forever!” Cameron Diaz

“anything that’s normal that involves pain and costs a lot of money that boys aren’t doing is something that I would really urgently want to have some kind of massive fucking inquest into” Caitlin Moran


“I can’t relax here. These people have no pubic hair anywhere. We have pubic hair on the ceiling.” Dylan Moran

“I think quotes are very dangerous things” Kate Bush. 

Over and out,

#BitchMittens Emily


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