Illustration by Popularium
It takes a big set of balls for a woman to hang in the patriarchal sport of thoroughbred horseracing.
I knew the odds were stacked against me as soon as I got the job. From the moment I arrived at the racetrack without a connected relative or wealthy benefactor to protect me, I was a sexual target.
But I took pride in breaking into a boys’ club. I longed to overturn the power balance and give women a foothold in the horseracing industry. But I couldn’t do it alone. Luckily, my inspirational girls Salt-N-Pepa knew what was going on. So I made it a part of my daily routine to blast “Ain’t Nuthin’ But A She Thang” on the way to work.
“It’s a she thing, and it’s all in me
I could be anything that I want to be
Don’t consider me a minority
Open up your eyes and maybe you’ll see
It’s a she thing, and it’s all in me.”
My third winter meet at Gulfstream Park in Florida was a few days shy of ending when I was summoned to my boss’ office.
The Racing Secretary was a loud goofball named Ted. We had worked side-by-side and schmoozed together at numerous industry events. I counted him amongst my very favorite horsemen.
“Anne, I’m getting pressure and complaints. You are making my life more difficult,” he said, when I entered his office.
“My boys want to know why you aren’t putting out,” Ted said.
My boss said that.
Wait a minute… was my boss actually complaining that he couldn’t pimp me out?
“Why would I be fucking these guys when they are all married and trying to mount every other piece of ass on the track? And when would I find time to work, let alone be taken seriously, if I said ‘yes’ to every proposition?”
“Well, I’m just saying they think you are a tease and it would be easier for me if you kept them happy.”
What the fuck?
Shaken and upset, I left his office. Could I ever work hard enough to avoid being judged as a failed party favor? Apparently the boys felt ripped off that the “Thank You for all your help” drinks they had bought me at the Clubhouse bar had not purchased my pussy. Or even a BJ in an empty stall.
I walked back to my office, feeling small and powerless. I turned on Salt-N-Pepa, hoping to find some guidance from my two philosopher-queens:
“The thing that makes me mad and crazy, upset
Got to break my neck just to get my respect
Go to work and get paid less than a man
When I’m doin’ the same damn thing that he can
When I’m aggressive, then I’m a bitch
When I got attitude, you call me a witch
Treat me like a sex-object (That ain’t smooth)
Underestimate the mind, oh yeah, you’re a fool.”
I couldn’t ignore what had just happened. I had to escalate things. So I took a deep breath and headed for the principal’s office. In this case, it was the inner sanctum of the track president, an accomplished man whom I admired and enjoyed. His office normally was a bastion of civility, humor, and problem solving.
“Anne, I am getting complaints.”
Again? You have gotta be kidding me!
“What are you talking about?” I said.
“Some of the owners feel that you are dressing too provocatively.”
My stomach turned.
“Would these be the same owners who requested that I be their slice-on-the-side and are mad that I declined?”
“Ah… well… um… maybe.”
“Or maybe this comes from their wives who saw their hubbies eyeing me?”
“That’s a possibility.”
“And what about the clothing allowance that Gulfstream isn’t providing me? Or the minuscule paycheck with which I am supposed to purchase Turf Club attire that can compete with the owners’ fashion expectations?”
“Hmmm. Well, I suppose we could look into a clothing allowance.”
I wanted to vomit. I had done an exceptional job for three years for this man, his track, and his horsemen. I just stared at him for a moment. Was he really sacrificing what had been a fantastic working relationship in order to placate a few pissed off little pricks and their paranoid wives?
“Don’t bother with the clothing allowance,” I said. “I won’t be needing it. I won’t be coming back.”
Now it was the Prez’s turn to be surprised. This was not the response he was expecting. But then as a closet sexist, I suppose he didn’t understand what “A She Thing” was all about:
“Don’t be fooled by my S-E-X
It ain’t that simple, I’m more complex
We’ve come a long way, and, baby, that’s a fact
Let’s keep moving forward, girls, never look back
Fight for your rights, stand up and be heard
You’re just as good as any man, believe that, word.”
It took more than man-sized balls to quit what many in the industry considered a dream job.
I tucked mine into my too-sexy G-string, sashayed like a tease past the leering members of the Turf Club, and waved a giant middle finger at the whole mess. Nobody tells Anne Palmer what to do with her sexuality.