So yesterday was awesome. Rachel Alexandra—a name you’d expect maybe out of Gossip Girl—turned out to be a kick-ass racehorse, a filly, who led practically gate to finish (from the outside post, the toughest starting spot) in yesterday’s Preakness, becoming the first lady horse to win that Triple Crown race in 85 years. The press is going wild, mostly because fast girls don’t come around all that often, and when they do tragedy is too often not far behind (two of the greatest, Ruffian and Go for Wand died on the track after breaking down during big races, and last year, filly Eight Belles had to be put down right after she came in second in the Kentucky Derby).
So are fillies too fragile to compete with the guys in the big races? They are treated that way. An ESPN article late last week warned that the decision to run Rachel Alexandra in the Preakness Stakes was risky and that the world would “be holding its breath until, win or lose, she finishes standing and returns safely.”) But horses break down all the time, with horrific consequences, it’s just that the male ones don’t always make the headlines. Horseracing is a brutal sport, and, like boxing, people get really antsy when they see the ladies in the ring. Another thing about the sport and the mare’s role: bloodlines. When you get fast horses you get them together and make babies. There will certainly be the pressure for little Rachel Alexandras prancing around the paddock. But to get there she’ll need to make it out of her racing years alive and well. Luckily (for whom, I’m not sure) horses race competitively at such a young age that they can become broodmares at, say age 5, and still have decades of time to establish a lineage. Wherever you end up next, Rachel, you’re already a hero for ladykind, showing the ladies can be just as competitive—and fast—as the gents.
Which brings me to another competitive female. On 60 Minutes tonight Morley Safer interviewed Vogue‘s editor, the legendary Anna Wintour. He starts out by wondering if she’s indeed Darth Vader, Nuclear Wintour, or maybe, “just peaches and cream with a touch of arsenic.” He then asks her, twice, whether it was fair for people to call her a bitch. Sure, she’s the devil who wears Prada, she’s hardnosed, ruthless, and the fashion diva extraordinaire, but she’s also at the top of her industry. Would Safer dare ask Donald Trump or Richard Branson if they were bitchy because they of their no-smile, hard-nosed business attitudes?
The segment detailed her clothing allowance—$200K per year (which given her role as the empress of fashion, and the golf junkets allowed many a financial industry honcho doesn’t seem all that outrageous)—her hairdo, her choice to wear sunglasses pretty much 24/7, and her virtual monopoly on the fashion world (the most substantive and interesting part). Safer follows her around the office at Vogue, where she runs the ship tight and never smiles, and he asks her whether there was an eager editor looking to take over. He wonders whether, after 20 years in the business, she will she “go quietly”? She responds, “Yes, very quietly.” It was almost as if he was asking if she’d have to be taken out in a strait jacket kicking and screaming or subdued with chocolate and a bouquet allowance. Catty is as catty does and Safer came off bitchy in that exchange.
That was the thrust of the entire segment, and really is the bubble that surrounds Wintour, that she is obsessed with perfection to the point of cold, ruthless, relentless fashion tactics. But she runs a business. One where she needs to decide how to pull together 800 pages a month in what will be the fashion bible in a dying industry. Such perfection need not be bitchy, it’s just Rachel Alexandra catch-me-if-you-can.