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Jul 02 2013

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That crash you heard was the breaking of stereotypes in the outback

Big truck .... little dogStereotypes die hard. The CWA and scones; a tough, man’s world; Queensland, an hour (during daylight savings) and 20 years behind. I’m sure you’ve heard them all too.

But the reality is very different, at least at a rodeo.

Just because you need a road train to transport yourselves and your horses to a rodeo doesn’t mean you can’t take a little sausage dog along with you!

As a sociologist I’m always fascinated by people, and I’ve been watching the people at the rodeo. The first thing I noticed was how much the women and girls all get dressed up. We’re out bushcamping, but they still wear nice shirts and jeans and jewellery. And every day they do their makeup and some even blow dry their hair with the powerpoints in the shower block.

Make-up, pearls and blingMy friends don’t believe me when I say it (my family know better), but I’m a bit of a slob at heart. I love jewellery, high heels and sparkly things, but am really happy out bush camping where I can wear the same clothes day after day, and don’t even have to even comb my hair. Last week, after we’d been out bush, I looked at myself in the mirror for the first time in 3 days – I looked like the Simpson’s crazy cat lady! My hair hadn’t had a sniff of a comb, let alone shampoo. Add in the wind and the dust and it was sticking out from my head at some very strange angles!

But out here the rodeo isn’t just a rodeo, and it’s not just a bush camp. It’s a big social event. People come from everywhere, as far away as Western Australia and NSW. Some to compete, but lots just to have fun and catch up with people they probably don’t see very often. And to flirt with those that they do.

Hence the hair, makeup and bling.

All dressed up in fringes and sparkles - and that's just the boysAnd it’s not just the girls. The first night here the socialising centred around the bar and dance floor. As we made our way through the crowd I noticed the number of young men who were obviously freshly showered and shaved, with crisp clean shirts and jeans, freshly combed hair (well, those that weren’t still wearing their hats anyway), and a strong scent of aftershave. More so than perfume. And they were looking around for particular girls while still trying to look cool and uninterested.

Despite the differences between country kids and city kids one thing remains the same with teenagers – their insecurities with the opposite sex (or same sex, depending). I overhead one girl tearfully saying to her friends “It’s not fair. I hate him. They’re all the same. They don’t like nice girls, they’re only interested in skanks.” Having two daughters it’s a lament I’ve heard many times – and the equivalent from boys is “why do girls always go for the bastards?”

As part of the rodeo a group of young people have entered an “Ironman/woman of Martins Waterhole” competition. They had to show how they could light a fire and dig a hole, and at the first night celebrations they had to show how they would attract the partner of their dreams.

There was poetry, song and dance. One bloke thought all it took to attract the right woman was a kitchen sink and a saddle, while one woman had a checklist for the perfect man. One young man did the Beyonce routine and wanted his girl to “put a ring on it”. Surprisingly to me – and to the organisers apparently – two of the young men and one woman were trying to attract members of the same sex.

In the swimThe next day they were out there competing against each other in a swim and run. So it’s been interesting to see the challenging of gender stereotypes – and the stereotypes of redneck cowboys.

I’ve been called “mate” more times this trip than I have in the other (ahem) 37 years of my life. Nobody has called me ‘love’ or thought I was not capable of doing something. The only times I’ve felt patronized for being female is, first, when I pulled up at a pub and flipped the bonnet of the car. Blokes came from everywhere, mostly fellow travellers from cities. None of them had a clue what was wrong either but they tried to sound like they did. And second, when I got bogged on the Finke track and the blokes I was travelling with had to pull me out – they not only did the pulling but decided one of them should also drive my car “just in case” (of what, I don’t know) – they weren’t from the outback either. But, hey, if people want to do things for me while I just sit and watch, who am I to argue???

And the challenging of gender stereotyping continued in the competitions, but more of that in the next blog.

 

 

 

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