• There's a proven upswing of domestic and family violence on Melbourne Cup day. (Getty Images)
Behind the well-documented spike in domestic and family violence on Melbourne Cup day are the Australian men who escape themselves at the "race that stops the nation".
By
Samuel Leighton-Dore

5 Nov 2019 - 2:34 PM  UPDATED 5 Nov 2019 - 3:57 PM

OPINION

Trying to unpack everything that's wrong with the Melbourne Cup is a little like examining which beer in a slab lead to a particular drunken assault: the phenomenon and potential consequences are simply greater than the sum of its parts.

There's the well-documented instances of animal abuse, with a two-year investigation released last month revealing the treatment of discarded racehorses and the number of of horse deaths over recent years.

Then there's, you know, the whole gambling thing, with last year's Weighing up the Odds study suggesting that sports betting is becoming increasingly normalised among young men, with 23 per cent of young male gamblers admitting that they were under 18 when they first placed a bet on sports. This in itself is a problem for a whole bunch of reasons, not least because young men are being exposed to increasingly accessible ways of gambling through apps and new technologies.

Then there's the inevitable and somewhat confusing clash of ethics among Australia's leading media personalities, with some of those who preach mental health and plant-based lifestyles still showing up for the glitz and glam;despite proven animal cruelty and the negative impacts of gambling on mental health.

Sporting events can be a melting pot for toxic masculinity

There's also one underlying problem with the Melbourne cup; the currency with which that first slab of beer was bought - assertions of masculinity and the way in which Australian men continue to view women.

It shouldn't come as a surprise that there's a spike of domestic and family violence following "the race that stops the nation", with a higher number of reported incidents on Melbourne Cup Day.

Obviously these figures cannot be blamed solely on the Melbourne Cup event. It's a horrifying pattern that repeats during other major sporting events, including the three annual State of Origin games - which, on average, see a staggering 40 per cent increase in domestic assault and 71 per cent increase in non-domestic assaults.

"Where sport is interlaced with issues of alcohol and gambling as part of the experience, then that can potentially have consequences at home," Anabelle Daniels, CEO of Women's Community Shelters, told ABC last year.

Daniels said that the repercussions of engaging in sporting events like State of Origin or the Melbourne Cup reach beyond violence and assault, too. 

"If someone's been paid, they've taken the family's spending money and blown it all on gambling on a big event and lost, that can have a pretty significant impact for the family," she explained.

The sense of bravado and oft-violent oneupmanship that comes with a congregation of men drinking and gambling at the Melbourne Cup is something that I've experienced on different levels - and in different settings - since I was a child.

After all, toxic masculinity and male-instigated violence are inherently linked - and nearly impossible to escape.

The sense of bravado and oft-violent one-upmanship that comes with a congregation of men drinking and gambling at the Melbourne Cup is something that I've experienced on different levels - and in different settings - since I was a child.

The male students who bullied me during my early school years were always more violent when in groups - egged on, I suspect, by an unaddressed fear of seeming inadequate; the need to assert their physical strength and status on the schoolyard. When removed from a school setting, it only got worse. For instance, I ended up in hospital with concussion during my Schoolies trip to Byron Bay in 2010, despite my deeply ingrained aversion to conflict and violence.

I had, it seemed, just looked at a young man the wrong way - copping a blow to the head as punishment.

As today's Melbourne Cup celebrations move into the late afternoon and early hours of the morning, as the intoxicated crowds check their deflated bank account balances and Uber themselves home, too many Australian women will find themselves in the same boat.

Behind this documented spike in violence are the Australian men who escape themselves at the Melbourne Cup; who seek reprieve from their long-ignored inferiority complexes and neglected mental health struggles in order to connect with other men in one of the only ways they know how: over a beer, watching a sports event.

I've written in the past about the potential of Australian sport to be a platform for vulnerability, connection and healthy masculinity, so I feel the need to press that sporting culture itself shouldn't shoulder all of the blame here.

However, in the case of the Melbourne Cup, perhaps there are just too many beers in the slab.

Samuel Leighton-Dore is a writer and visual artist, and winner of the 2019 ACON Honours award for visual art.He is the author of  graphic novel 'How to be a big strong man' exploring the impact of rigid masculine stereotypes on young boys and men. You can find more of his #Howtobeabigstrongman series here.

You can watch Melbourne Cup, Alcohol, and Domestic Violence now on SBS On Demand

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