As both a feminist and a long-time competitive softball player, A League of Their Own is easily one of my favourite movies.
For those of you who are unfamiliar with the movie, it’s set during World War II, when the majority of professional baseball players have gone overseas for the war. Faced with a baseball drought of unknown duration, the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League (AAGPBL) is established.
The hypercharged patriarchy of the era is manifested in a variety of scenes, as the majority of the male characters demean, disrespect, or belittle the players in some way. It begins before the league has even selected teams. Ernie Capadino, the league’s scout, attempts to turn away one of the best hitters he’s seen, solely because she isn’t “pretty” enough. The women are forced to play in short skirts, which provide essentially no protection when sliding or diving. I can personally testify that the raspberries nursed by the players are in no way exaggerated. At one of the first games of the season, a spectator shouts taunts throughout the teams’ warm up, spewing nonsense such as: “Girls can’t play ball!” and “Look out! I might break a nail!” The shortstop answers him by hitting him with her throw during warm up, calmly tipping her hat to the rest of the spectators.
And, wonderfully, the women recognize the patriarchy rampant in their organization, how hard they will have to work to be taken seriously, and how desperately they all want to prove themselves as equals to men. They consistently lend a hand to women they’ve never met, despite the inherent competitive nature of professional baseball and their own personal agendas. Dottie and Kit refuse to leave with Ernie until Marla, whom he deems too ugly, is permitted to join them at tryouts, even though her presence could hurt their own chances at securing spots on the teams’ rosters. While the (male) team coaches lose their patience, a girl at tryouts helps the illiterate Shirley Baker find her name on the Rockford Peach’s roster. May is later shown helping Shirley learn to read (her teaching device is an erotic novel). When the Rockford Peach’s coach, Jimmy Dugan, refuses to take interest in his team, Dottie rallies the team and creates a fair and strategically sound starting lineup.
The girls also recognize that they will have to sell the league on more than pure skill. Dottie notices a pair of unenthusiastic photographers, and makes a catch in the splits to grab their attention. The girls start a “Catch a foul, get a kiss” campaign. May earns the nickname “All the Way May” for her tendencies to squeeze out extra bases on her hits, as well as in her extracurricular activities. They combined their brains, brawn, and femininity to bolster the league, creating enough of a buzz to justify its survival.
That’s not to say that all the men in the movie are misogynistic pigs, nor that the interpersonal relations between the players are nothing but sunshine and rainbows.
Ira Lowenstein is one of the chief advocates for the success of the league, his belief in the players, and female empowerment in general. He is heard defending the girls’ skills on multiple occasions, and he likens the cancellation of another season to the predicament faced by other women who took up new vocations: (“This is what it’s going to be like in the factories, too, I suppose, isn’t it? “The men are back, Rosie, turn in your rivets.” We told them it was their patriotic duty to get out of the kitchen and go to work; and now, when the men come back, we’ll send them back to the kitchen.”).
As can be expected in demanding and competitive environments, there is inevitably conflict. Sister versus sister, opinionated versus opinionated, shy versus outgoing–the conflict is there. But what’s great about these clashes is what happens in spite of them: a team in the truest sense is formed. The women came together from all walks of life, and many of them would probably not be friends outside of baseball, but when they sit in the dugout and play the game together, their chemistry reveals itself.
It’s all kinds of fantastic to see a sports movie that features women, especially one that ridicules the ridicule of female athletes. At times hilarious, heartbreaking, and poignant, A League of Their Own succeeds as a sports movie, comedy, and social commentary. If these reasons aren’t enough to make you watch it, the cast is: Madonna, Tom Hanks, and Rosie O’Donnell play major roles, and former players from the real life AAGPBL are featured. Happy watching!