Today is the 37th anniversary of Title IX being signed into law by Richard Nixon. As anniversaries go, No. 37 isn’t necessarily very notable, but still worth mentioning.
In “honor” of that important date – June 23, 1972 _ I was trying to think of something a little different to write in this blog entry. And from some vault in my brain came this: Give John Davidson his comeuppance.
OK, not exactly him. His character from a 1970s TV show. I’ll explain.
The actor/singer played a character named John (not much of a stretch) in a short-lived series in 1973-74 called, “The Girl With Something Extra.” It was a “Bewitched” rip-off: guy doesn’t much care for his wife’s “special powers.” In this instance, her power was ESP.
The “girl” of the series title was none other than Sally Field, who’d previously been “Gidget” and “The Flying Nun” on television. This ESP malarkey was one of the last goofy things she’d have to do on TV before her breakthrough performance as “Sybil” in 1976. That earned her an Emmy and changed the perception of her from TV lightweight to serious actress and, soon, box-office success.
Anyway, I never watched this “Girl With Something Extra” show when it was on – not a lot of people did, as it was cancelled after one season – but several years later, I was channel surfing and came across a re-run. And, wow, did it TICK ME OFF.
Read the synopsis and, um, see if you can guess why:
Sally’s tomboy niece is having trouble relating to old-fashioned John. She likes football, but he prefers girls who wear dresses.
The name of the episode was, “Sugar and Spice and Quarterback Sneak” and it originally aired on Nov. 30, 1973. Had I seen it then, when I was an 8-year-old football fanatic, my head might have exploded in rage. As it was, coming across it accidentally when I was 22, I felt like punching a wall. (Since John Davidson wasn’t around … although it’s really more the script writer who’s to blame).
Here’s what I remember: You have this girl, Jody, and, oh dear, isn’t she a problem? She’s just not acting like girls are supposed to act. She doing all this athletic stuff like tossing around a football.
John tells Sally that he doesn’t consider Jody’s sporty behavior “appropriate for young ladies.” (And remember, this episode originally aired two months after the famous tennis “Battle of the Sexes,” won by Billie Jean King.)
Anyway, I was watching this rerun, immediately felt very irritated, but wondered where they were going with it. Sigh. Here’s where they went: Of course, Jody starts to wonder if maybe John is right … if she ever wants to get a guy like him someday, she’d better knock it off with the football and start dolling herself up.
Then there was this vomitous scene where Jody has somehow ended up in a fashion show, twirling across a stage while wearing some kind of adolescent evening gown, while John watches from the audience with a satisfied smile.
The subtle-as-a-jackhammer subtext: If you don’t nip this sports stuff in the bud … well, you know what a “tomboy” can turn into. Rhymes with “thesbian.” Which, it goes without saying, is bad news. Fortunately, Jody was “saved” by John. (However, I don’t have the foggiest recollection of what Sally’s ESP had to do with any of this.)
I admit I didn’t see the episode through to the very end _ I was too furious to watch any more of it _ so I have to acknowledge at least the possibility of some slight redemption. Perhaps in the closing scene, Jody decided she could still sometimes throw a football if she did enough gown-wearing and pirouetting to counterbalance it. I doubt it, and besides the sexist, homophobic damage was done. The message was clear: Sports really were not for girls.
Sure, you could say this was a long time ago, these were fictional characters, and how many people even saw this stupid show anyway? So why should it bug me?
Here’s why: Because I think about how many “messages” like this that people have been exposed to, and how the cumulative effect of that has been a poisonous drumbeat against girls/women in athletics. And how there are those, to this day, who still bang on that drum.
So in honor of Title IX’s birthday, let’s re-plot, “Sugar and Spice and Quarterback Sneak.”
John tells Sally that her niece Jody’s football playing is inappropriate. Jody, overhearing this, tosses a spiral at John, breaking his nose like Marcia Brady’s. While Sally goes to get an ice pack, Jody tells John, “Look who’s talking about appropriate behavior, jackass. You can’t even catch!” Jody takes her football and goes home; she’ll later be a three-sport star in high school and, thanks to Title IX, she’ll earn a college scholarship. While listening to John whine about his nose, Sally uses her ESP to discern there really is next-to-nothing going on in that perfectly-coifed skull, and walks out to file for divorce. Burt Reynolds is actually waiting for her at the curb in his Trans Am.