Women in Sports Week: Five Reasons Why ‘A League of Their Own’ is “Feminism: The Movie”

Dottie performs a catch while doing the splits.

Written by Myrna Waldron.

When one thinks of films featuring women in sports, A League of Their Own is probably the first title that comes to mind. It’s such a well known film that it has been preserved in the Library of Congress for being culturally significant, and “There’s no crying in baseball” is an oft-quoted line. The film stars Geena Davis, an outspoken feminist, and was directed by Penny Marshall, a well known comedienne/actress. ALOTO was a huge blockbuster, making $132 million in 1992 dollars. (Roughly $213 million in 2012 dollars) This film proves that a woman director can produce a blockbuster AND that films mostly about women (in a traditionally masculine field) can be successful.

It also beautifully illustrates a few of the core beliefs of feminist philosophy:

  • Freedom of choice is essential.
The film takes place during WWII, so it was not unusual for the members of the Rockford Peaches to be married with children. Although the men in the story are often contemptuous/sarcastic about the subject (including mentioning which players are married and which ones are single in newsreels), the women notably accept each other’s life choices wholeheartedly. Mae embraces her sexuality completely (Madonna’s basically playing herself with 40s hair), but no one condemns her for it. Marla chooses to leave the league early because she has fallen in love and gotten married. No one resents her; they are genuinely happy for her. Dottie chooses to leave the league to be a wife and mother, and the only one who objects is Jimmy, because he doesn’t want her to have any regrets. Each woman is free to choose how her life turns out, and they all accept and encourage each other.
  • The importance of female friendship, teamwork, and camaraderie.
The players of the Rockford Peaches have occasional moments of friction, but instantly come together when it’s time to play. They understand each other’s strengths and weaknesses, and are honest with each other when it counts. (Kit unfortunately doesn’t take brutal honesty and criticism very well.) Off the team, they help each other as well. Mae teaches the illiterate Shirley how to read by having her recite an erotic novel out loud. When Mae‘s choice of reading material is questioned, she points out that the important thing is that Shirley is reading. Dottie is also someone who stands up for others. She refuses to join the team unless Kit and Marla are included.
  • Women can do anything that men can do.
Much of the plot of the movie is concerned with the players of the Rockford Peaches proving what good athletes they are, and changing the minds of the skeptical men around them. Mr. Harvey sees the ‘girls’ as placeholders while many of the men’s major league players are overseas. On their first game, the audience jeers at and teases the players, only to be silenced by their talent. Mr. Lowenstein points out that the women will still play while nursing sprained ankles and broken fingers. The Rockford Peaches players demonstrate willpower, enthusiasm, and skill. Although they never reach the heights of popularity that the male teams get, they gain a devoted audience and respect amongst baseball fans.
  • Women are meant for more than just the domestic sphere.
Mr. Harvey, and many of the other men employing the women left behind while the men went off to war, failed to foresee the sociological implications of encouraging women to “get out of the kitchen” and fill her patriotic duty by working, and then expecting them to meekly go back into the kitchen once the men came home. This was an opportunity for women to prove that they had something to contribute to the world besides cooking, cleaning and birthing, and once they had a taste of ambition, they weren’t going to let that go. Dottie was perfectly happy being a wife and mother, and that was her choice to make. But for many of the others, they wanted more. Mae refused to return to her tawdry life as a taxi dancer, for instance. The All-American Girls’ Baseball League gave the players the opportunity to work for themselves, and many of them continued to do so well after the war ended.
  • Sexualization, objectification and gender roles suck.
Every single woman on the league was ticked off about the silly uniforms that they were forced to wear, with the frilly skirts instead of pants. They point out how impractical they are, and we see the results of the terrible uniforms when one player gets a severe bruise after taking a rough slide into a base. The newsreels, which constantly try to reaffirm the players’ femininity, come off as a total joke because of how little attention they pay to the players’ athletic abilities. Marla is constantly overlooked by others because she is plain, instead of being celebrated for being the best slugger in the league. One sequence involves a snooty middle-aged woman decrying the “masculinization” of women on the radio, complaining that things like the girls’ baseball team will have longstanding effects on home, children and country. She even calls the league “sexual confusion” and wonders what kind of girls the men overseas will come home to. Well, there WERE longstanding effects on home, children, and country…but hardly the destruction of life as we know it.

The Rockford Peaches

As for the type of girls waiting for their husbands, what the men came home to were independent women of free thought. There was enormous social upheaval in the decades following the war, and most of it devoted to getting women out of the constricting domestic sphere and out into the working world. The All-American Girls’ Baseball league is just one real-life example of the type of work women can do if only given the chance. Female athletes are hardly “sexual confusion.” Women are free to choose the homemaker life if they want, but this film’s story proves that women are capable of more than what society thinks they should be.

Myrna Waldron is a feminist writer/blogger with a particular emphasis on all things nerdy. She lives in Toronto and has studied English and Film at York University. Myrna has a particular interest in the animation medium, having written extensively on American, Canadian and Japanese animation. She also has a passion for Sci-Fi & Fantasy literature, pop culture literature such as cartoons/comics, and the gaming subculture. She maintains a personal collection of blog posts, rants, essays and musings at The Soapboxing Geek, and can be reached on Twitter under @SoapboxingGeek.