A League Of Their Own is part of a cadre of movies that made up the definitely-feminist, almost-lesbian boom of the early ’90s, alongside Thelma & Louise, Tank Girl, and Fried Green Tomatoes. A League Of Their Own is to a particular type of women what The Shawshank Redemption is to a particular type of man — if it’s on TV, we’re going to drop whatever in order to watch it to the end, and it’s almost always on TV.
Rather like Thelma & Louise, Tank Girl, and Fried Green Tomatoes, A League Of Their Own looks like a movie that was filmed in a separatist lesbian paradise, then four days before wide release, someone told the producers to try to make every female character plausibly straight. The compulsory heterosexuality is a sloppy afterthought — Rosie O’Donnell gets a boyfriend back home, Geena Davis pines after a distant husband, Madonna gets to dance with a few drunk soldiers, and everyone prayed that would be enough. No one bothered to do anything about Lori Petty’s character; it was too late to try.
There are certain phrases — “confirmed bachelor,” “keeps to herself,” “career woman,” “eccentric gentleman,” “as single as they come” — that connote queer plausible deniability; to a straight person they might just refer to someone a bit odd, but to the right listener it’s the same as screaming “GAY GAY GAY.”
Lori Petty’s Kit is all ears and elbows and mud-streaked determination and she’s GAY GAY GAY, and that’s marvelous. Remember how she gets announced on the field?
“Then there’s pretty Dottie Henson, who plays like Gehrig, and looks like Garbo. Uh-uh, fellas, keep your mitts to yourself; she’s married. And there’s her kid sister Kit, who’s as single as they come.”
Lest we forget, Josephine D’Angelo (the real-life ball player whose life inspired A League Of Their Own) was an out lesbian who was fired from the league for getting a “butchy” haircut. However you want to define Dottie, you have to admit her eyebrows are at the very least bicurious. Those eyebrows have gotten at least one Rockford Peach out of her blouse.
Obviously, any movie set in a nearly all-female environment (all the boys are off at war, WHERE THEY BELONG) or focusing on women who play sports is going to have, you know, a lesbian skeleton; whether or not the movie pings depends on how well the gun-shy producers can hang a few heterosexual scarves to cover up those gay, gay bones. And, you know, there are not so many movies focused on women’s non-romantic relationships (with their sisters, with their friends, with their employers, with themselves) out there that I want to take away one of the very few that do, so if you want to keep this, straight ladies, I’m not going to get mad.
But replace “baseball” with “lesbianism” in the following exchange, just as a fun thought experiment:
Jimmy Dugan: This is chickenshit, Dottie, if you want to go back to Oregon and make a hundred babies, great, I’m in no position to tell anyone how to live. But sneaking out like this, quitting, you’ll regret it for the rest of your life. Baseball is what gets inside you. It’s what lights you up, you can’t deny that.
Dottie Hinson: It just got too hard.
Jimmy Dugan: It’s supposed to be hard. If it wasn’t hard, everyone would do it. The hard…is what makes it great.
AND THERE’S MORE. I would like to posit a slightly different angle on the Madonna/O’Donnell (MADONNELL) relationship, one that will not require you to adjust your set in the slightest. It is a difference in degrees, not in kind. They are presented as a pair of boisterous, working-class best friends — Madonna is the TOUGH SLUT to Rosie’s BRASSY BROAD, and they brawl together like the Titans of old. They fight out of an superabundance of energy and joy; they fight as gods play.
Their relationship comes across less Lucy-and-Ethel from I Love Lucy and more like Ralph-and-Alice from The Honeymooners. It’s all slap-slap-kiss (with the kiss remaining firmly off-screen); half of their squabbles are about Madonna’s sexuality (“Every man here has seen your bosoms”) and Rosie’s frustration at her love of male attention.
You don’t fight like that with your sex-loving best friend, you fight like that with your charismatic girlfriend whose flirting and experience makes you jealous and lonely. NOT THAT I WOULD KNOW.
I was once thrown out of a bar in Pasadena after becoming convinced the employee attempting to clean up a spill in the vicinity of my lady-friend was in fact attempting to hit on her because he did not respect our relationship. He was not; he was trying to pick up glass. I spent a few hours on the curb waiting for her until she was ready to come home. The fault, in retrospect, was largely mine. I have been Rosie O’Donnell. Dating Madonna is like dating a meteor — it is a struggle to keep up and you are as dazzled by the light she gives off as everyone else. When she goes, you are quickly left behind.
Mallory is an Editor of The Toast.