Wednesday, April 6, 2011

One for History

Quick question: What landmark events for women occurred in 1972?
Answer: Richard Nixon signed Title IX into law and P.D. James published An Unsuitable Job For A Woman.

Unsuitable introduced Cordelia Gray, a woman who owned a private detective agency. There had been women sleuths before her, but most of them were amateurs. The few women private eyes who preceded her were written by men. Cordelia was the beginning of a sub-genre of women private eyes written by women and who appealed to women. She was quickly followed by Marcia Muller's Sharon McCone, Sue Grafton's Kinsey Milhone, Sara Paretsky's V. I. Warshawski and many, many more.

Title IX was the section of the education act that mandated equality for women in athletics. Because of Title IX, women have opportunities in high school and college to play team sports such as basketball, soccer, softball and volleyball.

At this point, I should confess that the reason this post is late is because last night I watched the Texas A&M women beat Notre Dame for the NCAA basketball championship. 76 to 70, in case you're wondering. It is the first basketball championship in school history. There was no way I was going to let something like writing interfere with my enjoyment of the game. Afterwards, it was all celebration. It was the best basketball championship game of the year, certainly better played than the men's championship, which was ugly beyond words. The two teams last night had been seeded number two in the tournament, which meant that both took on the underdog role and had to fight two number-one seeded, traditional powerhouses to get to the championship game.

To bring this back to mysteries, I like reading about scrappy underdogs; I love it when the mighty are brought low. I cheer when the person who wasn't supposed to be there is the last girl standing. Is there a connection between Title IX and women sleuths? Sure. One word: Guts. 

During the game last night we talked about how women's basketball had changed since our days in college. We all remembered when women played six on a team--3 on offense and 3 on defense. Each player played on only half of the court. If you were on offense, you couldn't cross the line to the defensive side. You had to wait for the ball to come to you. No driving 94 feet for the last-second layup, no going after a loose ball, no contact. It was unladylike. Last night there was plenty of unladylike behavior. Bodies hit the floor. Bodies hit other bodies. There were charging fouls, blocking fouls, and a foul for swinging an elbow too high (and colliding with a chin). Players limped to the line to take their foul shots. It's the new definition of ladylike.

Billie Jean King, in an interview about Title IX, said that the best thing about the act was the effect it had on team sports.  There had been plenty of women athletes before Title IX, but they were mainly individual sports like tennis, golf, swimming and figure skating.  They were certainly not contact sports.  Last night's game was exactly what the opponents of Title IX feared would happen: women sacrificing their bodies for the team, getting knocked down seven times and getting up eight.

Isn't that the essence of character?

When I was creating my first main character, my wife said, give her a team sport like basketball. So I did. I took inspiration from women who suffered adversity to play. Women such as all the collegiate athletes who, before the WNBA, had to leave their country if they wanted to keep playing, who battled homesickness for the love of the game. I took inspiration from Sheila Tighe, who after 14 years away from basketball, gave up a lucrative career to try to make a come back. Here is what Sports Illustrated said about her:

If you happened to be pool-side at La Quinta Resort in Palm Springs, Calif., a couple of weeks ago, perhaps you noticed the 36-year-old woman wearing the god-awful black toenail polish—black because, she joked, she'd just been to war. Or perhaps you glimpsed the bruises exploding like tiny fireworks on her arms, or the angry red scratches around them. Perhaps you gasped at the half-dollar-sized blisters on the bottoms of her feet, or the parchment-colored dead skin that was peeling off because of the countless miles she'd recently run. As she lay there on her chaise longue for four days, reading a mystery novel and not wanting to move, those marks were the only clues to who she once was. Or to what she'd just been through.

Read more:
What makes someone put themselves through that? What makes these women athletes put up with so much pain to play for less glory and money than is lavished on the men? What makes a woman detective stay on the hunt when the odds are against her? I know how the Aggies won the championship. On guts. They didn't quit. That motivation is the core of the characters I want to write about and read about.

Don't you love the irony in the title, An Unsuitable Job For A Woman? Prior to 1972, private investigator and basketball player were unsuitable jobs for women. Now women are going hard at it in the best stories and on the biggest stage. Last night was one for history, but there's much more to come.

Mark Troy
Hawaiian Eye Blog


Ricky Bush said...

Yeah, the Lady Aggies opened a can of WHOOP A#% on Notre Dame. So, Ol' Tricky Dick helped make that possible, huh? Must be because he was looking out for Tricia.

Earl Staggs said...

Mark, when I heard the Aggie girls captured the title, I knew you'd be jumping up and down and probably making a fool or yourself.

That's okay. You're entitled.