When I watched the first season of Baa Baa Black Sheep, I dreaded getting to the episode titled “W*A*S*P*s”. Right there in the episode description it said that “a battle of the sexes lands on the frontline”.
I loathe a battle of the sexes.
I make no secret of the fact that much of the rerun content I watch (and some of the current content) is “male-oriented”. It’s action stuff. It’s police stuff. Classic cis het guy fare. So there isn’t a lot of quality women content or input. And yes, some of it can be eye rollingly bad. But nothing quite irritates me like the battle of the sexes.
The context is typically of women doing man’s work, whatever the hell that is. I wasn’t raised with gendered work. I was raised with work and somebody better do it and don’t make me tell you twice.
Think of “St. Gilligan and the Dragon”, which I talked about in this post. The women go off on their own because the men are being pricks The women are able to hack it and the men are useless. The implication, of course, is that the men don’t know how to do things like cook and do laundry because it’s something women do and is therefore beneath them. Starving and stinking for their mancards.
Naturally, it’s played for laughs because the battle of the sexes is a frequently used theme in sitcoms.
One such episode that has always stuck with me is The Brady Bunch episode “The Liberation of Marcia Brady”. Basically, Marcia goes on the record that she thinks women can do anything men do and then Greg ends up goading her until she decides to prove herself by joining The Frontier Scouts. For the final initiation, Marcia has to use her Frontier Scout skills to navigate through the woods following a trail that Greg has left.
The twist? Greg has purposely made the trail as hard as possible to follow without breaking the rules. And to everyone’s surprise, Marcia succeeds.
Marcia’s initiation is a perfect example of how the patriarchy works. In order to prove that women can do anything men can do, Marcia actually had to do better than what the guys had to do because the boys were so threatened by the idea of a girl joining their little scouting group they had to actively sabotage her.
Something similar happens in many episodes of Barney Miller whenever there’s a female detective. I can remember it happening with Wentworth, Batista, and with the two officers in “Hot Dogs”. All of the women were seen as overly enthusiastic and aggressive in doing their jobs because it went right over the heads of their male counterparts that they had to be. They had to do everything the men did, but they had to do it more and they had to do it better -and in heels!- lest they be considered failures and ruin it for every other woman on the force.
There’s a similar vibe in the Emergency! episode “The Indirect Method”. Roy and Johnny are charged with training a female paramedic who is described as hard-nosed. Is it any wonder? The pressure is intense. She’s doing man’s work, after all.
As for the Baa Baa Black Sheep episode, I was pleasantly surprised at how much I didn’t hate it. The women were not only good at their job, but also serious about it in a way that was less about being as good as the men, and more about showing their passion for flying. Yeah, the guys tried to treat the ladies like they would any pretty face in the vicinity, but it turns out the women were more like them than they realized. Translation: our fellas got hoodwinked by them.
This battle of the sexes was a little more evenly matched. And while it did have it’s hang-ups and of course, the guys had to save the ladies (though, they didn’t really do anything that fighter escorts wouldn’t do for transport planes other than be a little mushy), at least the respect cultivated between the two groups was genuine and not based on arbitrary standards of excellence.
As a result, the episode got my respect, too.