Sunday, May 04, 2014

A League of Our Own

The title of the film is really A League of Their Own. But watching it, many of us want to be a part of the sisterhood. It is my job to encourage aspiration and fantasy, feel-good processes.

But before we begin, to the Anonymous reader who commented on the Viagra post (that last one) about the reaction of a patient to a religious symbol, a cross he wore to work, sorry I missed that!  Just read it and replied in the comments section.

The Story:
Tom Hanks, Geena Davis in A League of Their Own

I thought I knew men. After all, 60% of my practice is men, and I have a brother, once had two. One father.  I married a male. Every dog we sheltered and loved was a male, counting three plus a relatively new male granddog, so make that four.

But what really had me assuming I understood men was my belief that as your everyday, nonthreatening, female therapist, males of all ages, not merely canine males, but humans, have shown me their soft side, the vulnerable side. It is exactly like ours, the female soft side, but men are a little more embarrassed to show it.  

If you take a large sample of any group, any population of, let's say males, and look at the very center of the bell curve, the mean, forget the better differentiated ten to twenty percent in the tails, the outliers, but look at everything to the immediate left and right of center, you will find what is considered normal for the sample of whatever it is you are measuring.

My hypothesis, and many would agree, is that if we look at men and male bonding, communing within the male biological sex, we will probably find: Men bond best when bonding over . . .


Not only baseball, of course, but whatever sport is seasonal. Hockey, football, basketball, soccer, golf. Any sport will do, either to play or spectator or speculate about. Any sport is safe for males to discuss together, mull over, grieve, gamble, theorize, philosophize, or celebrate.

Whereas women seem to prefer to bond over what is bothering them: their emotions, how to handle their paranoid aging father, a jealous colleague, loneliness, the condition of their oldest child returning from a party.

Not that some men don't bond this way, even lunch, too. Some of us are finding in our practices that male patients do talk about their troubles with other men, not just their therapists. But my hypothesis is that 80-90% are more likely to bond at the water cooler at the office about a catch, a throw, a kick or a putt.

And brothers will call each other or text about sports, whereas they will not do that about anything else, and the conversation will go something like this: Did you see that tackle! Do you believe that! I know!  End of conversation. Hang up.

Not that this is bad! Being fanatical about sports beats getting all excited over drag racing or bullying or dog-fighting. Nevertheless, for years, mea culpa, I mistakenly believed female bonding to be deeper, more intimate, better. Superior. Because it strengthens our understanding of one another, ties relationship knots tighter. Emotional intimacy trumped recreational intimacy! Or so I thought. Not that recreational intimacy isn't wonderful, it surely is. Indeed, in relationship therapy we shoot to increase every type of intimacy.

But that’s not the point here. The point is that for most of my professional life, and that's a lot of years, and certainly for years prior to that, I held a bias about men and sports, considered the entire phenomenon, being glued to the screen especially, bizarre. So much emotion, so much money, so much time and effort on a game. And most of the time those invested aren't even playing the game, they are merely admiring amazing athleticism. But doesn't it get old? Apparently not, no more so than Dancing with the Stars or the Olympics gets old.

Women like me watch a game every once in a while, suffer through every Cubs season, whether we truly follow or not, as do most die-hard  northside Chicago Cubs fans. (This is our year, by the way). Maybe that's why some of us can't relate to bonding over sports. Cub fans generally just sigh, won't talk about the game. Not that sighing together isn't intimate.

That said, relating to sports obsessions is still hard for me, the idea that men connect socially primarily over sports. My usual empathy goes AWOL on this topic, or it did until I finally saw A League of Their Own.

Warning, SPOILERS coming right up, if you haven't seen it.

The film is a decidedly women's film, full of relationship pathos, so women love it. But because women play amazing baseball, men love it, too. Jimmy Dugan (Tom Hanks at his best) manages a team in the AAGPBL All Girls Professional Baseball League, one of several to replace men's baseball during World War II. Soom after the men returned from battle, the AAGPBL died a natural death. The players went their separate ways.

Some thirty years later, a Hall of Fame is dedicated to the All American Girls Professional Baseball League. (The biographies have to be good reading). Jimmy Dugan's team meets at the opening. So happy to see one another after so many years, the bond of female friendship and admiration is palpable, the expression of affection and intimacy, heart-warming. These women know one another and feel free, because they are women, to merely let it go, express the happiness, the love. Playing together, working together, their lovers and fiance's overseas, they had something very special, a temporary group commune of sorts, with a common goal.

Maybe male athletes do it too, behave bonded, share the love at reunions. Maybe they even keep up with one another years after having retired their numbers, hanging their uniforms in plastic. Maybe they have lunch or go for drinks, reminisce about younger days.I'll have to watch more baseball movies to find out. All I know is that we see genuine emotional intimacy at its finest in this film, as the women who played ball in their young adulthood come together as almost seniors to celebrate their past trials and tribulations.

Perhaps this happens at your average high school reunion, too. That's the idea, isn't it? Such would be another example of how one type of intimacy, recreational or academic/work intimacy contributes to and enhances another, emotional intimacy.

The film brought me back to my years as a pre-teen, a child playing baseball at the park after school, and made me wish the games had never ended, that sports for girls hadn't somehow become uncool. The denouement, the ending, that reunion at the museum, simply capped the loss, the missed nostalgia. We could have had that, had we simply dropped the mystique of being female and Played Ball!

No, we took up tennis.

Thank G-d, it is finally warm enough to take out my mitt from that bottom drawer, grab a grandchild, see if he wants to play the oldest game ever. Catch.


Just one more observation with therapeutic import, maybe. We'll throw in that Jimmy Dugan is influenced by his female team members to give up the sauce.
Most of the time I fall asleep watching TV. It's one way to wind down, for those of us who have trouble turning off our thoughts, our fears. Worries come naturally before bed. So if you are me, you watch movies on television in pajamas, on a small screen on a dresser only a foot away from the bed. It isn't all that comfortable. You have to crick your neck a bit to see, but in twenty minutes your eyelids droop, retinas burn. Before long you have lost the plot, are asleep no matter how good the film, the Modern Family or Madmen. An old Sopranos is better than Ambien.

But I stayed up for Geena DavisLori PettyMegan CavanaghRosie O'DonnellMadonna and the rest of the team. Why?

Probably because No crying in baseball had me in tears, naturally. 

Team manager Jimmy Dugan is a little rough on his right fielder (Evelyn Gardner, played by Bitty Schram), after Evelyn throws wild to home, when she should have thrown to the shortstop. Dugan screams at Evelyn at the top of his lungs, glares at her bug-eyed. He probably reeks of liquor. She cries. He's incredulous. You're crying?  No crying in baseball!  he shouts.

She cries even more, and from this incredible scene that exemplifies the most obvious difference between the sexes (and genders), we learn the now famous mantra: No crying in baseball!  There is no crying in baseball! 

Geena Davis, playing Dottie Hinson, the star of the league, Dugan's most talented player, chastises him, both about his delivery (Why don't you give her a break, Jimmy) and that he drinks too much. Smitten by the tall, wry, reserved, mysterious catcher, Dugan works on all of it.

And later in the film, Hanks has us in hysterics again. Tested once more by a terrible throw to what was supposed to be shortstop, as soon as the side is retired Dugan confronts his right fielder. But this time he desperately tries to control his anger. He literally stutters and shakes with rage, but holds it in. He's calm compared to the last time, even if he is physically trembling with emotion to contain his rage and what comes out of his mouth. He tells Evelyn to keep working on that throw to the infield.

That's all. Just the facts, assertive.

Brilliant, classic anger management, so brilliant that now I have to buy A League of Their Own (unless one of my kids wants to give it to me for Mother's Day), so that I can show it at the office, thus deducting whatever equipment is necessary to do that.

Oh! Just checked the scores. It seems the Cubs beat the Cardinals 3-0 yesterday. Yes!


Sarah said...

Warm greetings from London. I've been an avid follower of your blog for several years, and have found so many of your posts really insightful and helpful. I absolutely agree that some men do gain a deep sense of companionship through sports, although I admit to having no interest in any sports at all. Anyways, if ever you have any thoughts on how to cope when a close relative has been diagnosed with ME / Chronic fatigue syndrome (in my case my mum,) I would most gratefully read them. Thanks for letting me share, and looking forward to your next post.

therapydoc said...

Thank you Sarah. I will try to write about chronic fatigue syndrome soon.

Meanwhile, I just read a copy of this month's Sports Illustrated for KIDS, and felt inspired by Breanna Stewart of the UCONN Huskies, leading her all women's basketball team to a second straight national title. The 'zine also features Roy Hibbert's natural grace at 7'2", his pride about his height. Many athletes over 7' hunch. Hopefully the publisher will forego a swimsuit issue.

Oh, and I did watch most of last night's baseball rivalry, the Chicago Cubs against the Chicago White Sox. So never mind, about why people watch sports for two hours, stay glued to the screen. Unfortunately, overtime, for me, is over the top, which is just as well. Sox won.

Mound Builder said...

When I was a girl, I loved playing softball. I was a good enough player that when we chose teams from our class at recess the boys picked me among the first couple of rounds. I could throw pretty far, was accurate at catching and a reasonably good batter. And I continued playing until I went to high school at which point boys played softball/baseball along with a lot of other sports. And girls didn't, for the most part, or we had versions of the games that were meant not to overtax us, like basketball played on a half court.

I loved playing catch with my younger sister. It was one of the things we would do to entertain ourselves. I think that's where we both honed our throwing and catching skills. We hurled the ball as hard as we could or threw it way up in the air to simulate pop flies.

I can remember in the fourth grade I was paired with a girl for a three-legged race and we won for our team. The two of us were so much in sync we flew like the wind.

I still enjoy watching baseball. I don't follow any other sport, though I can at least understand why guys enjoy watching other things, football, basketball, soccer.

I've wondered what it would have been like had I grown up at a time when girls were encouraged more to be on teams and to continue playing. Maybe I would have pursued that more.

I've seen A League of Their Own. It's been a long time so I don't remember all the details but I do remember liking it.

Sure, I can see how guys bond over team sports. And I can imagine girls doing that, too.

Sometimes it seems nice to bond with folks over things like baseball and bypass some of the drama that can come from bonding over emotional/relationship things. I do talk about those things a lot, with my closest friend, a woman I've known since I was 14. But in our increasingly old age, we started going to the gym together. Who'd have thought two middle-aged women could become jocks?! We joke about it, and bond over weight machines and riding stationary bikes as much as we have over broken hearts.

therapydoc said...

Just fabulous

Better Things-- Seeing Ghosts