From Title IX to TV heros
Some in Hollywood see a link between the 1972 law that leveled the playing field for women athletes and today's kickboxing actresses.
SUNNYDALE, CALIF. (SETTING OF "BUFFY, THE VAMPIRE SLAYER")
Our self-appointed tour guide pauses in the doorway of The Bronze to note that this back-alley studio-lot nightclub is where her favorite TV heroine vanquishes many vampire foes.Skip to next paragraph
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That would be with a few kicks to the head and torso, followed by a stab in the heart with a wooden stake? "Right," says 15-year-old Kara Robarts, whose father was once the show's location scout. "It's fun."
But what's fun for teens like Kara is something more significant for those who've watched the evolution of women's television roles in the three decades since Congress passed Title IX, leveling the playing field for girls and boys. They've seen shows like "Buffy" make it OK, even hip, for girls to kickbox boys one night and still get a date the next, transferring strength and equality in sports to the screen.
Seven years after Joss Whedon penned the first episodes of "Buffy," the TV landscape is fairly exploding with women flinging themselves at their foes, fists flying and guns blazing. ABC's "Alias," NBC's "She Spies" TNT's "Witchblade," and Fox's "Birds of Prey" are just a few.
Most of these women are bigger and buffer than vampire slayer Sarah Michelle Gellar, and far more serious than that campy predecessor of contemporary warrior women, "Xena." And many, like Jennifer Garner of "Alias," train for and carry out their own death-defying stunts. (In episodes of "Alias," Ms. Garner kicks a highly skilled assassin into unconsciousness, escapes from an underwater death in a submerged car, and rappels off a 200-foot tower.)
To Laeta Kalogridis, writer of "Lara Croft: Tomb Raider," the connection between the world of sports and TV's new soaring female sensations is obvious.
"These are the girls of Title IX," she says of TV's new fighting heroines, who have vaulted from the physical equality that the landmark legislation inspired in sports to physical liberation on the screen.
Granted, there may be legitimate questions about how far women have come when, like men, they use their physical power for nothing more artful than to maim and murder. And it can be argued that corseting the actresses in tight, sexy clothing does little to advance social progress.
But on TV, sex is used to sell everything. The very fact that the girls are kicking at all marks what women who've weathered the gender wars call the latest step in the long march from 1972, when Congress decreed that schools and colleges must provide equal educational opportunities, including in sports, for boys and girls.
That surprises "Buffy" writer Whedon, who says he wasn't thinking about either the law or social change when he conceived his character. "I was just thinking about what I felt I missed seeing when I was growing up, a woman who could kick ---," he says. "To me, her popularity shows that I wasn't the only one missing her."
If he doesn't pretend to read the signs of the times, he does hope he's tapped into something more than a passing trend. "If this is a real sea change," he says, "that would be wicked cool."
Some social critics say a sea change it is: If legislation hadn't forced schools to give girls space of their own, they say, we wouldn't be seeing images of physically powerful girls on TV today.