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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.

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Women, he says, are changing in society, and movies should reflect that. He tried to mirror those changes in "Dark Angel," a TV show that ran for two years on Fox and featured a genetically engineered soldier/woman.

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Balancing act

Mr. Cameron, writer of such tough-guy films as "Rambo," says he wanted his heroine, Max, to explore the kind of coming-of-age issues that long have been central in male roles. Max is driven by the desire to find and understand the man who created her.

"You have to balance that [toughness] with vulnerability so they're real," Cameron says.

The writer of "Alias," J.J. Abrams, agrees. He hopes his character, a coed who is recruited by a rogue CIA operation, resonates with emotional as well as physical power. She loses her fiancé, doesn't know her father, and, Mr. Abrams says, embarks on an emotional journey even as she turns some great physical tricks along the way.

"I've surrounded myself with women who have always just impressed me," says Abrams, who attended Sarah Lawrence College, once an all-girls school. "So, I'm drawn to that."

Back on the set of "Buffy," guide Kara Robarts pauses at Buffy's house. She says she and her friends are not looking at Buffy's cool hair or high heels for inspiration. They're looking at what she does.

"When girls watch shows like 'Buffy,' and see girls who aren't just damsels in distress and who fight for themselves, and can be their own person, they get the idea, 'Hey, we can do that too,' she says. "Not the superhuman power thing, but we have just as much right to our space as anyone else."

Young fans look up to WNBA players

The young girls mass at the railings, hoping for a touch, a glance, maybe – if the gods are smiling – even an autograph.

Dressed in Women's National Basketball Association T-shirts, they wave fan books and wait for their favorite athletes to emerge from the locker room, their pleasure testament to the power of their role models.

Inside the locker room, WNBA superstar Lisa Leslie reflects on how far women's sports has come. "Without [Title IX] this would never have been," she says.

Leslie helped found the five-year-old women's basketball franchise. She is also a supermodel signed to a Wilhelmina contract, modeling Tommy Hilfiger and Armani fashions. And, as a TV celebrity in her own right, she understands the economic pressures to sell the WNBA for TV.

But she is clear-eyed about the foundation on which she stands and the importance of speaking up for the law that gave women athletes their chance.

"I don't think we have to sell sex in order to get our sport across," she says.

Her young fans, she adds, don't know how much times have changed.

"Lisa ROCKS!" screams 10-year-old Shanice Fowler from the stands outside the locker room. The girls around her giggle.

In a moment between cheers, Shanice says more quietly, "She makes me want to play basketball all the time."

Her 14-year-old friend Davon Smith says more loudly, "I've always played basketball."

Davon is getting ready for high school; she says sports will be a big part of her goals for college.

Tonight, history is made as Leslie slams in the first dunk in WNBA history. The girls at the rail go wild. Told of the league's recent history and that girls didn't always have their own teams, Davon looks confused. "Why not?" she asks. "They should. Girls have just as much right to play as boys."

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