Catching up/random thoughts, part 2: Shonda Rhimes, homosexuals, and red wine; being a woman in a man’s world

– In June, after school was out, I fell into “Scandal”. It’s unclear how it happened but Netflix is mostly to blame. I was a huge fan of Shonda Rhimes’ “Grey’s Anatomy” at the beginning, before things got stupid, and so I put my faith and many evenings into binge-watching Rhimes’ sexy series set in Washington DC because I’ll give just about any show set in DC a chance. I hate/love politics. (I’m not entirely sold on “Madam Secretary” but I do like Tea Leoni, cold on Bebe Neuwirth.)

Anyhooooo, “Scandal” is ridiculous and coming close to jumping the shark but Thursday nights now belong to Shonda Rhimes (and to ABC’s new female voice-over talent Anna Vocino). I stopped watching “Grey’s…” years ago but took a chance on “How to Get Away with Murder.” It reeks of stolen plot devices from “Damages” but adds to a good solid evening of reckless entertainment…unless you’re gay. Homosexuals and their relationships on “Scandal” and “…Murder” are portrayed as sordid and hedonistically opportunistic – which is not to say that straight couples are admirably depicted, but still. I find myself cringing whenever chief of staff Cyrus Beane or law student Connor Walsh pursues romance, whether it’s as a means to an end or not. Am I just being prude? Probably.

Another thing: how is it that Olivia Pope can drink an entire bottle of red wine (her dad indicates as much in last week’s episode) and not slur a single word? And I find it interesting, and somewhat irresponsible, that Eric Asimov’s NY Times article, about the explosion of red-wine-drinking female characters on television, doesn’t once imply that there might be an unfavorable alcohol issue among these portrayals. Don’t I sound like a ton of fun? A sober prude. Wanna hang out?

– I mentioned last week that I’ve taken on a new part-time job. I’m now the athletic director at Miss T’s and Bun Bun’s K-8 school. Perfect, right? “Sports” is my thing. So far, so good except…

…I’m a woman. Before I head into a massive generalization, let me confirm that most of the men I’ve dealt with so far have been fine. Several of them have even been fun and supportive, but what’s interesting about that?

The second official week on the job back in September had me attending the league meeting where issues were discussed, vendors sold their wares, and divisions were decided. I’m the fifth athletic director my school has had in as many years and so I walked into a hostile environment with people who have held their positions for, on average, twenty. But it wasn’t just about being a newbie. Had my name been John and not JoAnn, I sense the welcome would have been just that.

To give you an idea of the room, the first vendor selling soft headgear for flag football players referred to us over and over again as “guys”: “So guys, we’ve updated this product to look less like a Princess Leia costume…” The second soft helmet vendor concluded his pitch by informing us: “The moms love this product because it goes right into the washing machine.” I don’t know why he didn’t say “little ladies.” Seriously. About thirty percent of the ADs in the room were women.

Before heading up to the stage to get the sheets of paper listing the different team divisions, I was pulled aside by another AD and warned that most of the schools hated my school. The reason, he claimed, was because my school often puts teams in the wrong divisions and we end up crushing opponents AND I was yet another new athletic director in a string of new athletic directors from my school. The subtext, however, was this: We loved the last guy because he was a guy following two women whom we didn’t like and HE knew sports. So I’m pretty sure we’re not going to like you because, well, you’re a woman and you don’t know sports like HE did. For the record, I loved the last guy too but he went and got a better job. He also put Bun Bun’s basketball team in a group last year where they won nearly every game by at least 20 points. One game they went up by fifty. No one seemed to remember that.

women in sports

We’ve come a long way, still further to go.

Am I being sensitive? Of course I am; I’m a woman. And in a minority situation, I’m also a bit defensive. It’s been a long time since I was pre-judged as one thing when the opposite was true. I really do know sports. A few days after the meeting, when the ADs were all calling to set up games with our school, that fact became clear. I also love sports and I took this job because I thought it was one I could do well. I anticipated having to prove myself because I was new, not because I was a woman. Silly me.

I won’t go into the details of the condescension directed my way at the league meeting by two ADs who I could swear were still in 8th grade. Or of the shouting match I got into on the phone the next day with a bitter AD who insisted that we come to his school to play basketball because he came to us the previous year. When I informed him this wasn’t true (Bun Bun was on our team, I sat in his gym), he hung up on me. Oy. Or the circular phone conversation I had with the AD who wouldn’t admit fault for a no-show until he couldn’t deny the facts. When I told him we’d rather play the game than accept a forfeit from his team, I felt my reputation rise above the ground just an inch. With him, I’m not sure it’ll get much higher simply because of those pesky X chromosomes I possess. Ah well.

It’s been a long time since I’ve been a part of the working world and I know women everywhere often encounter a level of discrimination, so subtle it’s often difficult to explain. But it lurks, and in sports it nearly pounces. The good thing is that I’m fifty-one and I can handle this. I also love men and enjoy the challenge of crushing stereotypes. I just wish they didn’t exist to crush. My three daughters, particularly Goldie, are already aware of accepted gender norms and the issues that arise because of the inequity inherit in them. Our daughters know that in this country, women can do almost anything to which they set their minds, but they’ve yet to see a woman president or vice president, and when asked the riddle about the doctor’s son, they couldn’t figure out the answer.

We have a long way to go. And I have a football field to line and a basketball team to coach…and then, of course, there’s the laundry.

Enjoy your day.

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  1. Nancy Zander says

    Good for you, JoAnn. You are setting an example for your girls. If you know your stuff, you can ignore the guys, or widen their horizons…always love to do that.

  2. Anne says

    OK so I’m gay and I would love to be portrayed as sordid and hedonistically opportunistic! Especially since I’m really just a regular mom, partner and nurse! My life is so “normal” that to be sordid and hedonistically opportunistic just sounds so damn exciting!! And no you’re not prude…just aware!!

  3. says

    I’m surprised to read this. When I saw your name appear as the AD my first thought was, “Wow, maybe things will get done properly.”

    Also aren’t they even a little scared of you? What’s the matter with them?

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