Dirty Harry Days

I think it’s The Enforcer — the one where Clint Eastwood’s character is forced by political correctness to accept a female partner (played by a young Tyne Daly), only to grow a grudging respect for her guts before she dies in his arms. Her oh so feminine last words: “Get ’em.”

That crossed my mind when I read about a tribute luncheon in Los Angeles attended by “women wearing pearl earrings and police uniforms, carrying Gucci bags and holstered guns.”  The elderly woman who haltingly made her way up to the podium to cheers and applause was Fanchon Blake, whose 1973 lawsuit broke multiple glass ceilings in the LAPD (including a 5’6″ lowest height limit) and undoubtedly provoked that Dirty Harry movie.

[A] flood of female recruits [was] hired as Blake’s discrimination suit pushed the department into a court-monitored consent decree.

Before Blake sued, women couldn’t be promoted beyond the rank of sergeant, were allowed to supervise only other women and had to be at least 5 feet, 6 inches tall.

[Lt. Cindy] Benes is 5 feet tall, a lieutenant in the tough Northeast Division, supervising 24 gang and narcotics officers, all but one of them men. […]

Until the 1970s, women were trained separately, wore skirts and heels and weren’t allowed in patrol cars.

Oh yes, I remember those days.  Your proper role was announced and enforced by your clothing — try to run and shoot in a skirt and heels, outside of a Hollywood movie.  At Harvard/Radcliffe in the mid-1960s we were educated with the men, but lived in our own separate chaperoned enclave almost a mile away.  Our numbers were far fewer.  If it was cold in winter and we wanted to wear pants to class to keep warm, we had to wear a skirt over the pants.  Really!  When I graduated in 1967 we received Harvard diplomas, but had a separate graduation ceremony, as if quarantined lest we contaminate the university’s traditional grandeur.  All that broke down within two years of my graduation.

These questions were not then and still aren’t simple and straightforward.  Should the force of women’s desire for inclusion and equality overwhelm, say, the strength requirements of a firefighter’s job?  Why do women want to be boxers and get their faces bashed in?  Is equality the same as equivalency?  Is (or I should say “was”) the male-bonding atmosphere of high-risk, protective occupations like police work and war something more than just a desire to shut girls out of the clubhouse?  Undoubtedly there have been both gains and losses as a result of women’s inclusion in even those occupations that seemed intrinsically masculine.

I certainly remember having the sense that exclusion was inseparable from second-rateness, and protection was entwined with condescension.  Men got to do the exciting, important stuff that the culture really honored and esteemed.  (Surprise!  Women have egos, too, and ours were collectively wounded for, oh, millennia.)  Women were the support staff, lumped together with children, churning out and servicing bodies while men cultivated spirits.  Tribute was paid to our humble but vital role, but we knew it was lip service.  Orthodox Jews weren’t the only males who woke up and thanked God every morning for not making them women.

Over time I came to my own resolution and reconciliation of the difference/equality conundrum.  It struck me that the spiritual virtues humanity has held highest — including courage and justice, reason and art and Einstein’s “divine curiosity” — had become melded with maleness by their long restriction to men, and that it was our exclusion from that essentially genderless core of the human legacy that women were righfully indignant about.  We, too, confused them with maleness, so that we thought the way to claim courage was, say, to get in the boxing ring and bust each other’s noses.  But the real differences are unyielding; in our style of karate, for example, women now fight full contact (face punching is a foul for either sex) and it is indeed a valuable cultivation of courage and antidote to fear, but women fight each other, and it’s just not the same as men fighting.  The spiritual component is arguably the same; the physical and psychological pieces are very different.  As a result, almost everyone’s at peace with it.

Maybe it’s like that in police departments and the military, too.  Women have won respect for their courage without either turning into or unmanning men.  Or do you disagree?

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