Play it Again, Sam(antha): Highlights from a Week of Low Lights

A Woman's Work: Home Economics* (*I took Woodworking Instead) drawings and story by Carolita Johnson

A Woman's Work: Home Economics* (*I took Woodworking Instead) drawings and story by Carolita Johnson

The girls in my 7th grade year were the first to be allowed to take woodworking at my junior high school in Amherst, MA. Before us, before the very early 1960s, boys went to woodworking classes while girls went to home economics. There, we learned to sew and cook and about how babies are made, but we did that only when the black shades were fully drawn on basement windows to be sure nobody (the boys) looked while we were being taught what girls needed to know.

Perhaps its why Carolita Johnson's story leapt out, grabbed me, and tugged me in.

Published on  Longreads

Published on Longreads

Carolita never did write about woodworking class, but that didn't matter. With every scene of her tale about her marriage, I sensed I knew precisely what she said she felt. It was as though she was writing what could have been my life. Why not? Our girlhoods – woodworking and lots more opportunities some girls in our generation had – gave us the same running start. Oh, by the way, the first thing I made in my woodworking class was a shoe shine kit for my dad. I still have the shoe shine kit – along with gratitude to my father for always pushing me to live my dreams no matter how unlikely their success or how few women shared them.

My dad and me.

My dad and me.

This is first of what I hope will be my weekly blogs spotlighting stories that stick with me through the week. Focus will be on lives of girls and women and most weeks I'll shoot for having at least some highlight women in sports. I'll annotate each story with my insights and thoughts that come out of life experiences. Hoping you'll comment so we can open up a dialogue about these stories – and events and opinions they bring to mind. 

                    – Melissa Ludtke, author of forthcoming memoir,  "Locker Women Talk: A Woman's Struggle to Get Inside"


Mercury 13: The Women Who Weren't Astronauts

Look magazine cover, Feb. 2, 1960

Look magazine cover, Feb. 2, 1960

I was eight years old when this magazine cover was published. The idea of a "girl" going into space seemed unimaginable and I wasn't the only one thinking that way.  Despite passing every one of the tests, physical and psychological, that the Mercury 7 astronauts (all men) passed, Betty Skelton (pictured on the LOOK cover), NASA declared that neither she nor any of the other 13 women who'd taken the astronaut tests would go into space. It would be 23 years before Sally Ride would blast off in the Challenger space shuttle, becoming the first American woman in space.

Betty died in 2011, but many of the Mercury 13 women pilots who tried out to be astronauts share their stories in this magnificent documentary Mercury 13, a Netflix original

SYNOPSIS: Mercury 13 is a remarkable story of the women who were tested for spaceflight in 1961 before their dreams were dashed in being the first to make the trip beyond Earth. NASA’s ‘man in space’ program, dubbed ‘Project Mercury’ began in 1958. The men chosen – all military test pilots – became known as The Mercury 7. But away from the glare of the media, behind firmly closed doors, female pilots were also screened. Thirteen of them passed and, in some cases, performed better than the men. They were called the Mercury 13 and had the ‘right stuff’ but were, unfortunately, the wrong gender. Underneath the obsession of the space race that gripped America, the women were aviation pioneers who emerged thirsty for a new frontier, but whose time would have to wait. The film tells the definitive story of thirteen truly remarkable women who reached for the stars but were ahead of their time. A Netflix original documentary directed by David Sington (The Fear of 13) and Heather Walsh.
— Film Review: Netflix’s Mercury 13 Shows The Cosmic Cruelty of Sexism

Women Sports Reporters: Sexism at the World Cup

‘I prefer to hear a male voice’: Female commentators find harsh judgment at World Cup

Washington Post, June 26, 2018

Washington Post, June 26, 2018

Category: Happens All The Time:

A man complains about the sound of a woman's voice invading what he considers "his" space. Happened again this week when Vicki Sparks became the first woman to broadcast a World Cup game on British TV. Didn't take long a British soccer player to go on national TV to say he didn't think her voice belonged there. Good news: So many pushed back against his comment on Good Morning Britain,  that by afternoon he had to apologize, and he did. So, too, did a few of the men who groped and kissed three on-air women reporters at the World Cup after the women called them out on their gross, sexist behavior.

“Don’t do this! Never do this again,” Ms Guimaraes shouted at the man, who can be heard apologising in the video.

”Don’t do this, I don’t allow you to do this, never, OK? This is not polite, this is not right.

”Never do this to a woman, OK? Respect.”
— BBC News: World Cup reporter Julia Guimaraes' fury at on-camera kiss attempt

Of course, this happens in other realms, too, like politics, really any place a woman challenges the presumed power of men. In no time at all, she's being told about the irritating pitch of her voice. Remember Hillary Clinton and how The Atlantic did a scientific investigation of her sound. 

And Getty Images faced published a photo album, World Cup 2018: The Sexiest Fans” that featured images of only female fans. After receiving a lot of backlash for this photo album, Getty apologized and removed the album, saying that it did not meet “editorial standards.”

Nudity and Athletes = Women's Empowerment

From Jessica Mendoza's Twitter feed

From Jessica Mendoza's Twitter feed

Once upon a time – back in the 1970s when I was a reporter at Sports Illustrated – my magazine published its swimsuit issue as soon as the professional football season ended. Hey, the guys needed something to look at and women with as little clothes on as possible proved to be the best-selling answer. Now SI's swimsuit issue also features women athletes like Olympic gold medalists Aly Raisman and Simone Biles posing in bikinis and displaying women's muscularity.

Just as I admire today's women sportswriters and broadcasters for speaking up and pushing back against the vile things said on social media about them, I get how showing strength in a woman's body and breaking out of the male gaze expectations is empowering, and I applaud these athletes for pushing boundaries by showing who they are as women. Here's my recent blog post about SI's most popular issue. 

ESPN does, too, in its annual body issue, featuring male and female athletes, all posing nude, with their private parts creatively concealed. See gallery below for photos on Twitter feeds sent out about the ESPN Body Issue, primarily featuring softball star Lauren Chamberlain.

Toni Stone: Woman Player in Negro League

From story published by  Timeline

From story published by Timeline

This woman shattered the gender barrier in pro baseball

When Toni Stone joined the Negro League, she became the first woman regular on a big-league team

‘There’s always got to be a first in everything,’ Toni Stone told Ebony in 1953. She knew what she was talking about. By that point, Stone had been the first in a lot of things: the first girl on her church’s baseball team; the first on a traveling barnstorming team; and, now, she had just become the first woman to play Negro League baseball, breaking the gender line at the same time Major League Baseball was making strides with racial integration. Stone felt the sting of both racism and sexism in her journey to becoming a professional in the sport she’d loved since childhood.
— Ashawnta Jackson, writing on Timeline

History is a great reminder that long before women marched for their rights, there were women like Toni Stone, who in doing what she loved the best, was carving paths into places that girls and women didn't usually go. Even nationally syndicated columnist Dorothy Kilgallen took note of her singular success, praising her with these words: “She belts home runs as easily as most girls catch stitches in their knitting, and the sports boys are goggle-eyed.”Here's a video about Toni Stone, narrated by Martha Ackmann, the author of "Curveball: The Remarkable Story of Toni Stone."

Trans women migrate to escape violence and stay alive:

Reporter Alice Driver takes on the journey with one of them.

As dawn arrives, Marfil Estrella looks out the window of the bus that will take her from San Salvador, El Salvador to Guatemala City, Guatemala. Photos by  Danielle Villasana .

As dawn arrives, Marfil Estrella looks out the window of the bus that will take her from San Salvador, El Salvador to Guatemala City, Guatemala. Photos by Danielle Villasana.

We return to Longreads for Alice Driver's evocative and elegantly written story about the journey north undertaken by a trans woman who will seek asylum in the United States in an attempt to save her life.

At Mister Donut, I sat across the table from Avelar and asked Marfil Estrella if I could join her on her journey to the United States. Marfil Estrella, who had tried to migrate before but had faced violence, said my presence would make her feel safer. I agreed to accompany her to Tapachula, Mexico, via bus, then she planned to spend a few months there getting her papers in order to legally pass through Mexico. Avelar, who had helped Marfil Estrella in the process of preparing paperwork for asylum, said she remembered that Marfil Estella had said to her when they first met, ‘I want to leave here because the streets right now are a time bomb. I don’t want to be left lying in the street, as so many have been left. I want to seek freedom. I want to seek peace.’
— The Road to Asylum Trans women migrate to escape violence and stay alive. Alice Driver accompanied one of these women on her journey, byAlice Driver










So Long High Heels: Hello Equality, Once Again

Pink high heel.jpeg

I made a mistake. I wore heels. Not stilettos. Mine weren't even close to high enough that my heel looked brittle enough to snap. Slender at its point, my heels were not so pointy as to render me tipsy or tippy. Instead, I swayed, since I'd soon discovered that the cushiony cover on the heel tip was gone so what met the floor was a thin, metal spike. I felt like a tap dancer trying not to tap but only to remain upright as I walked gingerly across the slippery airport floor. 

Gail Sheehy wrote "Passages" – about the predictable crises of adult life. I don't remember reading about this one, though it's certainly one that could be predicted. Won't there come a time in every woman's life – born out of pain – when her body rebels and she sends a message to Self: "Self, I've worn the last high heeled shoes of my life."

Last Wednesday night, when hobbled by foot pain, I left my plane in stocking feet. I walked through the airport, my shoes dangling from my hand, and then to the the parking lot to await my Lyft ride home, and up the stairs into my room where the shoes fell to the floor, never to be worn again.

My last high heels.

My last high heels.


It's flats from now on. I never did wear heels all that much, but now I'm really done.

My mid-sixties heels' passage got me to wondering what embodiment of youth I will next throw over to age? Tight fitted waists on pants are fading fast. Bungee jumping is definitely out, though I'm not at all sure that in my younger years I would have done that. Not much else I can think of, yet.

What's comforting about ditching my heels is realizing I'm catching a wave of feminist #MeToo rebellion, and not just among peers. Here's a headline on a story I love:

This Unspoken Rule About Heels Is the Reason Kristen Stewart Ditched Her Shoes at Cannes

Kristen Stewart at Cannes.jpeg
Kristen Stewart made headlines at the Cannes Film Festival this week for taking her shoes off on the red carpet. And if you look back into the archives, you’ll realize she did almost the same thing in 2016 when she swapped her black Christian Louboutins for blue Vans sneakers. Her decision is not just about comfort — it’s about making a statement against the Cannes policy that requires women to wear high heels. Although the policy is more of an unspoken rule and isn’t etched in stone like other parts of the Cannes dress code, it’s become clear that women wearing heels are more welcome than those wearing flats.
— Popsugar, May 18, 2018

And this one

How High Heels Became a Feminist Issue at Cannes

Outrage ensued after a group of women wearing flat shoes was turned away from a Cannes red carpet. Why is the high heel such a charged piece of clothing?

The controversy at Cannes reflects a longstanding debate about feminism and high heels.

Indeed, the high heel—as the Brooklyn Museum’s Killer Heels exhibition revealed—is fraught with historical baggage.

From Chinese women teetering on foot-binding wedges to Marilyn Monroe wiggling in her stilettos, high heels have symbolized femininity, sex, power, and submission—sometimes all at once.

They can never be neutral. Women who wear them know this, whether they do so to express their own feelings of power and control or to look and feel sexy. ... Still some feminists insist women can’t be taken seriously in four-inch platforms. Writing in the anthology Fifty Shades of Feminism, Sandi Toksvig, the Danish writer and actress, argues that women ‘will never meet men on an equal footing … while they literally can’t stand up for themselves.’
— Daily Beast, May 19, 2015

After finally ditching my high heels, it's fun to feel part of what's become a broader cultural rebellion in which what women wear (or don't wear) on their feel sends a signal about our freedom.

Here's to flats and freedom!

It may seem somewhat overblown to declare the seemingly trivial act of wearing flats to a formal event as an act of resistance, but the potential impact is truly significant. After all, it’s not that long ago that women were forbidden from wearing pants in public,” says Juliet Williams, an associate professor of gender studies and associate dean of social sciences at UCLA. “By this logic, the expectation (if not formal compulsion) that women wear high heels may be seen as one more shackle that needs to be cast off if women are ever to truly compete, toe-to-comfortable-toe, with men.
— The history of the high heel – and what it says about women today, The Boston Globe, June 28, 2015

For a history of high heels – and what they tell us about women's lives, check out this Boston Globe story.

In Memory of Christina-Taylor Green: A Girl Who Loved Baseball

Christina-Taylor Green watched over her younger brother, reading to him as a big sister does. in her memory, this sculpture was dedicated and stands in sad remembrance of this girl who was born on 9/11, who died from when bullets aimed at Representative Gabby Giffords hit her. That was on a morning when Christina, who was nine year old, awakened feeling excited that her neighbor was taking her to meet a woman she admired in politics.

Christina-Taylor Green watched over her younger brother, reading to him as a big sister does. in her memory, this sculpture was dedicated and stands in sad remembrance of this girl who was born on 9/11, who died from when bullets aimed at Representative Gabby Giffords hit her. That was on a morning when Christina, who was nine year old, awakened feeling excited that her neighbor was taking her to meet a woman she admired in politics.

Christina-Taylor had just been elected her class president at Mesa Verde Elementary School in Tucson, Arizona. Her plans were to start a club at her school to help her less fortunate classmates. I knew none of this about her or much about her aunt Kim Green, when in my last blog I shared the photograph of Kim as a girl wearing a baseball glove who then was just about the same age as Christina when she died. Kim had tried to play on her town's Little League Baseball team, but she couldn't because she was a girl. When Christina was nine, she was the only girl playing baseball on her Little League team. She put her glove on to play second base.

Girls in Baseball 1974 Kim Green.jpeg

When Christina was nine, she was the only girl playing baseball on her Little League team. She put her glove on to play second base.

Christina-Taylor Green

Christina-Taylor Green

Two days after I published my blog, "Play Ball," this comment arrived from Perry Barber. I didn't know Perry then, but I know I lot more about her now – and this tells me why she wrote to me about Christina-Taylor. More on Perry later. Now the words Perry shared with me:

Kim Green, the little girl shown in the photo from 1974, is the sister of Roxanna Green and aunt to Roxanna’s daughter, another baseball-loving little girl whose name was Christina-Taylor Green.

Christina was murdered in the same Arizona shooting that severely injured then-congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords back in 2011. Christina was honored at the very first Baseball For All Nationals tournament in Kissimmee, Florida in 2013; the more than two hundred baseball-playing girls from all over the globe who participated in the tournament, organized by BFA founder Justine Siegal, wore armbands with Christina’s initials in her memory. Christina’s spirit continues to inspire other girls who play and love baseball the way she did, the way her aunt and her whole family has done for generations. 

I wrote these words to Perry: 

How remarkable, Perry Barber, for you to introduce me to Christina-Taylor Green and to share her remarkable life with me – a life of such extraordinary promise, beauty and heart, a life which so sadly was shortened by the violence that’s all too horribly visited on children in America today. And to learn from you about her love of baseball, how Baseball for All honored her at its National Tournament, and how the girls playing in it wore armbands in her memory. Your words are leading me to write another blog post that I will be sharing soon, words of mine in honor of Christina-Taylor, a girl I wish I’d had the pleasure of meeting, a girl whose memory will stay within me forever. With gratitude for you enabling me to know her. Melissa

And then I put Perry Barber's name into Google search and before long I knew why Perry toook the moments she did to write to me about Christina-Taylor. With this girl and woman, baseball became a shared passion.

Perry Barber, MSBL umpire

Perry Barber, MSBL umpire

Soon, I came upon this story, "Perry Barber: Renaissance Umpire," published by the Men’s Senior Baseball League (MSBL)/Men’s Adult Baseball League (MABL), and is my introduction – now yours – to Perry Barber:

Perry Barber is a very extraordinary lady. This 61 year old dynamo is a Jeopardy game show champion from 1972 when Art Flemming paved the way for Alex Trebek and is also a musician who’s talent took her to the same stage as the ‘Boss’, Bruce Springsteen, as his opening act. She is also an MSBL umpire in her third year of working the MSBL World Series down here in the warm sun of Arizona.
— Perry Barber: Renaissance Umpire

How remarkable that by reading about a threat allegedly made about an 11-year old girl who wanted to play baseball in New Hampshire, I start this magical chain reaction with stories of girls and baseball. How magnificent, too, that Justine Siegal, who in 2009 was the first female coach of a Major League baseball team (the Oakland A's) after she'd founded Baseball for All at the age of 23, was the person to introduce me to Karen Zerby Buzzelle, the mom who'd founded the all girls baseball team, the Boston Slammers. So when the 11-year old girl from New Hampshire came to scrimmage with the Boston Slammers and inspired me to write a blog post about her, I came to learn about Kim Green's long-ago passion to play baseball and how in 1974 her mom Sheila made it happen for Kim and lots of other girls, as moms like Karen still do. Then, I thought about how 1974 had been the year when I followed my passion for baseball and other sports to becoming a researcher and reporter at Sports Illustrated, and in this job I'd become the first woman to cover Major League Baseball full-time and four years later in 1978 I'd win a federal court case to give women equal access to report on baseball.

For Perry Barber to be the one to introduce me to Christina–Taylor, this girl who loved baseball, is fitting. Feeling Now connected with Christina and with the youthful Kim and her childhood friend Alice, and with Perry, makes me wish for the day when our shared passion won't be a story told only by a few of us who love this game and possess the inner drive to want to share it with others. Instead, my dream is that one day, soon, when more girls and women play baseball that the crowds cheering them on and the media telling their stories will be the equal in size and yes, in passion, to those who gather to watch and report on the boys and men.

Now in my mid-60s I'm writing this blog, my first, and I am writing my memoir, Locker Room Talk, about the time in America's history when I was in my mid-20s and women in America marched to fight back against gender discrimination. I want my 21-year old daughter Maya to know how I was able to play a small role in this social movement for gender equality by opening the baseball's locker room doors to the girls and women whose job it was then – and one day would be – to report on baseball.

These doors, I am happy to say, are ones that many women have walked through. 

RBG calls for ERA: I'm With Her!

RBG on ERA.jpeg

Ruth Bader Ginsburg calls for equal rights amendment to the Constitution

This headline of last Friday's Washington Post story caught my eye. RBG is a hero of mine. Not only do I admire her physical workouts, especially her push-ups, but I am grateful for her ever-watchful eye and  lifetime of steadfast actions she's taken to protect and promote women's rights.

To absorb RBG's legal reasoning about why the United States needs both the ERA and the 14th Amendment to protect sexual equality, read her cogent argument in the January 1979 Washington University Law Review – Symposium: The Quest for Equality.

When the ERA deadline for ratification was reached in 1982, I was in my early 30s, living in heady times when women were on the march and I could see women's lives changing around me. In my federal court case, Ludtke v. Kuhn, Judge Constance Baker Motley's ruling moved a mountain of resistance to secure equality for women sportswriters – and though there weren't many of us, the ruling's symbolic import was huge. Perhaps because I existed in my euphoric bubble I trusted that progress towards gender equality was inevitable and unstoppable; it would be only a matter of time before the ERA would be in our Constitution. After all, who could object to works with legal standing that achieve what is fair, just and right?


Section 1. Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of sex.

It was suffragist Alice Paul who in 1923, on the 75th anniversary of the 1848 Women's Rights Convention, had introduced the "Lucretia Mott Amendment. It read: "Men and woman shall have equal rights throughout the United States and every place subject to its jurisdiction." This was introduced in every session of Congress until a slightly reworded ERA amendment passed in 1972 and was sent to the states for ratification. When favorable state votes stalled as the seven year window was about to end, Congress extended the deadline by three years. Alice Paul died in 1977, which was the year when Indiana became the 35th and last state to ratify the ERA before the deadline came.

In 1980 the Republican Party dropped the ERA from its party platform.

In my book proposal for Locker Room Talk, I noted the similarities in how people talked about gender and locker rooms during my equal rights case in the late 1970s and the debates about the designation and use of bathrooms that have assumed such a central role in the transgender rights movement today. From my book proposal:

Perhaps our enduring fascination with - and the on-going political currency of – the question of who gets into what restroom tugs our generations together. Back in my day, Phyllis Schlafly, the self-proclaimed defender of women’s propriety and place, put toilets at the moralizing core of her separate spheres campaign against the ERA. Her side won, and many credited the specter of shared toilets as the key in dooming the amendment, along with the fear she instilled about women being forced to assume combat roles in the military. Today women have gone to court so that they can serve in combat alongside men, arguing they are able to perform as the equal of men. Now, too, the politics around transgender people is at its fiercest at the bathroom door. Who enters what door? Who decides?
— Locker Room Talk, book proposal

In 1923, Alice Paul, rallied support for the cause of equal rights, by observing that "if we keep on this way they will be celebrating the 150th anniversary of the 1848 Convention without being much further advanced in equal rights than we are. . . .  We shall not be safe until the principle of equal rights is written into the framework of our government."

Alice Paul.jpeg

Alice Paul was right. By 1998, the ERA was dormant. Only recently, and with good reason as women experience setbacks in the successful struggles we've waged and won, is there talk of reviving the ERA. And action, too: On March 22, 2017, the 45th anniversary of the day that Congress sent the ERA to the states, legislators made Nevada the 36th (of 38 needed) to ratify the ERA. There's debate, of course, about their timing given that the Congressional deadline of 1982 long ago ended.

So if that's the fight we need to have in Congress, I'm with RBG. I say let's do it.

Excellent interview with RBG in The Atlantic, published after I wrote this post.