Monday, February 14, 2011

TV's original "Police Woman" rejected the feminism of her time

"I don't look fantastic.  I look my age."

Angie Dickinson then (left,) and now (right.)
That's how TV's original "Police Woman," Angie Dickinson, 79, responds to flattery.

She applies that same no-nonsense approach to the feminist movement of the '70s in recent interviews for PBS' "Pioneers of Television" series and in an interview with the American Association of Retired Persons.

Her response probably wasn't what the movement was looking for from an actress who played a strong female lead in the NBC series "Police Woman" from 1974-1978.

Back in the days before "CSI" and "Law and Order," it was "still unique to see a woman in uniform," Dickinson told AARP.

Her role was new ground for women and television.  Dickinson was the first woman to head the cast of a successful television drama.

And yet, says AARP:

"Her distinction, however, didn’t make her a feminist. 'I never felt the need for feminism,' she says. 'I never felt competition with men, which I really believed started the movement. ...

'When I was up for a role, I didn't compete with men; it was a role for a woman.' And, as for the historic inequity between what Hollywood paid men vs. women? 'I was content with what they gave me,' " she says.

But Dickinson was no sell out.  Says PBS:

"Dickinson embraced a character that exuded sex appeal and brains in equal measure. But she eschewed the sex kitten image of contemporaries such as Marilyn Monroe and Jayne Mansfield, favoring roles that meshed well with her one-of-the-guys real-life persona. She even disallowed the studio to lighten her naturally dark hair beyond a honey blonde shade. She reveled in a character that made her a household name."

It is true that the liberal feminism of the '70s could be construed a "one-size-fits-all" movement that left many women feeling alienated, rather than part of a sisterhood.

One of the movement's biggest mistakes was assuming every woman wanted the same thing -- legal equality  and competition with men.

Even today, every woman is not a feminist by virtue of her sex, or her gender.

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