A League of Their Own is a movie that came out in the 90s with a star-studded cast with many examples of Communication Theories. Two in particular which will be the focus of this paper are Symbolic Interactionism and Muted Group Theory. These theories are very fascinating and very important to how humans attach meaning to the world and how marginalized people face challenges in communication. This essay’s objective is to describe A League of Their Own, explain Symbolic Interactionism and Muted Group Theory, and utilize examples of the theories from the movie.
A League of Their Own starts out with an older woman preparing to go on a trip. Her destination: the baseball field. It is a reunion of the All American Girls Baseball League. During World War II, many of the professional baseball players of the time went to serve their country, and there was a hole in the great American pastime. Supposedly, Mr. Harvey came up with an idea. If women were serving their country by joining the workforce, why couldn’t all of the roles men were leaving be filled by women, such as playing baseball. The movie cuts to a small, rec league game of women’s baseball, where Dottie Henson and her sister, Kit are playing. (There is an issue with how I introduced Kit and Dottie I will get into later). The girls later find out that there was a scout at the game looking to recruit female ballplayers. He comes to their farm to recruit Dottie, but she will only go to Chicago for tryouts with him if Kit can come too. So the next day, they chase a train, literally chase a train, and head to Chicago. They all make a pit stop to look at another player, and she is a great hitter. However, the recruiter almost leaves her because she is not pretty enough. The girls convince the recruiter to take her with them and they all head to tryouts. They all consequently make the same baseball team. The owners of the league then introduce the girls who made the cut to their new uniform. They are going to play baseball in skirts! At first, there are some complaints but the girls are quickly put in their place by Mr. Lowenstein saying, “If you can’t play ball in this, you can’t play ball with us. Right now there are 38 girls getting train tickets who would play in a bathing suit if I asked them to”(Columbia Pictures, 1992). It was the 40s after all. The girls are also told they have to swear off smoking, drinking, and men, as well as take an etiquette class and go to beauty school. The main team that Kit and Dottie were assigned to is called the Rockford Peaches. They are assigned a manager who is an alcoholic, Jimmy Dugan. He basically sleeps through their entire first game. Later, some of the girls sneak out to go to a “roadhouse” for some dancing and drinks. In the next game, Jimmy really “steps up to the plate” and actually calls a play. Not without some competition from Dottie, who had been calling the plays every other game. Then there is a quick transitional scene on the bus to build the girls’ characters in the movie. After that, the infamous “there’s no crying in baseball(Columbia Pictures, 1992)”, scene happens. At the next game, there is a reporter from Life magazine to do a story on the girls. They really turn it on then. They start doing tricks and using their femininity to their advantage to start drawing in a crowd. There is a point when a female black woman is on the field, as their league is all white. She throws the ball back into the field with a strong arm. At the next game, Mr. Harvey tells Mr. Lowenstein that he plans on ending the league after one season. Mr. Lowenstein is not happy with that and says he will take up overseeing the league. Then Kit gets in a fight with another member of the team, Dorris. Dorris made a comment about Kit not being able to finish out the game. Kit typically falls into the shadow of her sister because Dottie is so good. Dottie threatens to leave the league unless a trade happens because of the conflict. Instead of trading Dottie however, Mr. Lowenstein trades Kit to another team. Shortly after Kit is traded, one of the girls receives news that her husband died at war, and Dottie’s husband returns from war. Dottie quits anyway in order to return home with him. Several games go by, and the Rockford Peaches are in the World Series. Dottie comes back to play the last game. It comes down to the wire and Kit is hitting on the other team, but Dottie slips her pitcher some info about Kit’s pitching which is supposed to throw her off. Kit makes the hit in spite of this and runs all the way home. She tackles her sister on home base, helping her new team win the World Series. The movie then jumps back to the older women revisiting and reuniting at the baseball field, where they later open an exhibit showing off their dedication to baseball.
Explain Theory: Symbolic Interactionism
Symbolic Interactionism has three main principles in regards to meaning, language, and thinking, in that order(Griffin 2019 p. 53-58). Interaction with these principles create a person’s sense of self, and their place in society(Griffin 2019 p. 53-58). The concept of meaning is how humans act toward people or things based on the meaning attached to them(Griffin 2019 p. 53-58). Deciding that a situation is real leads to the construction of social reality(Griffin 2019 p. 53-58). The next step is using language to negotiate meaning(Griffin 2019 p. 53-58). Meaning does not come pre-assigned, people define it through social interactions(Griffin 2019 p. 53-58). This is how symbols are developed. Symbols can be written and explicit, or tangible objects that almost have unwritten rules attached to them. Thinking is the third and final premise in which the individual interacts with meaning, and interpret symbols individually(Griffin 2019 p. 53-58). This process is called “minding,” the pause before further interacting with the world(Griffin 2019 p. 53-58). It is an inner dialogue or self-talk which is reflective, and useful in helping people decide what the next best move is(Griffin 2019 p. 53-58).
Once humans master interacting with the world, we can start understanding the concept of self. This requires that we think about what we look like to other people, or what it is like to exist outside of our body(Griffin 2019 p. 53-58). The textbook has a quote that says, “‘We are not born with senses of self. Rather, selves arise in interaction with others. I can only experience myself in relation to others…’” (Griffin 2019, p. 57). The self is comprised of two main processes, the “I” and the “me”(Griffin 2019 p. 53-58). The “I” is every spontaneous action we make, but once it is studied closely, it becomes the “me.” “Me” is seen through the reflection of others(Griffin 2019 p. 53-58).
Examples From the Movie
This is a theory that could apply to anyone, but the best example from this movie is Kit and her relation to Dottie. Kit’s main sense of self is mainly in relation to everything her sister does. After the first ball game of the movie, the sisters are walking home. Kit is down on herself from comments she heard from spectators at the game. Things were said to her like, “good thing your sister bailed you out”(Columbia Pictures, 1992), and “Kit, why don’t you get your sister to teach you how to hit”(Columbia Pictures 1992), and through interacting with the world this way, she comes up with her idea of what these people mean when they say these things to her. She goes on to say “Kit why can’t you be beautiful like that sister of yours, Dottie”(Columbia Pictures, 1992). This is not actually a comment anyone made, she reveals, but this is how Kit interprets the meaning of their interactions with her. As Dottie tries to shrug off Kit’s perceptions of herself, Kit describes how she feels when her dad introduces the two of them in a social setting. He would say, “This is our daughter Dottie, and this is our other daughter, Dottie’s sister”(Columbia Pictures, 1992). Kit never gets to just be Kit, she is always defined in relation to her sister up until the very end of the movie. This theory can also be applied to Dottie as well, but she has a different experience with the world. Dottie is told by many that she is a great ballplayer, “the best in the league,” “the goods,” “the queen of diamonds”(Columbia Pictures, 1992), and so on. She has a very easy time moving through life in regards to baseball compared to her sister. This language they interact with is the source of their meaning. Kit tries to hit the ball but can’t, she is told that she cannot hit the ball like her sister, therefore she thinks she is seen as a lesser player to her sister. It’s not that she believes that, she is just tired of being stuck in Dottie’s shadow. Dottie on the other hand is older, seen as slightly prettier, but her concept of herself is not solely based on her performance in baseball. She also develops her self-concept from interacting with her husband, who tells her she is beautiful when she does not believe so, and her interactions with her manager. She hears all of these things from people, but doesn’t think baseball is as important to her self-image as others.
After a tough game for Kit, where her sister told their manager to pull her out of the game, Dottie is forced to look at what it is like to be Kit. Dottie then threatens to quit the league. Dottie tries to get herself removed from the team, however, it results in Kit being traded from the team. Kit is not happy about this obviously, and storms in the house, throwing a baseball at her sister and breaking a window. This could be seen as an “I” concept of the Looking Glass Self. It is a novel, spontaneous act. When Dottie is confused as to why they did not trade her, Kit says “oh yeah they’d really trade you. Miss Star, Miss Perfect.” In this instance Kit steps outside of herself and again, sees herself just as everyone else sees her: an extension of her sister. Both of the sisters exist alone and act spontaneously, as well as try to see themselves outside of their own being.
Explain Theory: Muted Group Theory
Muted Group Theory is another very prominent theory in this movie. This is the idea that “people belonging to lower power groups must change their language when communicating publicly, thus their ideas are often overlooked”(Griffin, 2019 p. 410) This can be applied to women in society because much of what women think and have to say is constantly discounted(Griffin, 2019 p. 409). How women interact with other women and how they interact with the outer world hold two totally different sets of spoken words(Griffin, 2019 p. 411). Women can speak to other women and be understood just fine, but when they go to speak to a man, they must change their phrasing, and tone of voice if they want to be heard by the audience(Griffin, 2019 p. 414). Muted Group Theory says that the English language was basically created by men, for men, so women either have to add words to convey their experience, or adapt their speech so that they can be understood in larger channels(Griffin, 2019 p. 412). Men have always been the gatekeepers of communication and continue to be to this day(Griffin, 2019 p. 412). For example, when a woman gets married, it is assumed that she will take her husband’s name, but never the other way around (Griffin, 2019 p. 412). That way, the man has all of the control. History has also been written by men and for men, typically leaving females and other muted groups out. Just to clarify, “Men attend to and treat as significant only what men say” (Griffin, 2019 p. 413).
Examples from the Movie
Earlier in my essay, I used the phrase, “steps up to the plate” which as the textbook states for a similar phrase, “is a metaphor drawn from competitive team sports-historically an experience familiar to more men than women” (Griffin 2019 p. 412). As a woman writing this paper, I had to use a typically masculine phrase to get my point across, as there is not a very effective female equivalent. So do the women in the movie. These girls must take a sport originally created for men and translate it into their own language. Take the idea of “tell it straight” versus “tell is slant” (Griffin 2019 p. 414). Girls couldn’t just play baseball in the 1940s because they wanted to, they had to make it make sense to the public. So there was a commercial made showing off all of their womanly skills, they played baseball in dresses, and they had to use gimmicks such as, “catch a foul, get a kiss”(Columbia Pictures, 1992). Women having to alter their communication so that it makes sense in the mainstream is why this applies to Muted Group Theory. “Kramarae says that, ‘men have structured a value system and a language that reflects that value system. Women have had to work through the system organized by men”(Griffin, 2019 p. 413).
An example of men acting the gatekeepers in this movie would be when Mr. Harvey was going to shut the league down after one season because America was winning the war and the president said that baseball was going to come back. All of these decisions were made by men. Men even came up with the idea to start a female league, men decided that women were to wear dresses to play baseball, even though the women protested. When Mr. Lowenstein told the girls if they didn’t do something to draw in a crowd, the plug would be pulled on the whole thing, the girls were obviously upset. To the big businessman, however, he was just like eh, business as usual. Mr. Lowenstein was the only one who stuck up for them and said “They play with sprained ankles and broken fingers. They ride a bus all night to play doubleheaders the next morning”(Columbia Pictures, 1992). For him or their manager to even remotely begin to understand their dedication, they had to have been close enough to them to see what they went through. And yet, the girls hardly ever had any say in whether or not they were going to get to play, aside from all of the normal sports ins and outs. The argument of whether they should continue to play was always between men because they were in a position of power.
Reactions/Insight on Applying Theories to a Movie
This assignment sounds fun on the surface, but it was actually very challenging. I am not confident that you will find my analysis of this movie to be what you want it to be, but I did the absolute best I could, and I am proud of that. I watched my movie about three or four times in total, once to watch it twice to make the summary, and the last two were skimming it for quotes. I have honestly watched it as many times as I have watched one of my favorite movies, and I will definitely view movies differently from now on after this assignment. I won’t ramble on much more as my paper is approaching ten pages, but this is probably one of the most challenging and eye-opening assignments I have faced in a while.
In conclusion, the movie A League of Their Own is a comedy/drama movie about sports, women, and how they interact with what that means. The women learn to adapt to their environment for the love of the great American pastime. They create what it means for women to play sports, while paving the way for women in every type of workforce, even in sports. Even though it was hard at first for them to be taken seriously as ballplayers, even by their coach, they make Americans come around and are eventually revered for their efforts. The theories in this movie reflect a very real challenge that women were faced with and overcame in the many years after the war. Although there is still inequality in women’s sports today, women’s sports exist still, and women continue to pave the way for the future.
Columbia Pictures. (1992). A League of Their Own. Retrieved from https://www.showtime.com/#play/3453760
Griffin, E. A., Ledbetter, A., & Sparks, G. G. (2019). A first look at communication theory. New York, NY: McGraw-Hill Education.