February 2003: Cagney & Lacey

CagneyI’m spending the weekend and the in-laws in Blackburn and I’m full of cold. I’m a one-woman snot-making machine. This afternoon, David went to the match and I sat on the sofa with a Beechams, a pile of newspapers and books, and two boxes of tissues. After a while I got a bit bored and the house was too quiet so I put the telly on and ended up watching an episode of Cagney & Lacey from 1983.

It started with Lacey being annoyed with Cagney who was trying to ingratiate herself with the men by joining in when they’d hired a stripper for someone’s birthday. Then a woman came in and asked specifically to see female cops. She told them she’d been date raped. I was only half watching and still flicking through the papers until this point, but I was surprised to find a date rape case on Cagney & Lacey. I remember loving the programme, but I don’t remember it covering serious issues.

So they’re discussing it with the other cops who are all sceptical and then the lieutenant says, “How come when Rhett Butler throws Scarlett on the bed, that’s romance, but when some poor schlub does it, that’s rape?” and Tyne Daly says, “If you don’t know the difference between rape and romance then you’ve got a serious problem.” And she walks out. And the lieutenant says, “Is it her time of the month or what?”

At this point I was seriously suprised and started making notes. When I did the access course at college one of my Media Studies essays was a comparison of sexism in an episode of The Sweeney, remembered for lines like “Get your knickers on and make us a cup of tea,” and The Bill, supposedly a “modern” programme. Well, like for like, The Bill was more sexist. I’d compared a programme from the 70s and one from the 90s, so I was interested in the 80s take.

The episode of Cagney & Lacey went onto have the “guys” fixing someone up with a female impersonator as a joke, and then, as revenge for the joke, setting the Lieutenant up with a hooker. And all the time Mary Beth is questioning this. (“Excuse me, I thought you were a cop, not some Gloria Steinem” was one of the comments she received.) I was 12 in 1983 and, as I watched the programme today, I wondered what I would have made of it aged 12.

Would I have questioned any of it? Whose side would I have been on? Would I have thought, like everyone else did (even Harvey!) that Mary Beth was taking it all too seriously? Could that have been the first time I became aware that these issues even existed? Has anything even changed in the past 20 years? Later, I was back to reading The Telegraph and in the travel section I found my answer:  ‘Noel Josephides, Managing Director of Sunvil Holidays, a specialist in Greece, blamed the “disco culture” for the increasing violence, saying: “Youngsters go to these resorts, get drunk and wear next to nothing, so it’s not suprising that these things happen …”.’ He was commenting on 34 reported rapes of British citizens in Greece last year.

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2 thoughts on “February 2003: Cagney & Lacey

  1. Great post, I remember watching that episode back in the early 80’s and am a similar age to you. It stuck in my mind, I remember being angry at the unfairness of it all even then. *sigh* Things haven’t changed a great deal. We talk about it more but the basic underlying prejudices are still there.

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