King of the Hill Wrestles With Title IX

by d

via the KotH Wikia

King of the Hill is a cartoon about life in suburban Texas. The series has concluded, but it runs in syndication on Cartoon Network’s Adult Swim, which has allowed me to rapidly catch up on what I’ve been missing. It’s a great show, capturing a segment of American life, sending up our foibles in sometimes subtle ways, and innovating beyond the average sitcom or cartoon.

The episode “Bobby Slam” ran on Wednesday night. It’s an episode that revolves around gender rights, via the issue of girls’ sports.

Peggy Hill, wife of the titular Hank Hill, is a substitute teacher at the middle school their son, Bobby, attends. She is called in at the last moment to coach (“We sort of… forgot to hire one…”) ‘General Sports,’ the school’s mediocre attempt to include girls in the extracurricular sports program. Her team has one basketball, obviously patched multiple times, that cannot hold air. Meanwhile, the boys’ teams get uniforms, mats, balls, and anything else they require or would just like to have, like holograms on the football game tickets. Peggy, always a fighter, goes to the principal.

“Well, Dooley, a preteen girl is like a skinny little tree, about to enter the hurricaine of adolescence. And if we don’t protect and nurture this little tree, before we know it, she’ll be bitter and pregnant. For that reason, I’m asking the principal for a new basketball for the girls.”

Dooley says, “Girls sports are a joke.”

That’s the view most people in their town of Arlen seem to have. And, really, if all the girls get to do is punt a dead ball around, how is anyone supposed to take it seriously? The girls clearly want to play.Peggy takes this crusade for a better program personally. As a girl, she showed great promise as a baseball/softball player. But she was told to ‘run over to the store, then, and get these boys some sodey pop.’ Though she was denied this dream, Peggy still plays recreationally, and she takes it seriously.

When one of the girls, their neighbor Connie, voices an interest in wrestling, Peggy dusts off Title IX. Title IX is an anti-discrimination law, which reads,

No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance…

Title IX has been used before to provide sport programs for girls in public schools, which are government-funded. Despite this, the wrestling coach still looks for a way out–or to at least punish Peggy. Instead of an ‘everyone’s on the team’ policy, he sets up tryouts, and pits Connie and Bobby against each other. One or the other will not make the team.

There’s a happy ending, but the episode has some damning quotes. Hank, Peggy’s husband, is a classic archetype. He was a high school football star, takes great pride in his home and his country, and wants his son to be a real man. Bobby is… unusual… leading Hank to sadly shake his head and say, “Boy ain’t right.”

“So, where you stationed today, soldier? Fort Mathematics? Heh heh.”

“Today, I’m teaching gym.”

“Woah, now that’s serious, Peggy. Gym is where a boy learns teamwork and the important of winning.”

“Actually, I’m teaching girls’ gym.”

“…Oh. Oh. Good luck to ya. Do I have a clean shirt?”

Hank is overjoyed when Bobby joins the wrestling team on his own initiative. Boy ain’t too interested in sports.

“Hank, what if Bobby was a girl?”

“Well, that’s just it, Peggy. I don’t think we have to worry about that anymore!”

Hank’s in the old mold, despite being married to a woman who has distinctly feminist leanings. For the most part, he respects her beliefs, and usually only runs afoul of them when he’s preoccupied. Or, you know, when it hurts a man.

“It’s all well and good to talk about equal rights until some man loses his job! How’s that equal?”

“Yeah!” says Bobby, who is thirteen. “And it’s worse when they take away our favors cuz we’re used to gettin’ ’em!”

Hank has a point, Bobby does not. Elevating the rights of some while harming others is by no means an ideal situation.

But it’s Coach Kleehammer, the boys’ coach, who says the things that make your jaw drop. He’s the sort of coach who calls his boys ‘ladies’ and ‘debutantes.’

“Hill! Doug here needs some extra room to scrimmage, so can you run a… posture drill or somethin’? Get the girls against the wall?”

“No, I’m afraid I cannot. I am teaching general sports here, and I need a general area.

“Uh, yeah. General sports is something Doug here came up with. It’s like Home Economics, sort of a code word for busy work. But the one thing General Sports was not meant to do, and Doug can back me on this, is take up space!”

Peggy does not appreciate this. She goes to see Kleehammer in his office.

“What’re you doing here? Shouldn’t you be teaching the girls about their monthlies?”

“Uh, no, not today, Coach. Today I’m teaching a lesson in fairness. I have someone here who would like to join the wrestling team, and her name is Khan [Connie] Souphanousinphone, Jr..”

“Does she speak English?”

“Well, of course, she speaks English.”

“Well, then, tell her wrestling is a boys sport, and that’s final!”

Chuckle. “Oh, no, it’s not. Title IX of the Civil Rights Act clearly prohibits sex discrimination in public schools and guarantees equal athletic opportunities for all boys and girls.”

“Yeah, well, Roe vs. Wade doesn’t apply to my wrestling team!”

“Oh, I think you’ll find it does apply. Come on, Connie!”

“…Mrs. Hill, isn’t Roe vs. Wade…?”

“Yeah, I know, dear, but you have to pick your battles.”

The principal isn’t much better. He suggest Connie take gymnastics instead. “Asian girls usually excel at gymnastics! I mean, with their tiny little feet, balance beam seems as wide as a sidewalk!”

It’s a really great episode, where the kids find their own solution to the problem. Friendship prevails. Unfortunately, we never find out who, if either, made the team, though I’m assuming neither did, as they were a little… unorthodox.

King of the Hill is fiction, but it’s inspired by real life. Anyone who thinks we live in a post-feminist era, where nothing more needs to be done, is fooling themselves. The middle school in the series is perpetually underfunded and mismanaged, and there are plenty of good old boys advocating for their favorite things, without considering the women in their lives. It’s a thoughtless sort of discrimination. Most of them, like Hank, are not bad guys. It just doesn’t occur to them that there could be a problem.

Peggy has some wild flaws of her own (OH, does she…) but this is one area where she shines.

One Comment to “King of the Hill Wrestles With Title IX”

  1. I love this show. 🙂 I like the way it deals with so many different things that most other shows, cartoons or otherwise, either don’t touch on or don’t bother taking seriously when they do touch on them. Maybe this will even inspire kids and parents who have similar problems but don’t know what to do about it. That’s always a good thing. The year after I graduated high school, I heard from a friend at the time who was still in high school that there would be the school’s first female member on the football team. And recently, I’ve heard that girls ARE joining the wrestling team. Another friend has a female cousin here in town who IS on the wrestling team, which is comprised mostly of boys. Which is surprising to me. Growing up, I didn’t know anyone who thought a girl could or should join the boys’ teams or would even want to. There was one girl who was extremely tomboyish and even she never thought of it, to my knowledge. Its awesome that things are changing. But, you’re right, there is still quite a lot more progress to be made. I love the Peggy Hill is such a feminist, and I love that Hank is the way he is. Its a good offset, and usually after he thinks about things for a while he does end up agreeing with her. Which I like. He is open minded and willing to accept and think about new ideas. I don’t think the show would be the same, though, without Hank there to add his particular flavor to the situations. The perspectives range from extreme, to reasonable, to I’m-not-really-sure and that’s important. It includes a wide range of personal perspectives that the viewing audience can each find something or someone to relate to and allows them to think about things in a manner they might not if it weren’t just a cartoon show. And, this is a good way to get people’s hearts and minds changed about specific things. It won’t always work, but I’m sure this show has actually changed some people’s views, or at least just simply made them stop and think about things they normally would just be hard-headed about. Both are important.

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