Fight Like a Girl

Girl-fighting in films appealed to my hidden lesbian desire, love of high camp and identification with strong-bodied women, but it was a different story in real life

Tura Satana as Varla in Russ Meyer's "Faster Pussycat: Kill, Kill"

When I was a kid, girl-fighting was not taken seriously. In film, television or comic books, a girl fighting a girl wore a bikini or skintight clothes. Fighting like a girl meant you threw rabbit punches that missed, pulled hair, scratched and shoved -– nothing that drew blood.

Take Russ Meyer’s "Faster Pussycat, Kill, Kill": In the opening scene, pretty blonde Billie is in a lake, splashing around and making what sounds like sex noises. For reasons that we don’t know yet (and really don’t care) this annoys Varla and her dark, Italian lover, Rosie, two women heavy on the eyeliner, cleavage and black teased hair.

Varla tells Rosie to “go get her.” Rosie complains about getting wet but Varla is the boss. Rosie huffs off to the lake wearing … not an outfit I would swim in personally: tight blouse, loosely laced-up; waist-cinching belt; hip-hugging capris; and spike-heeled boots. She walks in the water to wrangle with cowgirl-gone-wrong Billie. The fight barrels out of the water onto dirt. Billie is in a midriff blouse and hip-huggers. Their clothes barely contain their bodies as they roll around, breast-to-voluminous-breast, trying to pin one another.

Fights in '70s women’s prison movies were no different: campy, soft-core entertainment, accompanied by dialogue that did nothing to forward the plot. And if the lesbo-erotic theme wasn’t overt, it didn’t require too much imagination to figure out.

In Russ Meyer’s fetish world it was all laid out for you — women were Amazonian temptresses who thrived on one another, ate men up and spit them out, and recruited young, busty women to their fold. They may have known how to kill a man with a karate blow, but a girl-fight was all hair-pulling and rolling around in the dirt.

The moral of the story in the women-focused exploitation genre was that vicious seductresses, lesbians and man-killers were locked away in a world of women where they were no threat to society, whether it was a prison, a nunnery, a brothel or a dude ranch without the dudes. They were there for male scopophilic pleasure, but were dangerous if you got too close.

In my youth, I loved girl-fighting in films. It appealed to my hidden lesbian desire, love of high camp and identification with strong-bodied women.

So I decided to be a mud wrestler.

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Women’s mud wrestling was a new phenomenon and the Hollywood Tropicana was the place to go. I called and a rough-voiced guy told me to “come down.” Going from a sunny California afternoon into a nightclub is gross: the stench of beer, dirty bar rags, cheap pink liquid soap in the bathrooms, urinals and the sticky floor, grime, mildew and air-conditioning. Disgusting.

I met with the boss — a mob guy out of central casting. Without exchanging niceties, he said, “Pull up your shirt.” I did. With a twirl of his finger, he had me turn around. “Pull down your pants,” he ordered. I did. He took his cigar out long enough to say, “You’re too skinny. Thanks, hon.” And he was on the phone before I got my pants zipped.

Then I considered roller derby, but figured I’d hear the same thing — “you’re too flat-chested,” “you’re too skinny.” (P.S. Being flat-chested and skinny probably saved my life.)

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But back to girl-fights. In my life, I’ve had three of them. When I was 9, I had it up to here with the neighborhood girl bragging about her Barbie collection. I pushed her, threw mud at her and when she tried to run home, I grabbed and tore her shirt. At 16, I had a fight with another groupie over a British hairdresser named Merton who had an MG Midget. She grabbed my hair and I meant to grab hers back but instead I grabbed her hoop earring and tore it out, causing her ear to gush blood. I was appalled that I did such a thing.

But the last and worst girl-fight was about 15 years ago, over a pay phone on a wall in a building at NYU. I called home collect because my calling card didn’t work (cell phones were not ubiquitous) and my daughter hung up twice on the operator before I got an operator to let me say, “Honey, it’s me!”

There was already a line at the two phones by the time I got on and it didn’t help that the girl next to me was on the phone for a long time, speaking in an Asian language. It was just when my 11-year-old daughter was telling me that the babysitter didn’t show that a blonde sorority girl with a Gucci purse got in my face and asked me if I would hurry up. I motioned to the Asian girl and said, “Ask here!” and Gucci kicked me in the shin and hung up the phone.

I went ballistic. I didn’t know whether to call back my daughter or run this bitch down. What I did is still, to this day, a source of personal humiliation. I ran after her as she was about to leave the building and instead of knocking out a tooth or holding her down until the police came, I pulled her hair. I pulled it all the way down to the ground so that she was on her knees, and then I didn’t know what to do. So I let go and she ran out and a whole lobby of people looked at me like I was a nut. Some girl-fighter I am.

Tags: memoirs

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