Monday, January 9, 2012

Policewoman, Pin-up

My Chloe Ellefson series is set in the early 1980s. I’ve blogged before about the way television shows like Cagney and Lacey and T.J. Hooker portrayed women officers. While finishing Chloe #3, The Lightkeeper’s Legacy, I got a new glimpse of women officers of the time.

Police Product News cover A scene called for one of the male officer characters to empty his mailbox. Always on the look for tiny tidbits that will make in-the-know readers smile and nod, I did a quick eBay search for police-related periodicals of the day. All I wanted was a title, but when I came across the August ‘82 of Police Product News: The Law Officer’s Magazine, I had to have it. (Seriously, could you resist those guys on the cover?)

I had no idea I was buying a magazine with a centerfold.

Policewoman pinup 82

Based on the Letters section, the inclusion of a policewoman pin-up was the subject of ongoing controversy. A female reader had previously written to object to the “practice of using sexuality as a means of selling your magazines.” Another had evidently claimed in an earlier issue that the centerfolds existed because “majority rules…”, which I assume referred to the fact that forces were at that time predominantly male.

In response, a male sheriff from Pennsylvania wrote, “The centerspread is just an extra in a fine magazine to brighten up a dull day or night for officers.”

A male officer from Washington State added, “I believe that a few people are too sensitive to the centerfolds. …I’m glad the profession is opening more to women. There are certain areas of public relations that women can handle that prove a little difficult at times for men. …My wife is a police officer and I have seen her control subjects verbally who would have probably kicked my bucket no matter how nice I would have been.”

The magazine’s main content clearly offered a variety content-rich and helpful articles for officers. I’ve only seen the one issue, so I don’t know how long the centerfolds continued.

As a novelist it’s not my job to pronounce personal judgment, but to observe and consider how my characters might feel about the pin-ups. My cop, Roelke McKenna, has a less-than-ideal relationship with a female deputy sheriff named Marge. Marge can come across as officious and pushy. I think I’d like to explore the working relationship between Roelke and Marge, and their perspectives on the role of female officers, in a future book.

Want to weigh in? Were the centerfolds disrespectful? Fun and harmless? Offensive because, as far as I know, only women were chosen? I’d love to hear your thoughts!

And a blue-light special: Amazon has chosen to feature Old World Murder, the first Chloe Ellefson mystery, throughout January. Kindle downloads are just $1.99!


Shannon Baker said...

It's hard to be judgmental about the past. Times were different and I'm sure glad they've changed. I've been watching Mad Men recently and the original Oceans 11, with the Rat Pack. It sure makes me grateful for the brave women who worked so hard to make my life different and better!

Kathleen Ernst said...

Good point, Shannon. Women officers today have a lot of strong women to thank!

Linda Hull said...

When I see stuff like this, it makes me wonder what we'll be rolling our eyes at in twenty years from today.

Beth Groundwater said...

For those who are interested in learning more about women police officers and their challenges in the past, I recommend Lynda Sue Cooper's book, TRUE BLUE, An insider's guide to street cops for writers.

Great post, Kathleen, and that magazine cover is a hoot!

michael said...

Remember this is the time when REMINGTON STEELE's Laura Holt existed.

Darrell James said...

If the boys in blue want pinups, there has always been enough places to find it. It's clearly misplaced in this venue (then and now).