Siblings can be the most enduring relationships you have in your life. They know you before significant others come along. They know life with your parents and life after your parents die. They know you before major successes and failures. It is for these reasons that the relationship between siblings is emotional and complex. I grew up with an older brother, a younger sister, and a younger brother and know all too well that while siblings know how to raise each other up, we also know how to cut each other deeply where it hurts. In “A League of Their Own” (1992), a sister-sister relationship on full display reveals the ways in which siblings support each other while engaging in competition unimportant to everyone but them.
Sisters Dottie Hinson (Geena Davis) and Kit Keller (Lori Petty) are two talented baseball players in the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League. Even before their arrival to the league, their relationship is categorized as Dottie being the star and Kit being the one that needs bailing out by her big sister. The first game in the movie finds Kit striking out after swinging at pitches too high for her to hit followed by Dottie batting in the game winning runs. Dottie tried to tell Kit not to swing, but Kit was adamant in proving her sister wrong. We see a similar situation in a second game a bit later. Kit never failed to complain about her dynamic with Dottie, and it is here that I grew more and more frustrated with the character of Kit. Stop blaming your sister for your problems. You’re the one standing in your own way.
I realized I identified more with the Dottie character because that’s the position I’m in with my own sister. We are less than two years apart in age and are the two middle children of four. We grew up experiencing life together closely, and since I’m the older sister, I’ve had the benefit of getting to do certain things first and setting the bar. Where did this competition stem from, though? Just as Kit posits in the film, I believe a lot of the comparisons my sister and I make to each other come from our parents and extended family. Humans enjoy grouping like things together so even though my parents compared all four of us to each other, my sister and I were compared more often because we were the girls of the family. We’re all taught during school or in sports that when you perform a certain way it means you are rewarded or given better opportunities, and we’re all used to proximity comparisons: classmates, teammates, and siblings. Yes, I want my sister to succeed, but I also want to be the star. I think this is true for Dottie and Kit. You never want to see your sibling fail at something, but you do want to be better than her, so what happens when your success means your sibling’s failure?
The scenes where Kit batted under Dottie’s watchful eye were most telling of a sibling dynamic. We see Kit swing at the high pitches a few times during the movie so it was especially satisfying seeing Dottie try to use that against her in the World Series, tempting her with high pitches so she’d strike out. Others players could have picked up on Kit’s affinity for swinging at the high ones, but the fact that it’s Dottie who suggests those pitches cuts more deeply. She knows her sister’s habit and her stubbornness. Dottie knows Kit wants to prove people wrong and will keep trying and failing to hit the ball since she didn’t have success up to that point. What Dottie doesn’t count on is Kit’s breaking point of being compared to her big sister. She finally hits one of the high ones, causing her to become the star and win the game. The reason she hit the ball was that determination to come out from under the shadow of the older sister, a shadow that she never had to be under in the first place. I rooted against Kit winning that final game because I wanted to win. I couldn’t help it. I needed to root for Dottie to win so that I could win. It’s ingrained in me. Must be better, faster, stronger. If I’m identifying with Dottie, I needed her to win the game against Kit who represents my little sister. Sorry, sis. I didn’t want you to fail, but I wanted to win.
Does it really matter that Dottie beat Kit in a race to the farm that started off just as a silly race where one of them started walking faster than the other? No. This moment between two sisters speaks volumes to how unimportant the competition can be from the outside, but when you’re in it, it feels like nothing else matters. Ultimately, it’s not about the results but the experience of getting there. Nobody is around but the two of them during this moment so they’re only competing for each other. They are the only ones who will know the winner and the loser. These little moments add up over a lifetime. Each sibling will secretly keep score and know who’s better at what. Where would Dottie and Kit be without these trivial contests? Maybe they do have some benefit if only to push you a little more than you thought you could handle. I can’t do too many burpees in a row without slowing down, but when I see my sister knocking them out next to me, I find that I can go a little faster for longer than I expected.
When Dottie and Kit come together at the Hall of Fame in the end, it’s not about who won or who lost. As the years go on, siblings compare themselves to each other less and less. One of the reasons for this is that when you start to live apart from each other, you realize that competition isn’t important. As siblings age and start engaging in more relationships outside the family, the negatives in the relationship dissipate, and though the closeness may subside, the emotional attachment remains. You know what you’ve been through together and how you got there. From the outside, it may look insignificant, but it was the times you spent racing each other home that added up in the end.