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Avenging Avatar: Why I'm Emma Peel

4 years ago
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My name is Suzi but people call me Emma.

As my WomanUP colleague, Joann M. Weiner wrote, my name has a "solid pedigree." It's the name of a sexy 1950s cover model and actress -- Suzy Parker. But my mom didn't name me after her. She just loved the name "Susie" and every dog she ever owned was named "Susie." Then, she had a daughter. Guess what? She named me "Susie." For years, the best I could do to claim the name was tinker with the spelling.
In the early 1990's I had become obsessed with re-runs of "The Avengers "– the sleek 1960s British spy show – that featured Diana Rigg as the catsuit wearing and brilliant Emma Peel and Patrick McNee as mysterious spy John Steed.
Emma had the life I wanted. She wore glamorous designer clothes and leather outfits while sitting in smoky pubs meeting diabolical masterminds who wanted to take over the world. Emma looked equally comfortable wielding a sword, pulling a gun or dispatching an opponent with a well-placed karate job chop. Oh, and she never messed up her brunette flip even when she was toppling terrorists.

My world of being Emma began in 1995 – the early days of the Internet. The worldwide web was still an unknown world where cyberstalkers lived to lure boys and girls. "Don't dare use your real name," people told me. "It's a scary place."

I chose Emma Peel for my nom de email. Poof! I was transformed.
Then something kinda strange happened. I'd email people and they would return with "Dear Emma." Male editors of a particular age – those who remembered seeing the original Avengers – would email me back simply because Diana Rigg had been their teenage fantasy. Some even asked if I was wearing a leather catsuit.
"Need a Mr. Steed?" some asked.
In later episodes of "The Avengers," a tagline became popular – "Mrs. Peel, you're needed." If only I had a dime for every time an email came my way with that line.
In the "A Touch of Brimstone" episode of "The Avengers," Emma wore a bondage queen get-up with a spiky dog collar, leather boots and a live snake wrapped around her while uncovering a political coup by a resurrected Hellfire Club.
The episode was so cutting edge that it didn't air in the United States. Women cried sexism, but Rigg confessed she helped design the sexy costume.
When I wrote "Sex in the South: Unbuckling the Bible Belt," I ventured undercover to a bondage club in rural Alabama. I didn't channel Emma very well. I wore a boring French maid costume and missed my opportunity to really be Emma. Of course, I don't think these folks were interested in bringing down the government. They just wanted to learn to brandish a riding crop.
When people started using their real names on email, I was pressed to use mine. I agonized over this. It seemed so, well, normal. Many journalism sources, especially political ones, knew me as Emma. They gave me scoops at times because I just didn't seem like a real person but a safe alter ego to which they could confess. Kill my alter ego? Emma had become very personal to me. I loved her. I had even adopted her flip hairstyle.
I'm still Emma, or Suzi – depending on the assignment. Do I work in a leather catsuit? Sorry, that's classified.
Filed Under: Woman Up

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