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Thursday, October 25, 2012

Where are you now, Mary Richards? or Sitcoms, Role Models, and the Election

I voted today. We'll be returning from a visit to DC on the 6th and didn't want to risk getting in after the polls closed. Prior to voting, I spent a lot of time looking over the candidates websites and voting records. The effort got me reminiscing about television sitcoms that helped my generation define ourselves. Yes, the subjects of sitcoms and the election are related. How? I'm glad you asked.

I'm at the tail end of the baby-boom generation, so I wasn't among those women who broke down walls. I reaped the benefits of their fight for equality and them demonstrating that women were equally competent (if not more) than men in the workplace. By the time I hit my teens, girls knew we could be anything we wanted to be. Women were in the military, and the first female cadets had entered the military academies. Women were running businesses, representing us in Congress, and challenging (and beating) men in sports (shout out to Billy Jean King!)

At that same time, sitcoms moved women from the kitchen (in a dress wearing heels and pearls, a la June Cleaver) to the newsroom with Mary Richards in the Mary Tyler Moore Show. Sure, Mary had been Rob Petry's wife on the Dick Van Dyke show in the 60s, but by the 70s, she'd moved on to the "big city" (Minneapolis) to "make it on her own." She was a single woman in her 30s with a career.She wasn't widowed or divorced or seeking a man to support her.

Mary Richards was what the women before me had worked so hard for, and had achieved. She was part of my generation's world view: women go to college, have careers, move away from home to pursue their own interests. They meet life on their terms and conquer the world without a man. Once a woman is a whole person in her own right, well, then, if she meets the right person, she can have a relationship, spouse, and family too. But it isn't a prerequisite of happiness.

We also had Maude, Edith Bunker's outspoken, middle-aged, politically liberal cousin to show us what women are capable of. Even our 1950s girls, Laverne and Shirley, were independent, sharing an apartment, working in Schottz's brewery, and always scheming ways to get rich.

In the 80s, we had Murphy Brown, a sharp-witted, sarcastic investigative journalist who was also a recovering alcoholic. Candace Bergen's Murphy Brown gave us an older, more world-wise and world-weary role model than the ever-perky Mary Richards. She was a 40-something woman who had made it in a man's world. She showed us that it could be done. The show's political satire maybe cut too close to home for some, and when Murphy decided to become a single-mom after becoming pregnant by her ex-husband, Dan Quayle decried the country's falling morals all because of Murphy's choice to raise a child alone. Sadly, Republican's are still blaming single moms for the country's problems. 

I don't know what happened while I was off pursuing my own education and career, but when I finally had a few minutes to watch TV, I found women's role models had devolved. Instead of women struggling with work-homelife balance, fighting for equal opportunities, or continuing the fight for equal pay, and instead of strong women determined to live life on their own terms first, we had Ally McBeal, a twenty-something, airhead who could NEVER have passed a bar exam anywhere, ever. Somehow she became a lawyer who obsessively fantasized about meeting Prince Charming and having a baby. Her strategy to accomplish that? Wear the shortest skirts she could get away with on prime time television and act ditzy. 

The de-evolution didn't stop there and we can only hope that we're at the very bottom of this sad trajectory for women in television. Now we have reality TV where women fight to find a husband in 10-easy episodes on The Bachelor, where Snooki struts her illiterate brand of stupidity and slutiness on the Jersey Shore, and where Teen Moms get their own show. We're back to being objectified and shown as mere "arm-candy" and gold-diggers. These women's and girl's lives are defined by having a man, not by having a brain or an identity or even a personality. They don't want to accomplish anything by themselves or for themselves. They're just there to please a man; any man will do.

With shows like this, is it any wonder that teens and women in their 20s and 30s don't have a clue why women of my age and older are so upset with the current political climate? All those hard-won gains at becoming people, rather than just some man's posession, are trickling away. That trickle will become a torrent if the GOP wins the presidency or control of either the House or Senate in the upcoming election.

"Feminist" isn't a dirty word and it isn't a euphemism for lesbian. The Feminist movement is the reason young women today can go to a bar with their friends and not be branded sluts (but stick with the GOP and you'll lose that right, just ask Rush Limbaugh). The Women's Right's movement is the reason we can be more than just secretaries--we can be scientists, engineers, business owners,astronauts, congresswomen, or even President because women who are 10, 15, 20 years older-than me--and more, back to the suffragettes of the early 1900s--fought for us to have those abilities.

We're in danger of losing so many rights, and much more. We're in danger of losing self-respect, self-determination, dignity, and the right to say NO. Sitcoms may appear to be a bit of fluff given the serious problems our country faces. But right now, they seem to be a harbinger that we're heading in a very wrong, very dangerous direction. Imagine a world where Snooki is considered a woman's role model. Imagine a that we could have in just a few weeks....where you can't say NO; where rape is "just another form of conception (1)" and it must be "God's will (2)," and if it's "legitimate rape" (3) (I guess that's the kind these men thing some women "deserve" or "ask for"because "some girls rape easily. (4)" [Just an aside to fathers and mothers who might be ill-advisedly considering voting Republican this year, notice, they don't even stop at adults, this moron from Wisconsin is talking about raping girls. Does he have experience with that? Sure sounds like it. Do you really want who condones raping girls because it's easy representing you in Congress?!?]

This election is hugely important for all women, and for our daughters, granddaughters, and nieces The voting booth booth is the one place where even those women who have been dominated, subjugated, bullied, belittled, or just made to feel less-than-equal by men in their lives can exert their equality and their independence. (I know it happens 'cause I've been there--supporting his side to win favor. It doesn't help, just makes him push for more!) Don't be intimidated or threatened. Don't let this election be the one future generations of females look at and say, "that's when we became less than human."

Go watch a few episodes of Mary Tyler Moore, Murphy Brown, Maude, or even Laverne and Shirley, and then go vote. VOTE to keep our ability to choose our own lives, whether that is as a housewife, a mother, a career woman, or all of these. Our lives should be our choice, not something predetermined by men. VOTE!

(1) Paul Ryan, GOP vice-presidential candidate, August 24, 2012
(2) Richard Mourdock, Indiana Tea Party senate candidate, October 24, 2012
(3) Todd Akin, Republican congressman and current senate candidate from Missouri, August 19, 2012
(4) Roger Rivard, Wisconsin GOP state senator, October 10, 2012






  1. Amen, Sistah! DJ (From MSFV)

    PS~ I've been watching "Laverne & Shirley" non-stop for the last year. I love the physical comedy of it, and the excellent acting and writing, but I also love how they pave their way as independent women through a time when a woman's only goal was supposed to be marriage and family, as Laverne's father frequently reminds her. Yet he later marries Edna Babbish, a fiercely independent woman who was years ahead of her time. So even men can grow and evolve, as long as they're not GOP politicians.

  2. Thanks for reading! I love Laverne and Shirley!