Feminism on Pre-Millennial TV: Shows that deserve a re-watching
I’ve always considered being a woman to be pretty awesome. Nothing against you, men, you’re great too, but I can honestly say that I’ve always been proud of that whole double X chromosome thing we’ve got going on. One of the best things about being a young, British woman in 2015 is that I get to be a witness of and an active participant in feminism and gender equality’s shifting placement in modern, western culture, moving from the progressive yet misunderstood sectors of society to the mainstream. It’s all pretty cool at the moment. I mean, did you see the whole Beyoncé thing?
Of course, whilst I undoubtedly still fall into the thinking traps that society has created and imposed on women over the centuries (like that one where my inner demon voice says I’ll only be beautiful if I lose 30lbs), I’m very happy to be a woman. I’ve never had trouble commanding and expecting the same level of respect given to my male peers because I’ve been lucky enough to grow up in an environment where I’ve been taught how to value my worth based on things far more important than what my privates look like. Being raised by a strong mother and having a string of hardworking, independent female bosses has clearly made its mark on me, but the truth of it is that another considerable influencer of my inner female confidence comes from the countless hours of my youth devoted to my first and endless love: television. Good grief, how I love TV! I’m not even ashamed to admit that some of my greatest childhood memories involve me, my sofa, and that magical little box.
It’s abundantly clear that we’re influenced by what we watch, especially when we’re young and TV has long held the monopoly on how we form and perceive our own and others’ roles in society. That being said, which female television personalities and characters embraced and showed off their womanhood in an empowering light before all of our modern day heroines? Who were the Feys, Poehlers, Kalings, and Dunhams influencing the TV junkies of the pre-millennium? Let me share with you my Holy Trinity, so to speak, of shows, characters, and personalities that molded my perception of women and how cool we all are:
I Love Lucy
I really do love Lucy. You guys across the pond will be far more familiar with this awesome show and all of its spinoffs than the rest, but I grew up laughing my socks off at I Love Lucy because my mum had a ton of episodes taped from her brief stint living stateside. Personal favorite moments include the mirror act with Harpo Marx and Fred and Ethel’s moving bed on their way to Hollywood. That show was so much more than a primetime comedy show—it became emblematic of women’s changing role in society. Gone was the notion of a perfect housewife, with Ball turning the stereotypical role on its head through her portrayal of the wacky, haphazard yet charming, Lucy Ricardo.
Behind the scenes, Ball also superbly defied the long-held reign of a male-dominated television industry by becoming the first woman to own a production company. Desilu Productions, initially co-owned by her and her husband and fellow cast member, Desi Arnaz, saw Ball take on an awesomely powerful and successful role in Tinseltown at the time, particularly once she bought out her then ex-husband’s shares and became its sole president. She was, by all accounts, a stellar example for pre-millennial women (and men!) who questioned stereotypical roles assigned to them from the fifties onwards.
Cagney and Lacey
I mean, not only did this show definitely have the most incredible theme song of all time (of which I frequently perform a truly mind-blowing rendition), this quintessentially 80’s show centered around two kickass female cops who, despite being thoroughly different, were strong, dedicated, and didn’t take any BS from anyone. Christine and Mary-Beth held important and equal positions within a strongly male populated team and were never averse to showing their flaws, whether that was through Christine’s battle with alcoholism or Mary-Beth’s constant struggle to balance her work and home life with her children and husband, Harvey (Oh, Harv! <3). The show’s most endearing quality was that it painted a realistic picture of working women’s daily problems. It didn’t sugarcoat anything, it didn’t make their lives out to be easy, and it didn’t de-feminize its lead characters. It was real, it was honest, and it was AWESOME!
The Golden Girls
Another 80s classic here, which is, amazingly, still shown on TV over here in the UK, much to my delight! The concept of The Golden Girls on paper may sound a little fuddy-duddy. Four women in their twilight years sharing a house together in the sleepy part of Miami doesn’t exactly scream riveting programming, but the reality was so far from this. First off, there were not and have not since been many other programs solely dedicated to the creation of an older female character base. The combination of these four dramatically different characters was not only beyond funny, but was a wonderful representation of the many varied faces of older women across American society at that time. Blanche, the southern belle, owned her sexual prowess in the face of opposition, Rose held on to her midwestern naivety in a place far removed from her home, Sophia embraced her role as matriarch and, simultaneously, resident rogue, and Dorothy embodied the hard-headed, no-nonsense woman who has still maintained her humor despite life’s setbacks. Ultimately, this show was a brilliant vehicle for changing perceptions on older women, as well as exemplifying the importance of female solidarity and, equally, independence.
So, you see, my dear readers, whilst I’m all about worshipping the ground that our modern day queens of TV walk on, I have to pay my respects to these shows, these women, and these characters that have played a significant role in first shaping my view on women and our equal importance within society. They may not totally embody the concept of feminism as we now see it, but I think their presence in people’s homes across the decades helped to break down societal barriers which prevented women from living lives of equal importance to their male counterparts. Now, there’s a great excuse to spend more time in front of the TV, eh?!
Vivienne Davies is a foreign languages grad from ‘sunny’ Manchester, England. Her two most harmonious and fulfilling relationships are with television and pizza, and she will, reportedly, make herself look all kinds of ridiculous if it guarantees someone a giggle. Viv also admits to being a full-blown Disney lover and prides herself in consistently having thoroughly manicured nails, about which she frequently blogs, tweets, and Instagrams at www.vividnailart.com and @vividnailart.