Let’s take a trip back into the 1970’s, a time period full of freedom, equal opportunity, change and war. In the 70’s, family roles were adjusting and divorce rates were rising. Abhijit Naik a writer from buzzle.com thinks lack of commitment, abuse and affairs, misunderstanding of love, and trouble working out difficulties all contributed to the raise in divorce rates in the 70’s. With the divorce rates riising the traditional family values were seen as less important, values such as spending time as a family or everyone eating dinner together at once. However most shows from this time period still portrayed the idea of the traditional family, which is having the mother stay home to cook, clean, and take care of the children, while the father is off at work supporting the family. Gender constructions and deconstructions play a prevalent role in the vast majority of sitcoms in the 1970’s.

Television’s popularity in the 70’s was expanding, symbolizing a movement towards equality between races and genders. The social movements of the time period such as equal rights for women and the civil rights movement help make all of this possible. Women and African Americans were starting to be casted differently in sitcom comedies from the 70’s, than they were casted in previous years. Bonnie J. Dow the Associate Professor and Chair of Communication Studies and Associate Professor of Women's and Gender Studies at Vanderbilt University notes that “Indeed the character of Mary Richards as an independent career women on TMTMS challenged a television tradition that had stereotyped women as ‘goodwives’, ‘bitches’, ‘victims’, and courteous”. With this tradition changing women were starting to be shown as independent. This idea of equality was happening not only culturally but in media all through out the 70’s.

With the turn of the century CBS decided it was time to fix TVs tarnished image. CBS hired MTM enterprises and Tandem/TAT productions to produce shows that would help to fix TV. MTM enterprises produced shows such as The Mary Tyler Moore Show, Rhoda, and more. One of the main goals of MTM enterprises were to present the idea of feminism in shows, that consisted of complex shows with strong character development. On the other hand Tandem/TAT produced shows called All in the Family, Maude, Sanford and Sons, and more. These shows had a similar idea and that was addressing racial and social thoughts from the 70’s.

New Ideas of Feminism:

Sitcom Comedies from the 70’s started to incorporate the idea of feminism in their shows very aggressively. This time period contained shows, which had the main character as a women, Maude and The Mary Tyler Moore Show being the main two ones. Maude was a show about a women named Maude Findlay, Kirsten Lentz a social worker/therapist from New York notes that Maude was “overbearing, overly didactic, and intolerant of opposing viewpoints. She tends to clobber other people with her political opinions, often lecturing her daughter and husband about "equality" for women “. This was something that was very unordinary for many of the shows from the 70’s. Maude having these characteristics shows that Tandem/TAT productions really wanted Maude to be a clear portrayal of the movements of independent women working towards increased acceptance in society.

The episode named Florida’s Affair ties directly in with the new idea of feminism. While Walter, Maude’s husband, is waiting for her in the car he is furiously honking his horn trying to get her out to the car. Maude opens the door and yells at him to “cut it out”. This action isn’t very significant in the development of the plot but it is significant in showing gender deconstruction. By yelling at her husband to wait on her she goes against social norms, most women would not have had the courage to come right out to their husbands, but not Maude. Another example of the new idea of feminism in this article happens when Henry Florida’s husband appears at the door. He has arrived to have Florida beg for her forgiveness after he caught her dancing with the plumber, Mr. Fulton. Maude quickly defends Florida by saying “Florida after the way that man has treated you, you’re not going with him until he begs your forgiveness”. Being the supporter of equality for women Maude wants the Henry to express forgiveness. However Florida quickly begs Henry for forgiveness. The action here was very significant to the plot of the show and it contains an example of Gender Construction. Since Florida was the one who apologized it makes her seem dependent on her husband, which was something women were thought of being. Overall Maude illustrates women in a different sense, portraying them as the opposite as most of the other shows in the 70’s that have the idea of women as being meek, mild, obedient, soft spoken, and silent shedding a new light on feminism.

This new illustration of feminism in sitcom comedies included main single independent female characters as single. Lauren Rabinovitz professor of American studies at the University of Iowa, author of “Sitcoms and Single Moms: Representations of Feminism on American TV” says “The Mary Tyler Moore Show textually repositions Mary the single, professionally minded independent woman into romantic or familial categories so that she emerges as a self-sacrificing, nurturant figure of True Womanhood” (3). The portrayal of a single independent women was new, it was going against the stereotype of women were they are dependent on a man for success. By showing Mary as a strong independent woman viewers could see a very feminist women, which was a first for most.

Mary was cast showing her, as acting as a mother/wife figure, which were two things that she wasn’t. By including this in the show it showed her true feminine side. Mary is always there when any of her friends seek advice, acting as a mother. This gender construction provides to be useful when trying to understand the independent women. Mary is also casted as a wife figure, Bonnie J. Dow says on page 266 that “Following Lou’s divorce, he consistently turns up at Mary’s apartment for dinner, seeking the wifely /motherly functions that he misses. Whenever a ‘women’s touch’ is needed, Mary is there”. This idea of having Mary around when others needed her demonstrated that people were dependent on her, which was unlike most other female characters of this time. The Mary Tyler Moore Show both constructed and deconstructed gender making it the popular show that it was.

Portrayal of women in terms of age and role:
Another common theme that comes up in TV comedies from the 70’s was that women were generally shown as young, passive, and dependent on men. In a study done by Donald Davis he found that 53.8% of women shown in TV shows from the 70’s were between the ages of 18-34. However in the case of Maude whose main characters are middle-aged women. Maude has a very different set of ideas in comparison than the majority of the other women that were younger. The idea of respect between genders in the shows is not necessarily something that a viewer would catch up on right away. What respect between genders adds to the show is very important in understanding gender stereotypes in them. In the 70’s women were starting to gain respect, but still were seen as less than men. By having a 65-year-old man classified as middles aged and a 65 year old women classified as elderly shows a lack of respect towards women.

During the whole new movement of feminism in sitcom comedies from the 70’s came a new portrayal of women. In shows throughout the 70’s most women were shown having traditional female jobs such as teachers, nurses, housewife’s, and secretaries. Alice, a sitcom about an independent single mother who is an aspiring singer who works at Mel’s Diner as a waitress, working as a waitress Alice continues the trend of a female character working a traditional job. The 70’s had almost a quarter of the women in the shows were cast in traditional female jobs. If these women weren’t working and had the traditional role of housewives then most of the time they were shown on the screen it was about romance or family issues.

One Role that the new younger single independent women held was the role of a single mother. In the show One Day at a Time, the main character was single mother Ann who divorced her husband and moved to Indiana with her two daughters Julie and Barbara. In this show when a man is shown that isn’t a family member but is close to the mother they are thought to be more than friends, like Ann’s boyfriend David. Given that Ann was a single mother it caused her to have difficult to raise her kids with out the presence of a father figure.

Gender Issues in Race
The new idea of having African American actors and actresses as the main characters was different than the roles African Americans held on TV in the 60’s. In the 60’s African American actors were told to act “colorless”, basically telling them to act as if they were white. When the end of the 60’s came around this had changed a little but not significantly. Then in the 70’s which contained an increase in the civil rights movement along with the idea of black power. Both of these issues found their way into TV comedies from the 70’s. However the shows that had African American actors as the stars still related back to old stereotypes of African Americans.

The sitcom comedy Good Times illustrated a struggling working class family trying to continue their good times in the ghetto of Chicago. This show aired from 1974-197 on CBS, which was the station that aired another American Comedy Sitcom called The Jefferson’s. In Good Times James Evans husband of Florida Evans and the father of James Jr., Thelma and Michael, was a man who struggled to find work. When he was out of work he would sneak out of his house and hustle people on the pool table to make a buck or two. When he had the luxury of being employed he was usually working two jobs such as dishwasher or a car washer. The jobs that James worked were temporary and only did enough to just keep them going. How Good Times had the father as a hard workingman was something that was typical of the idea of the father in this time period. Also the show had James as in control of the family and was shown as the head of the household, which strongly went along with the construction of a father.


During the episode titled The Family Gun the first line that you hear Michael say “Daddy you can just about fix anything huh?” with James Sr. replying with “Well I don’t want to brag son, but yea”. Before you even get a minute into the show James Sr. is shows as the handy man of the house, working on projects that you don’t associate with women. What is even better is within two minutes of this; you are shown women doing chores around the house. Florida and one of her friends are about to go do the laundry, and Thelma is shown doing the dishes. Showing all this within the five minute mark of the episode shows that there is an emphasis on traditional roles within the family.

The Jefferson’s was another show that starred African Americans as the main characters. The difference between The Jefferson’s and Good Times was The Jefferson’s took place in an upper middle class family. This difference showed a change in the stereotypes that were shown in Good Times. George Jefferson was a successful man who owned seven stores throughout New York City. This may have came to surprise to viewers who were used to thinking of African American men from the 70’s who were unsuccessful and struggling. Lionel, son of George shows qualities that were those of a young man who has been affected by the civil rights movement. He was very out spoken and spoke out when he thought what someone had said was wrong. This was one of the first African American young men to be shown in this light on TV. This is putting positive insight on a stereotype of African American men that had just began in the late 60’s that they could speak out freely on issues they didn’t agree on.

The expectations for an African American male in the 70’s weren’t very high. Good Times is a good example of a gender construction for this, James Struggled greatly with keeping a steady income. The struggle of keeping a steady income was one that most viewers wouldn’t be surprised with seeing associated with an African American man. The idea of keeping a steady income is shown completely differently in The Jefferson’s, George was a very successful man who lived an upper middle class life style. This life style was one that many wouldn’t associate a man of his color to be living. Going against the expectations of the African American male.

Television in the 70’s was changing; shows were expanding what they were putting on the TV. The Social and cultural movements of the 70’s contributed greatly to allowing this movement to happen. In this new idea of television came a new portrayal of women, they were being shown as independent strong characters for the first time. Not only were women getting shown differently but African Americans were finally the main characters of TV shows. This changed showed them in different lights, demonstrating different roles for fathers between the shows. Gender constructions and deconstructions were very important in the success of sitcom comedies in the 1970’s.

Observe all the gender stereotypes you can within the first 5 minutes of this clip.

By Mike L

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