Mass Media (1994).
I Dream of Jeannie and Bewitched in the 1960s, The Mary Tyler Moore Show, Maude,
Police Woman, and Charlie's Angels in the 1970s, and Dallas and Dynasty in the early-1980s. Every one of the previously listed shows prominently featured women, and on closer examination, one can trace the development of the Feminist Movement from the 1960s
through the early-1980s.
When Bewitched debuted in 1964, many critics and female viewers saw Samantha Stevens (portrayed by Elizabeth Montgomery) as a "breakthrough" character for women, since she had unique abilities (she was a benevolent witch), and was seemingly able to control events. I Dream of Jeannie made its debut in 1965, and was criticized by many female viewers for its portrayal of Jeannie (Barbara Eden) that had special powers, but was in essence a captive of the lead character, Major Nelson (Larry Hagman). The opening credits of this classic sitcom even show this relationship, in that Major Nelson is out of his capsule, but Jeannie is confined to her, for lack of a better word, bottle.
I Dream of Jeannie, when the female character used her powers, problems in the public
sphere (the "Man's World") occurred. Many people that grew up watching television in the 1960s may be surprised to find out that Bewitched fit the same model as I Dream of Jeannie.
When Samantha used her powers at home in the private sphere, there was usually a positive outcome, but when she used her powers in the public sphere (e.g. to help her husband's career), disaster was the usual result. According to Douglas, the message was clear in
sitcoms such as these: women should remain in the private sphere - after all, look what happens when they are allowed to interact in the public sphere (it should be no shock that
men were the creators of these two sitcoms). Take a look at the opening credits of
Bewitched, and see that, despite being inferior in terms of power, the
husband is still in charge . . .
interesting to see that these shows actually did not advance women's rights - the message
was that of patriarchal tradition - the proper place for a woman was in the private (domestic) sphere.
The Mary Tyler Moore Show debuted in 1970, and was very different from previous fare.
One can describe the character of Mary as an "Independent" kind of feminist, in that she wasn't married, and that she worked hard to advance her career in the public sphere. There had never really been a female TV character like her before, and in that regard, the show was popular with feminists. However, some in the Feminist Movement panned the show by referring to Mary as "I Am Woman, Here Me Purr"; by that, those feminists meant that the show vacillated between feminism and femininity. A look at the classic opening credits show Mary's independence, and at least some of that combination of feminism and femininity . . .
portrayed Maude Findlay, a very politically opinionated female lead. Susan Douglas
thought that Maude had good attributes, but was packaged as a scary, radical woman.
Maude was part of Norman Lear's TV empire (it was a spin-off of All in the Family),
and he favored politics-heavy fare. Maude represented the desire for women to be taken
seriously, not only for their political views, but also to be taken seriously in the public
sphere. One look at the opening credits of Maude shows the stark difference between it and
The Mary Tyler Moore Show in terms of feminism . . .
women in television. At last, a woman of real power in the public sphere, and a detective
no less. Upon further examination, according to Susan Douglas, the feminist praise falls
short of the mark. In episode after episode (1974 - 1978), Angie Dickinson's character, Sgt.
Lee Ann Anderson, was always called "Pepper" by her male colleagues, which kind of
sounded like a stage name of a stripper to Douglas. Also, despite being a police detective,
"Pepper" was constantly going under cover as a prostitute, or as bait to lure a predator, or as
a woman limited to the private sphere. Added to all that, when "Pepper" got in trouble, she
was rescued by her male colleagues, instead of solving the situation herself. As Douglas
pointed out, it was rather ironic that feminists supported the show to a great degree, given
the lead character's portrayal and restrictions. The opening credits to Police Woman
illustrate some of the misgivings of Susan Douglas concerning the feminist praise accorded to
Police Woman . . .
(it didn't help that the three lead female characters, just seconds into the opening credits,
were called "girls"). But, when closely watching the episodes, one finds that the women not only get themselves out of trouble in every episode, but they far more often than not help each other get out of trouble as well. There was constant tension in Charlie's Angels between
feminism and anti-feminism; that mirrored reality, in that Feminism, as a political movement,
reached its apex in 1976, and started its political decline in 1977. The down-side of Charlie's Angels (and the Bionic Woman and Wonder Woman) was that their power in the show was not based on reality; oftentimes, their power was kept "secret" if it was in play in the public sphere (much like Bewitched). The message for women on TV, by 1977, seemed to be that women COULD "have it all", but it was impossible to attain . . . the political power of the Feminist Movement, by the late-1970s, was in decline.
narcissism. Evidence of that shift was seen in the marked increase in the sales of cosmetics
late in the decade. In television blockbusters such as Dallas (1978 - 1991) and Dynasty
(1981 -1989), women were objectified, and pitted against each other. As Susan Douglas
stated, elitism plus narcissism led to more of a personal focus for women instead of a
political focus. In effect, by the late-1970s, instead of the Feminist slogan "The Personal is
the Political", the new slogan could have been "The Personal is the Physical, and the Material".
Women in television in the late-1970s / early-1980s preferred to be envied instead of
respected, something that would have made Mary from The Mary Tyler Moore very uncomfortable. Women became very insecure about their physical appearance; that can be confirmed by the profusion of exercise videotapes that were sold (e.g. Jane Fonda's Workout) during that period. Take a look at the opening credits for Dallas and Dynasty, to see glimpses of what Susan Douglas discussed in terms of the decline of Feminism in the late-1970s . . .
Dynasty were basically portrayed in the private sphere, except Joan Collins in Dynasty.
She was in the public sphere (the business world, wanting to be powerful and rich), and was the show's main villain . . . hmmm.
The Feminist Movement became a political force in the late-1960s (e.g. picketing the
Miss America Pageant in Atlantic City in 1968), reached the apex of its political power and
influence in the mid-1970s, and then rather suddenly, began its decline before the decade
was out. We can trace those three phases of the Feminist Movement through the television
shows of the 1960s, 1970s, and early-1980s. Susan Douglas argued that by the early-1980s,
narcissism became liberation for most women in America - that can certainly be seen in the
television shows during those three decades.