Since early television and other sources of media have become popular, gender roles have been depicted. The Broadcast Era of television began in the 1940s and ran until the 1980s. During this era women were typically housewives who stayed at home and did all of the childrearing, cleaning and cooking. Most of them did not get jobs or receive a college education. This continued through majority of this time period, although eventually women began to have different ideas about the typical role they played in society throughout this time period. This role that women assumed was depicted in the media created during that era. Some of the most famous shows that showed women in their housewife roles include “I Love Lucy”, “Leave it to Beaver”, and “The Dick Van Dyke Show”. Television scholars have written about how television impacted family life and family dynamics. One of the works we looked at in class, Television in the Family Circle, written by Lynn Spigel, discussed how the television changed how families interacted with each other as well as the overall societal impacts it had. One can look at shows created during this era through a feminist lens by examining character’s gender roles and the impact this had on women, as well as others watching. This can shed light on how the opinions of women’s roles, rights, and treatment were shaped. It can also be related back to how women are currently depicted in modern day television and show the transformation through the decades.
In Television in the Family Circle, Spigel writes about the role of television in the home and family as well as society. Her main claim is that television brought the family together and united them. The T.V. soon became the center of the American home. It replaced the fireplace and the piano. It brought all of the family together and made it possible to do something they all enjoyed at the same time. This was especially true because the Broadcast Era debuted T.V. shows that were family oriented. Spigel also discusses how this affected women. When the broadcast era began it was right after men returned home from the war. This caused a shift in societal roles and expectations. She says, “Women were given a highly constraining solution to the changing roles of gender and sexual identity. Although middle- and working-class women had been encouraged by popular media to enter traditionally male occupations during the war, they were now told to return to their homes where they could have babies and make color coordinated meals” (Spigel 41). This change in women’s’ roles in society eventually led to the baby boom and housewives. Due to this becoming many women’s reality it was soon depicted on television. It was also seen in almost every form of media/art. Writers began discussing women’s roles as well. In The Modern Woman: The Lost Sex by Marynia Farnham and Ferdinand Lundberg it claimed that “…the essential function of women was that of caretaker, mother, and sexual partner. Those women who took paid employment in the outside world would defy the biological order of things” (Spigel 42). This was portrayed again and again in media and specifically television. This can be seen in many Broadcast Era shows, but I specifically analyzed, “I Love Lucy”, “Leave it to Beaver”, and “The Dick Van Dyke Show”.
The show, “I Love Lucy”, first aired in 1951, it was about Lucy Ricardo who is married to Ricky Ricardo- a Cuban band player who is trying to make it in show business in New York. Lucy is a housewife, who eventually becomes a stay at home mom throughout the duration of the series. Their best friends are Ethel and Fred, who are also their landlords. Lucy and Ethel get into all kinds of trouble while their husbands are at work. Despite their husbands being typical 1950s men who believe a woman’s place in the house/kitchen the women defy their overbearing nature by constantly creating mischief. The show brings many gendered based issues to light through discussions and humorous depictions. For example, they have conservations all together about women’s rights, jobs, and many others. In the particular episode I chose to examine, “Job Switching” (season one, episode two), the men, Ricky and Fred, think that doing household chores, otherwise known as “women’s work”, is much easier than going out and earning a living. Lucy and Ethel think otherwise, they decide to switch roles for a week. Although it goes poorly for both parties it shows that women were beginning to think they were more than capable of doing what men do. It also provides a man’s perspective of women and their value and place in society.
The show, “Leave it to Beaver” was a classic American sitcom that first came to television in 1957. It was the definition of a wholesome family show. The dad, Mr. Cleaver, worked a 9 to 5 job and was always home for dinner. Mrs. Cleaver cleaned the house and cared for the two kids: Beaver (Beav) and Wally, and she looked good doing it too. She always wore dresses, heels and pearls. The episode always ended with the “problem” being resolved and the two children learning a valuable lesson. With the series depicting a classic American family in the late 50s and early 60s, it also reflected American ideals and values during this time period. The Cleaver family was a middle-class family with two kids, a nice but not over the top car and a suburban cookie cutter home complete with a yard. Mr. and Mrs. Cleaver tried to teach their children life lessons throughout the episodes equipped with humor the whole family could enjoy. In the episode I analyzed, Mr. Cleaver is grilling outside when he is approached by his son, Wally, who asks him why he does the outside cooking and his mom does the inside cooking. Mr. Cleaver projects his views that American men shared in this time period about the women’s place in the home as well as society. He is telling these opinions and ideals to his young son which can show how sexism spread to many generations. It also is on a television show that families typically watched together and therefore more young boys and girls not only grew up with these ideals in their own household, but they were further instilled through nearly every aspect of their life, including television.
Considered to be one of America’s classic television shows, “The Dick Van Dyke Show” debuted in 1961. It revolved around the lives of Rob and his wife Laura. Most of the episodes focus on problems at Rob’s job as television writer with his coworkers Buddy, Sally and Mel. The show also showed his family life with his wife and their kid, Ritchie. Typically, they overlapped in a comedic fashion. Laura stays at home with Ritchie and cooks and cleans. However, the episode I looked at does not necessarily focus on Laura’s role but instead his coworker, Sally. Sally works in an office as a secretary with all men, and therefore, she has fallen subject to being treated like one of the boys. Laura realizes this when she has Rob’s coworkers over for dinner and points out to her husband this is not how Sally should be treated. She says that she should not be called as “strong as a bull”, be invited to cigars and drinks in the den “with the boys” after dinner, be included in crude jokes, and overall treated like one of the boys. This illustrates that women were supposed to behave and be treated a particular way and everyone in society thought so. Throughout the dinner Laura kept trying to prove that Sally was like all females so her date would be swayed instead of the way the men were treating her. Laura tried to compliment how she dressed, that she was a good cook, etcetera. Laura thought it was odd in the beginning of the episode that Sally would be picking up her date instead of vice versa, this also shows the expectations for men and women during this time period. Women were supposed to be soft, gentle, good cooks, and be treated with care.
Television series from the Broadcast Era (1940s-1980s) show the gender roles of men and women and how women were portrayed and considered as nothing more than housewives in this period of time. This can be seen through some of America’s classic shows like, “I Love Lucy”, “Leave it to Beaver” and “The Dick Van Dyke Show”. Although they do not have the same exact concepts or themes, they all share the portrayal of women. Television scholars like Lynn Spigel discuss how this change in women’s purpose in society occurred and how it was developed in media and other forms of art. It also explains how sexism was spread to multiple generations not only because of ideals of their parents but it was further enforced by television and other forms of media. Thankfully overtime women’s role in society and portrayal in media has changed. Women now play strong, independent, fearless roles on television. They are of all different sexual orientations, economic classes, races, education levels and so on. However, we still have a lot of progress to make for women’s rights and imaging.