Mary Richards would be proud of marchers

Pawtucket Times - - OPINION - By JEN­NIFER KEISHIN ARM­STRONG Arm­strong is au­thor of "Mary and Lou and Rhoda and Ted" and "Se­in­fel­dia."

Mary Richards wasn't try­ing to be any­one's fem­i­nist icon. She be­came an as­so­ciate pro­ducer at a Min­neapo­lis TV sta­tion not be­cause she was try­ing to make a state­ment but be­cause she needed a job to sup­port her new life on her own in the city af­ter a breakup. She took birth con­trol pills be­cause she was a re­spon­si­ble sin­gle woman who dated. She stayed out all night on a date be­cause she was hav­ing a good time. She gave her best friend, Rhoda, a pep talk about body im­age be­cause Rhoda needed it. She asked for a pay­check equal to her male pre­de­ces­sor's be­cause it seemed only fair.

And yet, be­cause Mary was the cen­tral char­ac­ter on the clas­sic 1970s sit­com "The Mary Tyler Moore Show," those small, ev­ery­day ac­tions made her a fem­i­nist icon. When the ac­tress who por­trayed her, Mary Tyler Moore, died Wed­nes­day at age 80, it marked the end of an era, sure. But co­in­ci­den­tally, an­other era of­fi­cially started this month with the Women's March on Washington and mil­lions marching in sol­i­dar­ity around the world. And Mary Richards was one very im­por­tant step be­tween the women's move­ment of her era — once seen as a rad­i­cal, fringe group — and this resur­gence of fem­i­nism in main­stream cul­ture as it stares down four years with an openly sex­ist new pres­i­dent.

Would a mod­ern Mary — no TV star, no fem­i­nist icon, just a woman liv­ing life on her terms — have marched? Of course. In fact, that's ex­actly who made the march pow­er­ful: Mil­lions of Marys — this time of all ages and col­ors and back­grounds — re­al­ized that they didn't have to be fa­mous, they didn't need a de­gree in women's stud­ies, and they didn't have to be paragons of fem­i­nism. They de­served to de­mand ba­sic equal­ity, and to­gether they could com­mand at least as much at­ten­tion as a TV show.

The cre­ators of "The Mary Tyler Moore Show," James L. Brooks and Al­lan Burns, didn't set out to make a fem­i­nist hero­ine when they wrote their first script in 1970. They sim­ply set out to make great TV, which to them meant a mod­ern, unique char­ac­ter grounded in the re­al­i­ties of the day. Af­ter decades of house­wife dom­i­nance on tele­vi­sion, they cre­ated an in­de­pen­dent, sin­gle, pro­fes­sional main char­ac­ter who copped to be­ing older than 30 and didn't ob­sess about find­ing a hus­band. Still, she also hewed to clas­sic "good girl" traits: Played by Moore, she was beau­ti­ful, thin, sweet, peo­ple-pleas­ing and of­ten def­er­ent. She was, for in­stance, the only char­ac­ter who called her boss "Mr. Grant" in­stead of just "Lou."

Fem­i­nist lead­ers at the time ex­pressed dis­ap­point­ment with Mary's lack of rad­i­cal­ism. But that nice-girl qual­ity helped her win main­stream Amer­i­can hearts: When, a few sea­sons in, she men­tioned con­tra­cep­tion or did the walk of shame, view­ers largely for­gave her. If Mary was do­ing some­thing, it couldn't be that bad, right? As a char­ac­ter on "Maude," an­other land­mark fem­i­nist show of the 1970s, said, ref­er­enc­ing Mary's all-nighter, "As Mary Tyler Moore goes, so goes Amer­ica." In time, the show would deal with birth con­trol, equal pay, gay ac­cep­tance, body im­age, the strug­gle for women to own their lead­er­ship po­si­tions, and the dif­fi­cul­ties of be­ing the to­ken woman in the of­fice, among many other is­sues. In­ci­den­tally, we're still fight­ing all of these bat­tles to­day. Many are ref­er­enced in the Women's March Unity Prin­ci­ples, along with sorely needed ad­di­tions such as civil rights, dis­abil­ity rights, im­mi­grant rights and en­vi­ron­men­tal jus­tice.

"The Mary Tyler Moore Show" helped gen­er­a­tions of women to see al­ter­na­tives for them­selves be­yond the stan­dard house­wife role. Tina Fey, Ju­lia Louis-Drey­fus, Oprah Win­frey and Ellen DeGeneres have cited Mary as a role model. Many mil­lions more who watched lived out Mary's in­flu­ence in qui­eter ways — as sin­gle women who em­braced liv­ing alone, as pro­fes­sion­als de­ter­mined to rise to the top of their game, as friends and mentors to other women, as women who could make a dif­fer­ence in the world. As women, that is, who marched with and for other women this month.

Bet­ter still, this new move­ment goes be­yond the lim­i­ta­tions that Mary Richards-style women's lib couldn't. To­day's move­ment is led by women of color, im­mi­grants and Na­tive Amer­i­cans. It ac­knowl­edges the larger sys­temic is­sues that feed into women's op­pres­sion, such as poverty, en­vi­ron­men­tal crises and con­tin­ued at­tacks on re­pro­duc­tive jus­tice.

It's a group Mary Richards likely never imag­ined. But it's also a group she'd be happy to lend a bit of her sig­na­ture spunk to. I'm toss­ing my hot pink hat in the air in her honor.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.