TELEVISON TOSSES MY LIFE back in my face. A week at home with my son and I get to see reruns of I Love Lucy and Andy Griffith, Welcome Back Kotter and even Superman, who looks fat and does nothing more to justify the adjective "super" then jump first on a mattress and then out an open window. Fortunately for him, Metropolis is full of open windows.
And sexists. A staple of these shows is the notion that men are men and women are women and never the twain shall meet -- not even in bed. Women do women's work and men do men's work. Women are silly and men are sober. Women are Lucy and men are Desi and the reason things work out this way was explained perfectly on a show called the Brady Bunch, which, like acne, is something that returns to afflict every generation.
The eldest Brady girl is named Marcia. She is about 12 or 13 and she decides that she, like her brother, can be a Frontier Scout -- a television version of the Boy Scouts. She puts up a tent, finds her own way in the woods and does it all despite attempts by her brother to make things difficult for her -- male chauvinist pig that he is. She becomes eligible for induction into the Scouts.
Not Marcia, Girl she is, she begs off the induction, explaining to her grateful family that she was merely trying to prove that she could become a Scout "even though I'm a girl." With that, everyone smiles a smile of relief and Marcia turns to her mother and asks, "Has the new fashion magazine come yet?" Her mother says yes, puts her arm around her oh-so-wise daughter and leads her up the stairs. The men go off to the Scouts meeting, presumably to get the MCP merit badge.
We ought to pause right here and say that this sort of show could happen no more. Television has changed and women have gone from insipid to sex objects, although on some shows a little reality is allowed to intrude. Not all women are housewives or silly things and no television writer nowadays would write a line like ". . . even though I'm a girl" and then reconcile the plot by having the girl acknowledge both a genetic abhorrence to pup tents and a yen for fashion magazines. Sexism of this sort definitely is passe.
In fact, some people are now arguing that the battle against sexism has been won and feminism has gone too far. It is time to return to the basics -- to acknowledge that differences do exist between men and women. Commentary Magazine recently carried an article on the excesses of feminism. It pointed out among other things female telephone repair persons can't do as much work as men and it noted that feminism often tries to do through rhetoric what nature itself would not -- make men and women the same.
Feminism does suffer from that sort of logical inconsistency, and some of the criticism being heaped upon it by neo-conservatives, just plain conservatives and outright reactionaries is deserved. The trouble with the criticism, though, is that it tends to obscure the real issue, which is not the excesses of feminism, but the persistence of sexism.
The lesson of that Brady Bunch episode, for instance, is not how far we have come, but how far we haven't -- how an episode as plainly sixist as that one gets aired with no apologies. There is not the slightest indication that anyone thought it either offensive or, at the very least, not the sort of thing children should be watching lest they get the wrong idea about boys, girls and which one God intended to read fashion magazines.
Consider for a moment if the station would air Amos 'n' Andy. Consider if it would put on a show that showed blacks eating watermelons, rolling their eyes and saying "yas sir," or one in which Jews loaned money at usurious rates or one in which Italians are always mobsters, Turks cruel, Swedes dumb (this is before they go to be sexy) and the Irish either cops or drunk, but either way with fine singing voices.
The answer, of course, is no -- no way. And the reason is not that no films were ever made like that -- they were -- but because we have learned better than to perpetuate racial or ethnic canards in the entertainment media. The same, though, cannot be said when it comes to sexual canards and sexual stereotypes. We either are so unaware of them or find them so inoffensive that they not only continue to be aired on television, but get fed to children along with their afternoon milk. A lot has changed since 1969 when the Brady Bunch was first aired. Miniskirts, for instance, are out. Sexism, though, is still in.