After Mary Tyler Moore’s death Wednesday, I watched the pilot episode of “The Mary Tyler Moore Show.” Though the show was revolutionary for its time for its portrayal of a single woman, working in journalism and living alone — I didn’t expect it to hold up all that well. Forty-seven years after the pilot aired, there are parts that are certainly retro. Louis “Lou” Grant (Edward Asner), for example, flat-out tells Mary Richards (Mary Tyler Moore) during a job interview: “I figured I’d hire a man for it, but we can talk about it.” But there’s a lot in that first episode that’s still relevant for single women today.
People will ask you if you’re married. If you’re not, they will ask why.
The job interview (which starts about the 5-minute mark in the video above) is the gem of this episode. Job candidates might not get asked their age, religion and marital status in an interview, as Richards was in this episode — which she pointed out were illegal things to be asked. But the default assumption for 30-somethings is still marriage. (In 1970, 69 percent of adults ages 18 or older were married; as of 2014, that proportion was 50 percent.) If you’re a single woman in your 30s, you’re likely to encounter nosy co-workers, relatives and even other singles who will want to know why you haven’t gotten married yet. Richards’s tactic of answering with humor — plus “What was the point of this line of questioning?” real talk — is still an effective way of handling such inquiries. As Richards puts it: “It does seem that you’ve been asking a lot of very personal questions that don’t have a thing to do with my qualifications for this job.”
“There’s no simple answer to why a person isn’t married.”
Richards says this in the middle of her job interview, to which Grant retorts: “How many different reasons could there be?” and she answers: 65. Sixty-five was meant as her answer to his earlier question about how many words per minute she types. But 65 might be more accurate today than it was in 1970, when marriage was at the beginning of its decline in popularity. The question of why millennials are delaying marriage has multiple answers — 20-somethings often cite focusing on their careers or paying down student debt before tying the knot; dating apps provide more choices than ever before; many cities have a lack of single men; and a large proportion of adults no longer view monogamy as their ideal relationship. That’s five answers right there; you can find at least 60 other answers in the Solo-ish archives.
Women are less likely to depend on a man to “take care” of them.
Toward the end of this episode, Richards’s ex-boyfriend Bill shows up for a visit. We don’t know much about why their relationship ended, but it seems to be because he wasn’t interested in getting married after two years together. When she makes clear that they won’t be getting back together and says goodbye to Bill, his parting words are: “Take care of yourself.” To which she responds: “I think I just did.” This might have been the beginning of when women were realizing they didn’t need a man to take care of them, but that’s even more true today. While women still make less than men do, the gender pay gap has significantly narrowed since Richards’s time. In 38 percent of heterosexual marriages, women outearn their husbands. That’s far more than taking care of oneself.