I am second to none in my admiration of and appreciation for PBS. It has such good programming. I don’t get to watch it as much of it as I might like, but consistently PBS broadcasts such interesting shows.
The other night I turned on the TV and was flipping channels. I came across a show on PBS that I had never heard of: America in Primetime. It seems to be a show about how television reflects societal attitudes in our culture. I caught part of an episode on how women have been portrayed over the years in television. The episode is described at the following link:
The episode interviewed a range of individuals who had been involved in television shows focusing on women from Mary Tyler Moore to Darren Star (creator of Sex and the City) to Mary Louise Parker.
At one point Mary Tyler Moore noted that earlier in society women had to focus on being liked because their economic and societal security was dependent on pleasing a man. To explain this phenomenon, she quipped, “Am I cute enough for you, honey?” Then other interviewees explained that women in our modern society no longer have to focus on being liked. Women now have a wider range of options and experiences, which are expressed in television programs.
The interviewees noted that the current struggle of women is finding balance. Today women are juggling work, family, other relationships, other responsibilities, etc. It was noted that it is hard for a person to know who she is when juggling all that. It is easy to lose one’s identity and one’s grounding amidst the struggle for balance.
Several interviewees described the seeking of balance as elusive or even mythical. They balked at the idea of having it all. One person said that if you are doing everything, by definition you are not doing it all well. Shows like Desperate Housewives, Nurse Jackie and Weeds were held up as examples of this struggle.
One interviewee mentioned in essence that women today were expected to achieve things outside the home; they had to run companies and have careers. It wasn’t enough to “just” stay at home. That was looked down upon.
To this point, Juliana Margulies of The Good Wife talked about people not respecting stay-at-home parents. She said that when people talk down about caregivers, she asks, “Do you know how tough that is?” She said that by comparison her going to work was the easy option. She goes to work and someone hands her a cup of coffee. No one takes care of the stay-at-home parent.
Felicity Huffman and Eva Longoria of Desperate Housewives were interviewed and expressed similar attitudes. They describe a famous scene in their program where Ms. Huffman’s character has a meltdown on a kids’ soccer field because she is overwhelmed by how difficult motherhood is. In the scene, Ms. Huffman’s character (a former corporate executive) is in tears because she is overwhelmed and feels she is failing as a mom. Her girlfriends console her and express that they know what she is going through. Ms. Huffman’s character laments that no one ever tells you how hard it is. In that context, Ms. Huffman and Ms. Longoria discussed the image of the perfect wife and mom in pop culture, and how impossible it is for women to live up to that unattainable ideal. It was noted that there is also a lot of shame that comes with not living up to the ideal.
The creator of Desperate Housewives, Marc Cherry, was also interviewed. Though I don’t know him and frankly had never even heard of him, I just wanted to hug him when I heard him interviewed. He expressed that the title of his show was immediately controversial; he was told that the title would be a turn-off to potential viewers. He expressed that reaction gave him the insight that our society just doesn’t respect women who stay at home. Nonetheless, he expressed his opinion that there was something “quietly and beautifully heroic” about women who aspired to devote themselves full-time to building a home and caring for their family. And he expressed that heroism was something he was drawn to write about. God bless Marc Cherry!
If you would like to watch America in Primetime: Independent Woman, the link below contains videos of the whole series. Apparently “Independent Woman” was the first episode, so you have to scroll down to the bottom of the screen.