Feminism as Seen on TV in the 1970s

I just went down Nostalgia Lane watching theme song introductions from 1970s TV shows that I grew up with, and I was struck by how many tried (with mixed results) to represent feminist ideas of the time in the lyrics and voiceovers of their intros. For example:

Charlie’s Angels (Once upon a time, there were three little girls who went to the police academy). I guess that opening line was supposed to blow our minds. Lady cops? Wowzers! They’re probably reading Lean In on Charlie’s yacht right now.

Wonder Woman (All the world is waiting for you / And the power you possess / In your satin tights / Fighting for your rights / And the old red, white, and blue). Just don’t ask for equal pay with Superman.

Laverne and Shirley (And we’ll do it our way, yes our way, make all our dreams come true / Yes we’ll do it our way, yes our way, make all our dreams come true / For me and you). That final “for me and you” might seem like a throwaway button lyric that simply closes the song, but that was one of the most important lines. This new way of life we’re going to figure out is for us. It’s a call to remake the world—and in making that call, it’s the most relevant to the change still under way.

Alice (Things are great when you stand on your own two feet / And this girl’s here to say: With some luck and love life’s gonna be so sweet). This was the only show that represented the life of working mothers in any way that could be called realistic. The opening shot of the car moving down the highway spoke volumes. Images of mothers with their children in a station wagon heading down an unknown road to find something better were seen in many movies and TV shows in this era. Even The Karate Kid began that way.

As the Internet would have it, I soon found myself watching a video of Family Feud: Love Boat vs. WKRP in Cincinnati, which seemed like a lark, but actually turned out to provide incredible context to all the feminist (and “feminist”) TV tropes I’d just watched.

To begin with, the cast members of these two shows were almost identical, and each show had one female lead fitting the same stereotype: young blonde eye candy. In the final round, two male contestants get asked the same (survey) question: “The age a woman’s figure is best?”

It’s the kind of question you probably wouldn’t hear on a similar show today, but it was completely routine here. The whole gestalt of the scene reminded me what it was like back then—the flippancy of it all. Behold.

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