Maude, Alice, & One Day at a Time: Women in Charge

Posted: April 1, 2011 in In-Class Screenings

This week in class, we viewed three programs that showed women having the sole power over their own lives and their struggles to deal with difficult situations.  These problems vary from an unexpected pregnancy, trying to reignite a dream, and running a household as a single parent and the reactions of each of these women to the problems they face.

Maude aired from 1972 to 1978, starring Beatrice Arthur as the show’s main character.  Maude is married, but has been divorced many times before and has a daughter that lives with her and appears to be on the same track.  Maude also has a friend that has also been divorced a few times too.  Maude also does not have the same physical attributes or the voice to match the conventional housewife shown in the 1950’s.  This, in conjunction with the fact that she has been divorced several times, gives viewers the idea that Maude is powerful.  This is supported by the way she interacts with her husband.  Maude’s husband clearly sees her as an equal, if not more powerful, which definitely combats the newly coined term of the time “chauvenist,” which describes a sense of male superiority over women.  There seems to be a complete role-reversal, having Maude at the head of the household with her husband taking the backseat role held by women in the 1950’s programs.  When Maude discovers she is pregnant at such a late age, the decision to have an abortion is left solely to her by her husband, who said he will support her no matter the outcome.  As discussed in class, it is visible that Maude could have a negative effect on the womens liberation movement of the time due to her apparent sole seat at the head of the household.  This could be deemed as threatening to anti-feminists, giving them the idea that it is the goal of feminists to reverse the roles within the home. 

Alice aired from 1976 to 1985 and stars Linda Lavin, who is a widow trying to reginite her dream of being a singer.  Alice could also be compared to Lorelai Gilmore because both women are single struggling to raise a child on their own.  Alice, unlike Maude, is seen as a sexual object by some characters in the show.  The perverted old man that offers her a candy bar to go in the back room, along with the patron of the diner where she works that is relentless in asking her to dinner both prove that point.  Flo, another waitress at the diner, is a sexual subject and embraces the attention she receives from the old man and tries to pursuade Alice to see the young hollywood agent that continually asks her out.  This show agrees with Douglas’ book, which talks about pop culture being a balance of the demands of feminists and the resistance of anti-feminists.  The character Flo, along with Alice, show two women in complete control over their actions and decisions, which supports the feminist movement.  To go along with the anti-feminist resistance though, Alice was formerly married and a caretaker and now has to support her son, while making time for dates.  By having Alice go on the date with the supposid hollywood agent, Alice presents the idea that she isn’t opposed to finding a new husband. 

One Day at a Time aired from 1975-1984 starring Bonnie Franklin as Ann Romano, a recently divorced mother like Alice and Lorelai Gilmore, dealing with the difficulties of raising children on her own.  Ann has independence, but struggles to enforce her power and control her children when her older daughter threatens to move in with her father because Ann refused to let her go on a camping trip with boys.  Ann is also seen as a sexual object by the super of the apartment complex where she lives and constantly deals with him sneaking into her apartment and coming on to her.  Ann has a boyfriend, though, which suggests that she, like Alice, is not opposed to being in a relationship.  The one thing that sticks out clearly is the mention that the father of Ann’s children is a pushover and, especially the older daughter, allows the children to do as they please.  This shows the apparent fact that the daughter held more power than Ann while Ann was still married.  A couple of other things that stuck out in this show was Ann’s quote  saying “the one time I get to make a decision I mess it up”  along with Ann’s boyfriend stepping in to tell her how to handle the situation.This could be interpreted negatively by feminists because it may portray the idea that Ann is not fit to live on her own and needs a man in the home to enforce the power and make all of the important decisions.  This show is a perfect balance of feminist demands and anti-feminist resistance discussed earlier in the post.  Ann’s independence and the fact that she is balancing a career with the duties of managing a family supports the feminist movement, while Ann’s quote may support anti-feminist resistance with her saying the one time she gets to make a decision she screws it up. 

Two of these three shows continue to support the feminist movement discussed in Douglas’ book, while the One Day at a Time may be considered a step by due to the statements made by Ann in the show.  Since the show remained successful through the latter part of the 70’s and well into the 80’s I would have to assume that Ann eventually gets her feet under her and finds the ability to manage her family on her own without the need of a male counterpart.

  1. Doc H says:

    Your recent entries offer excellent summaries, and they provide you with some direction for your final piece. Be careful that you don’t dwell too much in plot summary for your final essay in the class. Use these entries to remind you of what you saw but also be prepared to move from the descriptive to the interpretive level as you construct your final essay.

    One way to do this is to work on constructing thesis statements. If you provide yourself with a coherent path then it will be easier to build a consistent and coherent argument. For example, all three of these programs deal with women who are struggling to figure out how they will use the power they now have. This, of course, builds on the foundation set by Bewitched & Jeannie. The difference between these three programs and the other two involves the level of realism with which these women are depicted. The more realistic the depiction the more normal the power possessed becomes.

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