In a recent class, we viewed episodes of The Goldbergs and Father Knows Best, two shows set in the mid-20th century.  Both shows display a typical housewife caring for her family, which relates to our previous viewing of The Donna Reed Show.  Both shows challege the common assumption that women were only allotted specific jobs, with the main one consisting of caring for a household. 

The Goldbergs originally started as a radio show in 1929 and made the switch to television in 1949.  Gertrude Berg, the shows star and main character, created, wrote, and produced the show.  Basically, Gertrude Berg should be categorized with Lucille Ball in that both were revolutionary women in early television.  Although both women projected the image of a housewife in their shows, both were extremely involved in creating and sustaining successful shows. 

In the episode we viewed, Molly Goldberg (Gertrude Berg) overhears her daughter Rosalie singing and convinces the young girl to show off her talents to the neighbor.  Rosalie is later convinced by her mother and neighbor to visit an instructor to see if she has a possible career in performing.  After a visit with the instructor, Rosalie discovers that her voice is sweet, but nothing spectacular.  This is a truth that Rosalie doesn’t think her mother can handle.  Rosalie convinces the instructor to tell her mother that she had a voice, but needed lessons three times a week at twenty-five dollars a lesson (an amount Rosalie does not think her family will be able to afford).  Rosalie’s plan backfires when she discovers that her extended family has offered to help fund her lessons, while her father insists that he wants to be able to provide his daughter with the opportunity to explore her talent.  Rosalie eventually confesses the truth about the situation and her mother advises her to change her curriculum back to domestic science.

Father Knows Best, like The Goldbergs, started off as a radio show in 1949 and made the transition to television in 1954.  The show ran until 1960, portraying a typical nuclear family similar to the one in The Donna Reed Show.  The episode we viewed, “Betty the Engineer,” showed a different focus than other television shows of that era; with a focus on situations that the children are involved in, rather than the mother.  Margaret Anderson, the wife on the show, is very much like Donna Stone, in that she appears to be content as a homemaker and believes that her daughter should follow the same path.  Betty, the daughter, is convinced that girls can do anything that boys can do and decides to sign up for an engineering internship.  Betty receives a lot of scrutiny from her fellow classmates, but she has a rock-solid belief that girls can do anything that boys can do.  Betty’s parents are convinced that this is just a phase and life will return to normal once Betty realizes she isn’t cut out for engineering.  Betty, however, is convinced that she has what it takes and spends her free time at home studying engineering textbooks.  Betty decides to give up on returning to the surveying crew after receiving poor treatment and constant questioning from the head surveyor.  Doyle (the head surveyor) stops by for a visit at the Anderson’s home and expresses his belief that a woman’s place is in the household.  This was not Doyle’s sole reason for the visit; he also arranges a date with Betty right before the episode comes to a close. 

While the style of each show is different, the overall message was similar.  Each show challenged the common assumption that a woman’s place is in the household.  While the ending of Father Knows Best appears to contradict the message, the fact that Mr. and Mrs. Anderson allowed their daughter to explore her opportunity as an engineer speaks volumes.  Molly Goldberg, however, takes a different approach than Mrs. Anderson.  Molly seemingly pushes her daughter to explore her talents in hopes that she will be a star, rather than a housewife. 

The overall message of the show reminds me of a discussion in my Political Science class on the feminism.  In an article by Mary Dietz, I learned that many feminists make the attempt to either separate or reshape their assumed values as mothers to achieve equality.  I thought that both episodes showed young girls, and women for that matter, that women don’t have to settle for being housewives and can pursue their own passions.


In yesterday’s class, we viewed the shows Decoy and Hazel.  While these two shows present to us very different lives of women in the workplace, the underlying message appeared to be the same.  The message I picked up from both shows is that women in the 1950’s and 60’s were not afforded the opportunity to hold equal jobs as men and even if they were afforded an equal opportunity, they were utilized in an unequal manner.  I would like to draw on our class discussion yesterday, where we discussed that in that period of time a lot women found jobs that entailed the same kind of work as being a homemaker.  While Decoy focuses on a female police officer as the shows main character, she appears to be placed undercover in a “conventional woman’s job” in the episode we viewed.

Beverly Garland plays Casey Jones, a police officer often sent undercover to crack cases from the inside.  In the episode of Decoy we viewed in class, Casey Jones is sent undercover as a secretary for a company to investigate a recent warehouse fire.  Jones realizes why she was assigned this case, by saying “the department always has a special reason for assigning a female policewoman to a case.”  While working undercover, Jones  finds herself constantly being hit on by what appears to be all her male coworkers except her boss, Mr. Risco.  Since Mr. Risco knows the true reason why Jones is there, his talks with her are all business and have a distinct separation between the two individuals compared to the rest of the male coworkers.  Jones utilizes her placement as a secretary to become closer to the female coworkers, because they all appear to work within a few feet of each other.  She finds herself working together with what appears to be the case’s prime suspect, Michelle, who was a former patient at a mental hospital and worked late the night of the fire.  Jones takes a different approach with the men in the workplace, mainly using her good looks to uncover evidence.  This is especially presented in the latter part of the show at the company’s party when Jones takes Joe, a male coworker, into an office with a bottle of alcohol and ends up getting cracking the case. 

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            Shirley Booth plays Hazel Burke, a maid for an upper class household in the show Hazel.  In the show, Hazel talks with her friend Laura about Laura’s troubles with finding a man and the two decide to sign up for a class at the local school to discover their true personalities.  In the class, they are taught to constantly give compliments, which leads to Hazel finding herself in sticky situations at work.  These situations include: an encounter with Mr. Baxter’s cousin, which results in Mr. B giving his freeloading cousin money; Mrs. Baxter losing a job opportunity; The Baxter’s son getting into a fight at school; and the Thompson’s gardener trying to court Hazel, rather than Laura.  In this show, there is a distinct difference in dialogue which is a key element in determining class.  Hazel has clear mispronunciations in her speech, which automatically makes viewers associate her with a lower class; Mrs. Baxter’s speech is clear and precise which draws viewers to the assumption that she is of higher class; and Mrs. Osborne speaks with a snobby, drawn out accent which is almost stereotypical of someone of a wealthier class. 

I noticed while watching Hazel, especially the scene where Mrs. Baxter is in the parking lot talking to Mrs. Osborne, that all of the vehicles used in this show were Fords (especially Thunderbirds for some reason).  After doing a little research, I found that the show was sponsored by the Ford Motor Company.  This fits in perfectly with Mittel’s piece, as well as the Hilmes book.  The sponsorship model has changed from that period of time, but back then there weren’t as many advertisements and commercials and there was much more product placement.  So, like the TV show Dragnet, where the main character smokes Chesterfield cigarettes exclusively; Ford vehicles are exclusively used in Hazel. 

In the viewings of The Donna Reed Show and The Gilmore Girls there were comparisons of what an “ideal wife” should be and what modern women in today’s society are.  The Donna Reed show was based in the 1950’s in a time where women returned to maintaining the household while their husbands made the family’s sole income.  In The Gilmore Girls, however, the situation varies.  The Gilmore Girls is based at the turn of the new millennium and focuses on the modern-day family, which differs from that of the 1950’s.  In modern times, it is not uncommon to see a single parent running a household and that is what The Gilmore Girls shows.  This modern-day show presents a family that consists of a single mother and her teenage daughter defying the rules of a conventional nuclear family. 

In The Donna Reed Show, the conventional nuclear housewife deals with the difficulties of maintaining stability within the family as she deals with her personal struggles.  Donna feels as if she is being taken advantage of by her family as well as people she interacts with on a daily basis.  Donna feels as if she is being taken advantage of by her family as well as the laundromat’s deliver man, who had mistakenly forgotten to return her dress which she needed for a social event.  Donna struggles to keep her children and husband in line as well as prevent the laundromat’s delivery man from forgetting her clothing.  Although Donna becomes frustrated with the fact that not everything is as perfect as it should be, she maintains her “perfect” image and eventually returns to form. 

The Gilmore Girls, however, which defies and often mocks the conventional household that was set up by previous programs like The Donna Reed Show.  Lorelai Gilmore is not the conventional housewife as portrayed in the 1950’s.  She is a single parent dealt with raising a teenage daughter on her own and is not uncomfortable with the idea of pizza or other forms of takeout as dinner each night.  While Rory Gilmore seems to be self-sufficient enough to make her own decisions, she finds herself referring to past assumptions on what a woman should be.  In this case, she argues with her boyfriend about the conventional nuclear household of the 1950’s and the place of Donna Reed.  She eventually ends up dressing up like Donna Reed and making her boyfriend dinner in a neighbor’s house that she is house-sitting. 

These texts speak to one another because Rory Gilmore is reflecting upon the image given on women in the 1950’s.  Since her boyfriend thought it would be nice to have a woman prepare dinner for him every day, Rory thought it would be necessary to show her boyfriend a “Donna Reed night.”  Rory prepared dinner and dessert for her boyfriend and finds herself in an awkward situation.  Although her boyfriend found the dinner to be quite good, Rory finds herself being mocked by her mother for her attire which consists of a conventional outfit worn by Donna Reed on her show in the 1950’s.  This mocking causes Rory’s boyfriend to change his opinion and realize that he does not want a “conventional” woman from the 1950’s.

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Posted: January 24, 2011 in Uncategorized

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