You're Gonna Make It After All

The first grownup television show I can remember watching as a wee pup in the 1970s was the Mary Tyler Moore Show, which was a favorite of my mother's (and millions of other women's). It was pretty revolutionary for its time, a show built around a single working woman who was uncertain of herself and vulnerable (and the victim of constant casual sexism), but also smart, competent, and determined to be successful in a world ruled by men. It made Moore probably the central cultural icon of the feminist movement's key period. The show ended its run in 1977, but it was no surprise when Jimmy Carter's re-election campaign in 1980 recruited Moore to encourage women to vote for Carter. Here's the ad she did:

If Moore was the central cultural feminist icon of the 1970s, the central political/activist icon was Gloria Steinem, who is still going strong 40 years after she co-founded Ms. magazine. And she's now doing ads for Barack Obama. As Ari Melber observed, the Obama campaign on YouTube is talking much more directly to the liberal base than the version of his campaign you'll see on the evening news. Here's Steinem's web video:

As disheartening as it is that in 2012, women who stand up and say they ought to have access to birth control are called "sluts" by major media figures, if nothing else, the recent flap over contraception has made Mitt Romney's life very difficult. A recent USA Today/Gallup poll of swing states found Romney edging Obama among men by one point, but trailing the president among women by a stunning 18 points (in 2008, Obama beat John McCain by 13 points among women). But worry not: Romney assures us that his wife is out talking to the ladyfolk and reporting back to him what they're saying. So there you go.


Okay, Paul (if I may -- I'm going to adopt a maternal tone here). You've got some things right, but what's wrong? You've oversimplified. Vastly. Two voices, Mary Tyler Moore's and Gloria Steinem's, to capture the 1970's and women? They don't begin to capture the voices speaking, the voices being heard, the voices being attended to. I'll just speak for myself now. I graduated from college in 1972 and got my Ph.D. in 1976. Women's issues were on my mind, among many other things. I watched Mary Tyler Moore in there, along with (the original episodes of) Star Trek, of Mannix (a few grad students friends and a little beer on a Saturday night -- ironic chill), of Cronkite and Watergate hearings and so much else. God, all the voices, just on TV! Well, the women's voices in all of this. Steinem (whom I've come to respect as I've gotten older and maybe wiser), at the time, was the voice of Newsweek-speak to me -- well, I never disdained her the way I disdained most Newsweek-speak, but she was, well, not important to me. As for Mary. Well, my reaction to her and her show tells you something. I really enjoyed both, but I never imagined Mary's character as a "role model." She just was "me," a naively good enough kid who persisted, I guess -- and there had been lots of those on TV in my growing up. (To be honest, the person I really fell in love with then and there was Betty White -- you think her renaissance of popularity is an accident? There are a lot of people my age out here!) That makes Mary a good "icon" (not for me, but of me), I guess. Just saying that all this is much more complicated, though I appreciate your main conclusion here. Yep, the major battles we'd thought we'd won, well, they were indeed only battles in a very long war.

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