I’m a pop-culture enthusiast to the nth degree! I love reality TV, classic movies, any music on iTunes’ top singles charts; you name it, I keep up with it. But I had never really paid attention to TV throughout the years and the development of female characters in sitcoms. During Mary Kassian’s challenge to women’s ministry leaders at the True Woman conference, one of her examples of the impact of feminism in TV spoke to my heart. Believe it or not, but in the 1950’s June Cleaver, of the show “Leave it to Believer,” was the ideal woman. She was the quintessential happy, chocolate-chip-cookie-making housewife. All she wanted in the world was a husband, a white-picket fence, beautiful children, and the best appliances. June defined her own happiness.
Fast-forward 30 years and a few doses of feminism and what’s on TV? Mary Tyler-Moore. This was the first show to feature a single, 30-something woman, living in the city with a career. As Geoff Hammill (The Museum of Broadcast Communications) describes, “She was not widowed or divorced or seeking a man to support her. Rather, the character had just emerged from a live-in situation with a man whom she had helped through medical school. He left her upon receiving his degree and she relocated to Minneapolis determined to ‘make it on her own.’ This now-common concept was rarely depicted on television in the early 1970s, despite some visible successes of the women’s movement.” Mary defined herself and only she could make herself happy.
Feminism was becoming main-stream and it was becoming popular to the household woman. In the 80’s Murphy Brown (played by Candice Bergen) was the new example of the “ideal” woman. She was a power-suit wearing, briefcase carrying, former alcoholic, TV journalist. She was a tough, no-nonsense woman and she could “make it on her own.” She didn’t need a man, even when she became pregnant. She kept the baby (thankfully) but not the man. Husbands were thrown out the window and so were fathers, women could now do it all themselves. Murphy didn’t let men get in the way and she was the one in charge of her own happiness.
The 90’s brought on an even more progressive sitcom character: Ellen Degeneres. This new character didn’t need a man for ANYTHING. She was self-employed and…a lesbian. Ellen defined who she was and what made her happy. This was a whole new ball-game, at least you would think. But yet again, the world accepted another infiltration of feminism into homes. Women, everywhere, now believed that they were the ones to define their lives and what happiness was. Their feelings and experiences were the only authority they could trust.
So where are we today? Is it any better? Unfortunately, it is not. With shows like Cougar Town, featuring Courtney Cox, the new “ideal” woman is single, experiments sexually, has a baby-daddy and a “friend-with-benefits” neighbor on speed-dial, a career, and she defines her own happiness. And yet, she’s still unhappy. All these characters were still unhappy and searching for that “something” that would complete them, whether it was a better career, a baby, a man, or in Ellen’s case, a woman. Normal, everyday women are no different than they are. All women want to find true happiness but they will only find it with Christ (John 15:10-12). Any woman who defines herself will be left empty. But every woman who lets God define her will be filled. If God defines you, then teach others to let Him be their all-in-all and let’s all help start a quiet, counter-revolution! Who defines YOU?