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Feminism and the Brady Bunch

In: Film and Music

Submitted By tig9
Words 1375
Pages 6
Susie Kim
Television and American Culture
March 18, 2013
A Very Brady Feminist
By the late 1960’s and early 1970’s second wave feminism was taking a firm hold on American, as well as the world’s, political and social norm, and television could not and did not ignore it. News reports as well as comedy television shows used the women’s liberation movement as a basis for a commentary in announcements, an episode, or a show as a whole. Television, as always, captured, communicated, and connected Americans everywhere with the changing times as women sought more than just their suffrage. As a contemporary issue for its time, it seemed unusual for a situation comedy television show like The Brady Bunch (1969-1974 ABC), which kept to traditional family values, to include episodes with feminism as its main subject matter. However, The Brady Bunch – particularly episode 19, season 2 – made the women’s liberation movement a family friendly topic for America’s living rooms. The episode was not just spontaneous and unrelated from the show as a whole; rather it built on the already established balanced norm that the show established since the very first episode. The Brady Bunch took great strides to maintain equilibrium between the boys and the girls – a mother with three daughters, a man with three sons, and the additional woman, Alice, substance a moderate position and generally does not take sides. Episode 19 of the second season, ‘The Liberation of Marcia Brady’ discusses feminism, but in the end nothing is really broken and the family remains united and wholesome. In a time where there was political, social, and familial instability, The Brady Bunch provided a piece of mind – an assurance that something like feminism could be discussed without breaking up the family – while providing future viewers who would watch the show in syndication (through CBS) a time capsule for the cultural time.
The episode opens with a reporter and a cameraman as they stand outside a high school discussing feminism and how high school girls feel about it. The reporter then turns and faces Judy Winters and Marcia Brady as they approach them and speaks to Marcia:
R: “Do you feel girls are the equal of boys?”
M: “Well, if we are all suppose to be created equal, I guess that means girls as well as boys.”
R: “Do you think you can do everything they can do?”
M: “Well, I think I should have the chance to try.”
R: “Do [your brothers] put you down sometimes, I mean, just because you’re a girl?”
M: “They sure do! And it’s not fair.”
R: “Do you think girls should do something about that?”
M: “We certainly should.”
The question and answers are, on the surface, harmless and do not really establish a side. Marcia does not out right declare that she is an embodied feminist. She “guess,” “suppose[s],” and thinks that girls are the same as boys and should be treated as such. The only time she proclaims anything directly is when the reporter asks about her brothers – Greg, Pete and Bobby – and how they put her down just because she is a girl. Also, when the reporter asks if “girls should do something about that,” he is specifically, in the context, asking about being but down just because they are girls, and not about women inequality. This establishes the subject of the episode, but does not promote or demote the women’s liberation movement, safely avoiding any conflicts or controversies with their family oriented show. However it provides the audience watching in syndication what the general opinion of time was.
As the girls walk away after the interview, Judy comments on what Marcia just told the reporter; “What you said about boys… if my father and brother heard me talk like that, they’d clobber me. You sure are brave.” To which Marcia replies, “Oh no […] I’m not brave! I’m stupid.” From Judy’s comment as well as Marcia’s response, the audience can deduce that feminism, or in this case “women’s liberation,” was not an accepted matter of discussion or an issue to express one’s opinions on, especially if those opinions expressed approval. Marcia was “stupid” for voicing her opinions about women’s liberation and now might face being “clobber[ed]” by her father and brothers. However, as always The Brady Bunch does not deviate from the well-established balance between the boys and the girls.
At home the family watches Marcia express herself on television and afterwards the boys tease her for her opinions. When Marcia asks her parents if they are angry about what she had said her mother says, “Well of course not, dear,” but her father says, “I think you have a right to your opinion,” implying that he does not fully approve of her opinions. After Marcia leaves the room saying that she “meant everything [she] said,” her parents discuss the women’s liberation themselves. While Carol stands firm with Marcia stating that even though she has “never gone out marching” she does “believe in some of their causes,” Mike says that even though he does not think that “it is [necessarily] crazy” he still thinks that “some of the things they want are far out.” Not only do their individual response safely discuss women’s liberation without becoming direct advocators or protesters, but their responses show how the individual sexes in society might have felt in real life. Also, the audience can experience 1970’s colloquial idioms such as “far out”. Now that the sides are even, assuming that Jane and Cindy agree with Marcia (later confirmed), Carol asks Alice what she thinks about the women’s liberation movement. Alice is hesitantly answers Carol and says, “Oh… well… umm… Well, I don’t think it’s a bad idea.” However, before Mike can ask her anything Alice immediately says, “On the other hand I didn’t say it was a good idea either.” In this way the show does not overstep the balance and there is no winning side.
After Marcia successfully passes all the initiation tests to become a Frontier Scout and wins Greg’s and her father’s approval, she ultimately decides to not to join. Carol, Mike, and Greg are shocked by her decision after she put in so much effort to become a Frontier Scout, and they demand to know why. Marcia calmly replies, “I just wanted to prove to myself I could do it even though I’m a girl.” She then turns to her mother and says, “Oh! Did the new fashion magazine come yet?” In this way the norm is reestablished in the diegesis and everything falls back into place; girls will remain the way they are (and not a Frontier Scout) and boys will remain the way they are (not a Sunflower Girl or someone who reluctantly accepts someone into their territory). She may have proven that she could indeed do anything the boys could do in the context of the Frontier Scout, but she contradicts her earlier statement that she made to Alice: “I’m not doing this just for me. It’s for all women. Don’t you want to be liberated?” Symbolically her infiltration into the boy’s world broke the lines between what a girl can do or a boy can do, but she did what she did for herself, to prove that she “could do it even though [she is] a girl.” The audience does not see Marcia’s efforts as anything but a girl’s fickle interest, which is confirmed when Mike and Greg agree that a woman probably said that “it’s a woman’s prerogative to change their minds.”
The contemporary issue of the time is lightheartedly discussed in the ‘Liberation of Marcia Brady’ episode. Nothing about the episode advertises that The Brady Bunch is for or against the women’s liberation movement. It is just another issue that is part of both the diegetic and the non-diegetic world. The fight for women’s liberation is reduced to a sibling rivalry and ended with no real accomplishment to attains anything significant. Even in the heat of the second wave feminism, The Brady Bunch retains its family values and makes an important issue a subject that is open to discussion in a family.

Work Cited
The Brady Bunch. Sherwood Schwartz. ABC, 1971. CBS syndication. Digital.

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