TV sitcoms from the 70s and 80s are a sneak peek into a different time. Yes, nostalgia washes over me when I catch bits and pieces of those favorite shows, with all their antics. When I look back at those old shows, I can see female role models that make me cringe. Did I really ever watch those shows? Were those the female role models that I saw?
There was a certain humor. Their lives and personalities came to life for me on those sitcoms. But how did those bad role models affect me? Did I react to their bad behavior and become a better person? Did all of us learn and grow, seeing how those female characters came to life on the TV screen?
Alice Hyatt From Alice
The show, Alice, was based on the film, Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore. In this sitcom, Alice Spivak (Linda Lavin) is a widow with a young son. Her husband died, leaving her a widow; so, she sets off to Los Angeles to pursue her dream of becoming a singer. In true sitcom form, her car breaks down in Phoenix, and she takes the first job she finds — a job as a waitress at Mel’s Diner. Abandoning your dreams the second a single inconvenience arises? No, thank you.
In hindsight, though, Alice may have been a better role model than we could have realized. She was changing our impression of working women. She was willing to quit when she discovered that a man was getting paid more than she was.
And, Lavin was able to use her role as a jumping off point to speak about the Equal Rights Amendment and equal pay. She was politicized, brought into the mainstream, and given a real platform and voice, with her role as Alice.
Chrissy Snow From Three’s Company
Chrissy Snow (Suzanne Sommers) was written as the quintessential dumb blonde. Her character isn’t necessarily the reason we’re giving her “bad role model” status — we have more of an issue with how her character was written. It’s worthy of an SNL parody of the “dumb blonde” trope, and this role effectively pigeonholed Sommers for the rest of her career.
Chrissy is portrayed as an innocent young woman, who is often confused and emotional. Although she has the best of intentions, she is often misunderstood. In one episode, a police officer picked her up because he was under the impression that she was a prostitute. Sommers was eventually written off the show when she demanded equal pay with John Ritter.
Diane Chambers from Cheers
If you watched Cheers, it’s a safe bet that you either loved Diane Chambers (Shelley Long) or you hated her. She was always resourceful, but she also had a way of putting everyone down. She was a high-society waitress who seemed out of place among the rabble of the bar crowd, even with her often tempestuous relationship with Sam Malone (Ted Danson).
It could be that Diane appeared so cold and indifferent on the show because she was in constant conflict with her co-stars. Or it could just be that it wasn’t where she wanted to be long term. She left the show in Season 5 to embrace stardom that never really took off. Long’s exit from the show was explained by a postponed wedding with Sam, but Cheers went on quite happily without her.
Florence Johnson From The Jeffersons
Florence Johnson (Marla Gibbs) helped make TV history as she pushed boundaries in The Jeffersons, but as a female character, she was also so rude to her boss. She was always talking back, which encapsulates the worst kind of role model. She first appeared in the debut episode, when the Jeffersons hired her as a housekeeper.
The Jeffersons was one of the longest-running TV sitcoms in history. On the show, George constantly lambasts her for her laziness, and he even tries to fire her a few times. She is mouthy, and she is constantly bickering with George. He discovers that her nosiness can come in handy when it’s to his benefit though.
Miss Piggy from The Muppets
Miss Piggy, yes the puppet, taught us all that chasing after men who aren’t interested in you is a good thing. What? She exhibits every sign of abusive and harassing behavior. All the while, she craves attention. Miss Piggy is wildly jealous and vindictive in the most inappropriate kind of humor. And, yet, she was supposedly in a relationship with Kermit the Frog (who clearly didn’t want to be in the relationship?) for some 40 years.
In more recent years, we appear to have set aside some of Miss Piggy’s more violent outbursts in favor of holding her up as a feminist icon. Gloria Steinem even honored her with an award. I suppose we could excuse her volatile behavior by saying that she’s “just a puppet,” which could be a nice way of sidestepping the fact that she’s been such a horrible role model for all these years.
Peg Bundy From Married…With Children
Peg Bundy hated her husband and kids. Worse than that, though, the situational comedy made it seem logical and right that Peg despised her family so much. Beyond her relationship with her family, everything about Peggy screams BAD ROLE MODEL. She’s lazy. She only thought about herself, and she constantly mocked everyone around her.
Peg knew what she wanted, but her dysfunction just added to the general bent of the entire family. Frank Sanello famously claims that Peg is “such a hopeless homemaker she makes Roseanne Barr look like Betty Crocker.” The evidence is not only in her cooking and cleaning skills, which are nonexistent, but also in the fact that her kids are, well, Kelly and Bud. It’s tough to imagine what they will ever accomplish.
Samantha From Bewitched
Samantha Stephens (Elizabeth Montgomery) is that famous witch in Bewitched. She already rejected her heritage, much to the dismay of her parents (Maurice and Endora), but now she’s suppressing her magic powers because it makes her husband, Darrin, uncomfortable. Her magic and its suppression become even more complicated as her children come into the picture, since they too have powers.
Yes, you could say that Sam deserves a better husband, but she also put herself into that position. She famously says, “All I want is the normal life of a normal housewife,” without realizing what her aggressive denial of herself is doing to her and her family. While her vehement rejection of her past and her inner power is often seen as a fear of the supernatural, the truth is that she never could quite manage to completely give up her magic.
What About These Bad Role Models?
These female characters from the 70s and 80s are memorable in their wickedness and bad behavior, but it’s also tragically sad that these women are in some ways held up as the epitome of what is normal and to be expected. Are these the women we were supposed to become? Hard pass.
Which female characters are the worst role models? Sound off in the comments below.
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