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Wednesday / March 29.

Remembering Mary Tyler Moore: The trailblazer of American television

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By Srishti Kalra

Ms. Moore’s portrayal of a single career woman, with her chic pants and iconic hat toss, redefined American womanhood in the ‘70s.

Back in the Mad Men Era, prior to the women’s movement in 1973, women were expected to devote their lives to homemaking and workplace doors had not begun to creak open for them. Ms. Moore’s portrayal of a single career woman, with her chic pants and iconic hat toss, redefined American womanhood in the ‘70s. Within the confines of living rooms, American women were inspired to dress for no one but themselves. They were made aware of the viability of building a career over a family. As Michelle Obama told Variety, “She worked in a newsroom, she had a tough boss, and she stood up to him. She had close friends, never bemoaning the fact that she was a single.” “I was probably 10 or 11 when I saw that, and sort of started thinking, ‘You know what? Marriage is an option,” she continued.

This Wednesday, the world mourned the loss of such a revolutionary role model. Without her, the characters of Amy Schumer, Jennifer Aniston, Gina Torres might have never gained ground. Mary Tyler Moore died at 80 on Wednesday in Greenwich, Connecticut. Her death was caused by cardiopulmonary arrest after she had contracted pneumonia.

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The Mary Tyler Moore Show, starring Mary Tyler Moore as Mary Richards. | Photo Courtesy: That’s Entertainment

Throwback to the iconic times

Ms. Moore gathered fame as Laura Petrie, the stylish suburban wife in The Dick Van Dyke Show during 1961-66. Even as a housewife, she challenged norms by wearing Capri pants in the sitcom premiere during the Jackie Kennedy’s and Mary Quant’s fashion era of buttoned jackets and colourful mod prints.

She further refused to be a man’s idealised version of a subservient housewife with the special episode ‘Dick Van Dyke and the Other Woman’.

What took the airwave by storm was her namesake series The Mary Tyler Moore Show (1970-77) of MTM Enterprises, formed along with her then husband Mr. Tinker. In the sitcom, her strong presence in a professional world of men confronting issues like equal pay, birth control, and sexual independence and at the same time being a source of nonpareil ingenuity and

What took the airwave by storm was her namesake series The Mary Tyler Moore Show (1970-77) of MTM Enterprises, formed along with her then husband Mr. Tinker. In the sitcom, her strong presence in a professional world of men confronting issues like equal pay, birth control, and sexual independence and at the same time being a source of nonpareil ingenuity and humour earned her the title of a feminist icon. Having won 29 Emmy awards, the show was first of its kind to have finely drawn female characters, revolving around the TV newsroom life of Mary Richards, expressing the ebullience, autonomy, and despondency of an independent woman in the world of men. But the initial response of the show was not promising, as the Times magazine called the show a ‘disaster’, failing to comprehend the changing face of American television.

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From 1961 to 1966, Moore played opposite Dick Van Dyke on The Dick Van Dyke Show. | Photo Courtesy: WFDD

Unique notions of feminism

By the end of the era, deep cultural changes altered the role of women with the acceptance of basic goals such as equal pay for equal work.

Moving in parallel was a historic feminist movement we now know as everyday reality. While Mary was making the household women comfortable with the idea of a self-governing media professional, Betty Friedan with her book ‘The Feminine Mystique’ highlighted the distress of college-educated housewives, Lesley Gore’s ‘You don’t own me’ broke music conventions, and National Organisation for Women (NOW) was launched to fight for pro-equality laws. By the end of the era, deep cultural changes altered the role of women with the acceptance of basic goals such as equal pay for equal work.

By the end of the era, deep cultural changes altered the role of women with the acceptance of basic goals such as equal pay for equal work, an end to domestic violence and sexual harassment, and ingress of women in managerial and media jobs. However, Mary was not on board with the feminism of Gloria Steinem and Betty Friedan.

She believed that women have a major role to play as mothers and having a huge career cannot supersede that; formed by the tragic demise of her only child as a young adult.

While Ms. Moore may not have been the forerunner of the feminist movement of the1960s and 70s, she surely provided a household face to the movement, reaching the masses in an inspiring and unabashed manner!


Featured Image Courtesy: NBC News.
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