Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Thirtysomething and gender

The 80's tv show Thirtysomething addressed gender issues that the, as the title would suggest, thirtysomething generation of female baby-boomers faced in the decade through its narratives of working mothers and its representation of daily struggles to 'have it all'. The drama also focused on how mens roles changed in the decade, with the male characters being more involved with the childcare than expected in previous decades in an effort to balance their work-home life with partners who are also working.

The emphasis on exploring the generation can be viewed as part of a larger trend at the time to market programs aimed at a more specific audience, a generation that were more consumer orientated and faced different issues in their lives to their parents generation. Many workplaces and organizations adopted non-sexist languages policies to avoid new social and political faux pas, women were to an extent able to choose what kind of life and gender role they wanted to have, which was an issue no popular culture prior to the decade had had to address. The tv show doesn't represent this to be a liberating experience however, it is represented as a struggle and the women in the show constantly battle between their work-home life and the women still work relatively gendered female-friendly jobs. In many ways it can be argued that the show was groundbreaking for being so quick to pick up on the shift in gender dynamics that working women brought into not only their lives, but their male partners lives, however in other ways it can be seen as a diluted representation of working women's lives in the mid 80's, with Hope and Nancy working at home- seen as an acceptable compromise to full time work, and Melissa working a photographer; not exactly a reflection of a strong female business woman.

Margaret J. Heide argues in her book Television culture and women's lives : thirtysomething and the contradictions of gender that 'The single women characters... for their part, experience conflicts over persuading their careers while at the same time finding men and getting married; over dealing with the social pressure of not being married, over wanting to have freedom versus wanting to be in a relationship; and, finally, over wanting to have children before their biological clock runs out or coming to terms with the recognition that they do not want children. The men on the show experience a variety of conflicts relating to what kind of role they should play in their marriage, family and work lives, and the show deals with men's ambivalent feelings towards fulfilling traditional roles' The show was aimed at a large affluent audience that were primarily white middle-class couples themselves coming to terms with these issues of gender within their own relationships.

The issues within the show stem from 70's feminism and a re-evaluation in America at the time of what the goals of the womens movement were. Shows such as Thirtysomething and The Cosby show can be argued to be examples of 'prime time' feminism. However when specifics are looked at within the plot of Thirtysomething it reveals more about the backlash and growing sentiment that 70's feminism had failed, with all of the female characters in the show being somewhat unfulfilled in their gender role: 'married female character Hope goes through tortured deliberations over whether to return to work after having her child, whilst the single characters are made out to be miserably unhappy because they do not have a husband or children. Yet this may not be the whole story. While the text of Thirtysomething can reasonably be described as part of a cultural backlash towards women, female viewers may not see themselves as part of this backlash. In fact, many of the viewers saw themselves as feminists, or at least as holding views long associated with feminism. Thus there is a gap between the critical interpretations of the show put forth by scholars and the experience of many women who were faithful viewers of the show.'- Heide.

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