My spouse and I have been watching Laverne and Shirley. It’s a great show – accomplished actors, who can also sing and dance and take pratfalls like nobody’s business, with a feminist agenda snuck in so cleverly I completely missed it when I first watched it. I’m seeing it now, and what’s more, I’m seeing how much today’s television hasn’t got it. It has something else that today’s television is also missing: at their core, the characters are respectful of each other.
Last night we watched “The Feminine Mistake.” The title is a reference to Betty Friedan’s The Feminine Mystique, instrumental in sparking the U.S. feminist movement of the 1960s and 1970s. In it, Laverne, who is the more butch of the two, is having a great time playing baseball and fishing with her love interest (played by Jay Leno). She expects him to ask her to a dance. Unfortunately for her, he thinks of her as “just a guy” and tells her that no guy would ever want to go out with her. So she enlists Shirley’s help in being feminine. Together, they devise a frou-frou persona for Laverne. Like the rest of their escapades, it’s hilarious.
So does it work? Does he take her to the dance? Watch the episode.
Another good stealth-feminist episode was “The Bully Show.” In it, Laverne is nearly raped. The word “rape” is never used and the danger she’s in is portrayed slapstick-style, but nonetheless, it deals with the topic seriously. Best of all, instead of blaming the victim or focusing narrowly on the scary rapist, it goes straight to the heart of “rape culture” and confronts the people and attitudes who set the stage for the rape being considered acceptable.