When I was little, I often thought Mary Tyler Moore and my mother were the same person. Tall, lean, brunette, stylish, a really awesome way of laughing…the fact that my mother wasn’t an international TV and film star didn’t enter into it, really. The similarities were too striking not to notice, and so I became a big fan, because hey – that’s my mum, right?
Anyway, MTM was not my mother, but I grew up loving that show and even loving the corny spinoffs. Rhoda, Lou Grant – even Phyllis had her own goddamn show, people. And let’s not forget Ted Knight, cartoonist extraordinaire.
I haven’t seen any of those shows in ages, but when I think of 70s television, the MTM show is the first one that pops up. And really, how much of this show could I have even understood? I was 10 when the show went off the air, but I remember Mary turning out the lights in the newsroom like it was yesterday. Of course some of the episodes I saw in reruns years later, but still, I remember watching the bulk of them as they aired, with my mother – you know, the star of the show?
And the one thing that always struck me was the sense of hope and excitment that surrounded everything Mary did. Her zest for life, her enthusiasm for the world around her – even when things were shitty – she just never seemed to give up. She fought for her place on the news team and she continued to fight and stand up to the old boys and for me, as a kid of the 70s, she could do no wrong. I still kind of think that and yes, I do realize it was a TV show about a fictional woman in a fictional situation, but dammit it was real to me. And it was MTM on TV – single, successful, with a kickass wardrobe and apartment and some crazy friends who made me think, you know what? I can do it too. And my friends can do it. And we will do it. What “it” was, I had no idea back then. But now I know – “it” is whatever you want it to be – you want a career? Awesome – go for it, Mary did! You want to get married? Sure, that’s cool too! Kids? You go. But hang on, UIG – Mary didn’t have those last two things, did she? No, she didn’t – and there were times when we knew she wanted them – sort of, you know? But that doesn’t matter because for me, what Mary represented was the ability to live your life the way you want. And live it in a sweet bellbottom suit and platforms in Minneapolis if that’s what you want to do. And who wouldn’t?
MTM was on my mind last night while I was watching a documentary on CBC called “The F-word: Who wants to be a Feminist?” For me, she represented all that I thought feminism was – at the age of 8, mind you – and for a long time my creed was a sort of WWMTMD?
The doc last night was a good one, but at only an hour, it really just scratched the surface, but throughout it, I kept thinking about how my early feminist leanings were shaped by MTM and her show. Is it truly feminism if you get it from a sitcom? I don’t know. I do know that for a long time I wanted to move to Minneapolis and live in a kickass apartment and work in a television newsroom. I never did any of those things – I stayed here in Hamilton, I went to university, I got married, I had two kids. Does that mean I didn’t live up to my independent feminist MTM dreams? No, it does not. Because I did what was right for me, which is the whole point, right? I had – and have – the right to live my life the way I want to live it.
This is so not the post I had planned to write today, but there you go. A CBC documentary about this history of feminism and what feminism means for women today managed to spark the flame of the UIG’s baby steps towards feminism via Mary Tyler Moore. Huh. And while I was a little disheartened to hear some of today’s women deride feminism, there were a few bright spots that gave me hope. And all I could think of while watching the end of the film was that if we DO wanna make it after all? We had better get started, because this shit is not going to happen on its own.