A dose of sad sixties sitcom sexism

One of my all-time favorite television shows is the Dick Van Dyke Show. It aired in the early to mid-1960s and won many Emmy Awards. One of the reasons I like the show, aside from it being very funny, is the show was trendsetting for its day. It was one of the first television shows to include a professional working woman as a principal character – Sally Rogers who was played by Rose Marie. I also felt the lead characters had great working, family, and personal relationships.

However, last night I was watching a rerun of the Dick Van Dyke Show on Me-TV and was quite disappointed by the tenor of the episode. In the show, the young son of Rob Petrie (Dick Van Dyke) and Laura Petrie (Mary Tyler Moore) was to sing in a school play. Unfortunately for Rob, the day before the play, his boss Alan Brady (Carl Reiner) asked him to travel to Washington to hear a singer they were considering for appearing on the fictional Alan Brady Show.

The episode centered around Rob Petrie’s guilt over disappointing his boss and seeing the play or disappointing his wife and son by going to Washington. What troubled me was the fact that he accused his wife of treating him like a puppet by expecting him to always be there, meanwhile there was no similar reference to his employer treating him like a puppet by expecting him to change his plans at the drop of a hat. There was a particularly uncomfortable scene where Rob’s supervisor Mel, played by Richard Deacon, described how he had told his wife they were not going dancing one evening because he had work to do. To the show’s credit, several of the characters expressed their contempt for his actions and attitude. In a later troubling scene, Rob Petrie even had the gall to reference the old “love, honor, and obey” portion of then-common marriage vows to his wife Laura,

As the episode was concluding I was desperately hoping Rob would apologize to Laura for his actions and statements. Instead, we got a tirade of how he was in the right on an airplane full of men returning to New York City and a capitulation from his wife Laura for getting mad at him in the first place. All this despite the fact that the trip was a complete and utter waste of time because the singer had laryngitis and could not perform.

From time to time in my own career I have had to make tough decisions between family and work responsibilities. Several decades ago. it was necessary for me to tell an employer I would not agree to travel to meetings four nights a week, because I wanted to see my three sons group up and not just hear about their activities and accomplishments. By doing that, I essentially ended my career with that particular employer. In my mind, being there is part of parenthood and despite some corporate attitudes to the contrary, is light years more important than any business activity.

To a certain extent, the current vogue of setting televisions series like Mad Men and Pan Am in the 1950s and 60s, almost seems to be a tacit desire on the part of some to reestablish the sexist morals of the past.  If that is the case, I find that reason to be a disgusting premise. Who needs a whole new generation thinking and acting in such an arcane manner?

So, the Dick Van Dyke Show is no longer brightly shining atop my pedestal of television icons. That does not mean I will never watch the show again. It just means the show has fallen a couple of notches. Great entertainment and funny yes – perfect, no.

This entry was posted in art, civics, civility, Communications, diversity, entertainment, family, feminism, humanity, Love, Sexism, Television, Women and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to A dose of sad sixties sitcom sexism

  1. Dakota Eye says:

    I have to say that to a certain degree i agree with the show. in today’s economy especially, the working parent (if only one works) should put work first. A job is a job and helps support the whole family, work isn’t always fun and sometimes it does take away from home life, but it’s a necessary sacrifice.


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