This essay is from a Women's Roles in Television class I took last summer. I appreciate all comments and feedback. Happy reading!
Gender Roles of Desperate Housewives and the Instilment of Catholic Family Values
Following the end of WWII, the people of the United States began reconstructing normalcy and their way of life before Pearl Harbor. This restoration of the American dream was undertaken in part through the return of previously industrious women back into the home, increased consumerism, and a re-welcoming of traditional gender roles.
During WWII a change occurred, a need to replenish a depleted workforce out weighed the social norms that viewed women in the workplace as objectionable. When the need for wartime production subsided and soldiers returned home, however, the recently, professionally trained and self-sufficient women were escorted back to their, sometimes, mundane lives. Those women who were wives and mothers reassumed their household chores of cooking, cleaning and caring for children. Others with new and old sweethearts looked forward to getting married and having a family of their own. With the confusion and unknowing that accompanied D-day, the population’s focus turned to family and the baby bomb shortly followed. All of these events were desperate efforts to rebuild lives disheveled by war.
Television also aided the reestablishment of women’s original identity in the home. With the invention of new improved appliances along with diverse modern kitchen utilities, there were more advertisement opportunities for radio, television and magazines. In turn, interest in the monotonous household duties was revived and a rise in consumerism created. An innovative need for these products arose, one may wonder if it was in part due to the pressure and influence of other housewives, and thus women became occupied with their latest gadgets that replace the industrial tools they previously used. Television also supported this image of women through the characters portrayed on their broadcasted programs. In I Love Lucy, Lucy used similar appliances and in addition to the commercials shown during the program the show provided ingenious publicity for these products and her lifestyle a like.
The relationship between the characters of Lucy and Ricky also set an example for the viewing audience. Although Lucy gets into numerous scrapes throughout the episodes and appears to question her position in the household, Ricky is the loving authoritarian. At times, Lucy reverts to childlike behavior when Ricky does not let her have her way, and in response he becomes stern and takes his place as the head of the household. These scenes were a message to women and reinforced the traditional gender role of the male patriarch. Further Ricky is the sole breadwinner in the Ricardo family. Lucy fought a constant battle to break out into show business and work for a living, but Ricky was adamantly against the idea. This was another message to women and men alike. Now these attitudes are viewed as misogynistic but they may have been accepted more readily, when the show was in its infancy, because of its comedic framing.
The character of Lucy as a mother was an important note as well. Although Little Ricky was not introduced in the show until the second season, once he arrived her role as a mother was highly emphasized. Her desire to work out side the home was continually countered by Ricky when he accentuated her job as Little Ricky’s caregiver. Further it seemed that sometimes Lucy felt bad she ever wanted to work outside the home. This conveyed a strong meaning that women should be grateful and happy that they can take care of their children and that it is solely the mother’s job. This job of child care giving was paired with Lucy’s need to care for Ricky also. She made Ricky breakfast every morning and was shown doing his laundry and ironing, in addition to the other household maintenance tasks. Ricky was unable to perform those tasks adequately in the show’s “Job Switching” episode; this illustration confirmed the traditional gender roles even more.
My how things have changed!
In our post sexual revolution society the character of the desperate housewife has drastically evolved. In Everybody Loves Raymond the wife Deborah was a career woman as was Lynette in Desperate Housewives. Both characters gave up their careers to embrace motherhood but the shows are not afraid to question if staying home with the children was the right decision. Deborah and Lynette also struggle in their parenting practices and frantically request help from their husbands while often times they are ignored. Rather than seeing their mothering as a duty, they realize when they are under appreciated and feel badly when they are not shown gratitude. Deborah is also portrayed as a bad cook, which is something that would never have been said on I Love Lucy because of its offensiveness. The husband’s roles have been altered in some ways as well. In both shows the father is still the breadwinner and head of the house, however, more say is given to the mothers, and their opinions for the most part is taken more into consideration. Overall, as seen in these programs, the running of a household has turned into a group effort as opposed to all the work being put on the woman. Here the role of women has lost its importance and is devalued. The tasks once ascribed only to women as being an innate skill and unique purpose has been asexualized and therefore attained an stereotype of menial.
In closing, television has helped disseminate values through our culture. Whether Americans are struggling to remember who they are following a world war or adjusting to the ever changing definition of the modern man and woman, television helps to mold social perceptions. In today’s society where the family unit is under attack and children are seen as a burden, shows like I Love Lucy are categorized as passé. But based on the television trends of the 1950‘s and the baby boom I am led to wonder if our society’s values and gender roles would change if our programs reflected the Catholic teachings of God ordained, traditional gender roles that valued motherhood, home cooked meals prepared with love, and basic purity and cleanliness both in person and home.