Gender Roles in Sitcoms

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  • Topic: Gender, Woman, Situation comedy
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  • Published : March 23, 2012
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Gender roles in Sitcoms

“Gender is the crucial factor in characterization in the majority of sitcoms. Up until the impact of feminism in the 1970s, in the UK at least, it is clear that most of the successful sitcoms featured leading male characters (Hancock, Steptoe, Dad’s Army, Till Death Do Us Part, Porridge etc.). Women were more likely to feature in ‘ensemble casts’ – The Rag Trade, Are You Being Served? This was also a function of the employment opportunities for women. Since the 1970s, women in leading roles have been more common (but the most successful comedies have tended to be based on couples rather than single women).” (Roy Stafford, TV Sitcoms and Gender, ONLINE) Based on television analysis it is very simple to notice what it means to be a mother, from the television’s perspective: to be a mother means to cook when your husband is hungry, to clean the house when necessary, to take care of the children etc. To be a father means to work and to come home expecting a cooked meal for whenever you are hungry, to make the tough decisions and to be the dominate figure in the household. Television is saying a lot about the roles of male and female couples. In what concerns the female types in sitcoms, Roy Stafford suggested a specific classification, across comedy and drama since the 1950s:

• Matron/Working Battleaxes
• Sexy assistant
• Business matriarch
• Woman in a Man’s World
• The Vamp (1980s)
• Woman in Power
• Women who fight other women
• Woman who watches her ‘biological clock’

For my paper I chose to talk about three different sitcoms, namely: Bewitched (1964 –1972), The Nanny (1993–1999) and Cougar Town (2009).

Bewitched (1964–1972)

“A young-looking witch named Samantha meets and marries a mortal named Darrin Stephens. While Samantha pledges to forsake her powers and become a typical suburban housewife, her magical family disapproves of the mixed marriage and frequently interferes in the couple's lives. Episodes often begin with Darrin becoming the victim of a spell, the effects of which wreak havoc with mortals such as his boss, clients, parents, and neighbors. By the epilogue, however, Darrin and Samantha most often embrace, having overcome the devious elements that failed to separate them. The witches, most having names ending with the soft "-a" sound, and their male counterparts, known as "warlocks", are very long-lived; while Samantha appears to be in her twenties, many episodes suggest she is actually hundreds of years old. To keep their society secret, witches avoid showing their powers in front of mortals other than Darrin. Nevertheless, the perplexing inexplicable effects of their spells and Samantha's attempts to hide their supernatural origin from mortals drive the plot of most episodes. Witches and warlocks usually use physical gestures along with their magical spells, and sometimes spoken incantations. Most notably, Samantha often twitches her nose to perform a spell. Modest but effective special visual effects are accompanied by music to highlight the magic.” (Wikipedia, Bewitched, ONLINE) “Bewitched” is one of the many examples were the father goes out to work and the mother stays at home, cleaning, cooking, taking care of the children. Samantha attempts to denounce or leave her witch world behind because she is now married to Darrin, a mere mortal, for whom she would do anything. She is a home-loving wife who does everything to support her husband by promising to leave her magical powers at the door in order to try to live a normal life as a housewife.

The Nanny (1993–1999)

”Jewish-American Fran Fine, fresh out of her job as a bridal consultant in her fiance's shop, first appears on the door step of Broadway producer Maxwell Sheffield (Charles Shaughnessy) peddling cosmetics, and quickly stumbles upon the opportunity to become the nanny for his three children. Soon...
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