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Sexism in Sitcoms: Leave it to Beaver

Leave it to Beaver has received substantial attention from television scholars. These discourses include popular understandings of second-wave feminism encouraged by media coverage of feminist activit...

Leave it to Beaver has received substantial attention from television scholars. These discourses include popular understandings of second-wave feminism encouraged by media coverage of feminist activity, the generic parameters and functions of situation comedy, and the history of television representations of women. Leave it to Beaver is a fitting «baseline» example because of its popularity, longevity, and resonance in American cultural memory. Leave it to Beaver created important parameters for future television discourse representing feminism, parameters that include a focus on working women (and a concomitant avoidance of a critique of the traditional patriarchal family), the depiction of women’s lives without male romantic partners, the enactment of a ‘feminist lifestyle’ by young, attractive, white, heterosexual, female characters, and a reliance on the tenets of second-wave liberal or equity feminism (Janet, 1992).

However, at the same time that they note the popularity and importance of Brady Bunch as the generator of a new representational space for female audiences, television critics and historians take care to note the ways in which Brady Bunch offered a very qualified feminist vision that blended discourses of the ‘new woman’  – working and living on her own outside of the confines of past domestic sitcoms – with traditional messages about the need for women to continue fulfilling traditional female roles as caretakers and nurturers in the cobbled together ‘family’ of the workplace. The combination in these sitcoms of girl-next-door sweetness and old-fashioned attachment to honesty and integrity, on the one hand, and spunky New Woman, on the other, allows such sitcoms as Leave it to Beaver and All in the Family to ride the currents of social change, endorsing modernity at the same time as it hallows tradition.’ Through her functions as mother, daughter, and sister within her work-family, a journalist becomes the career “True Woman” as a television producer who nonetheless retains the equable charm and mediating skills of the well-brought-up girl (Fraiman, 1999). The appeal of such a character might lie in the fact that this is a difficult reconciliation to pull off in lifeScience Articles, and therefore it is very satisfying – for men as well as women – to see on the small screen.

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