To begin with, I have to say that I wasn’t familiar at all with either Maude nor Roseanne before I heard about them in class and read about them in the book. Shame on me for not knowing about these incredible female characters, running their own shows way before the “great” women-centric shows I grew up watching! It was very educational and interesting for me to learn about both Maude and Roseanne, and I will definitely look more into these shows, especially since I’m a film major and my biggest interest lies in writing interesting female characters, and these two are from what I’ve gathered so far, some pretty good examples!
Maude Finley was a middle-aged woman, tall, grey-haired, deep voice, and not traditionally feminine in either appearances nor in her personality. As the show’s tagline states; “liberal. independent. controversial. hilarious.” words that definitely describes Maude as a character. She was outspoken, challenging the people around her, not taking up traditional housewife-ing work but she instead focused on trying to make a political career, and in the show she tackled controversial issues such as abortion, menopause and growing old, issues that we rarely see on screen even today. Maude was a woman in control, sure of herself and her values, and always tried to get what she wanted.
Roseanne Connor was a many ways similar to Maude; she was also outspoken, not traditionally feminine (she was fat! oh the horror!), and she did not conform to the traditional housewife-stereotype – Roseanne was a working class woman, and brought up the real, modern issue of the second-shift, something that working women often had to deal with: after a shift at work, they are also expected to take care of the housework, the “second shift”. Her working class status made her different from Maude’s character, showcasing the many types of problems women faced in the workplace, and also the fact that she had younger children to parent, brought up other kinds of issues as well. Roseanne was a flawed heroine, she did not have it all figured to the same extent that Maude did, but she definitely had the courage to fight, work and stand up for what she wanted.
Maude was set in the 1970’s and Roseanne in the 1980’s into the 1990’s and that definitely had an impact on the shows and their different portrayal of its female heroines. The 70’s was a period of change, with again co-optation and backlash going on as the main themes in the portrayal of feminism in the media. Maude, as outspoken and strong-willed as she was, still received a great amount of opposition from those around her, just like feminists in real life. And also reflecting the views and perspective of feminism/feminists in real life, Maude embodied some of the stereotypes of feminists that many people had and disliked about it, like appearing more masculine, being loud and not shying away from saying what she thinks. Similar to this, Roseanne was in many ways a reflection of how society looked upon feminism/feminists in the 1980-1990’s. Between these years, feminism had gotten even more visibility in the media, but also more backlash, such as the faux-feminists in movies (see: Fatal Attraction). Roseanne on the other hand brought up a new, more modern and very relatable feminist, dealing with issues that many women at this time also shared. She was a more common woman, working-class and head of the family; she represented the great number of women out there in the real world who were in similar situations at this time period, but who didn’t get to see themselves represented on the screen. And so by Roseanne now showing all of these the struggles that an “ordinary” woman and families dealt, and then using feminism as a tool or mechanism to challenge sexism at work, beauty standards, financial problems, the second-shift etc, was controversial and absolutely necessary.
I think, or no actually hope, that audiences today would welcome and watch characters like Maude and Roseanne, because they still deal with issues relevant in these “modern” times. Someone like Roseanne Connor should be especially appealing, because when looking through lists and polls over TV’s Top or Favorite Moms, she ranks high every time! People loved her back when her show was on and still think of her as a great character decades after the show was cancelled. With that said, I do not speak for the general TV watcher, the shows I watch regularly rarely centers around families with prominent mother figures (unless you count Game of Thrones…). Nonetheless, when I read about more “family-centric” shows and hear people talk about them, I don’t recall hearing about characters similar to those of Maude or Roseanne. Today TV-moms comes in many different varieties, but the types that Maude (middle-aged, successful, upper-middle class) and Roseanne (blue-collar working class, overweight) represent are not often seen, and never as the center of the show. I think that if mainstream audiences would react positively to see more characters like Maude and Roseanne, because they each represent a huge portion of real life Americans, not all women like those we see today on TV can juggle a career, raising kids, still have their good looks and on top of that have a nice, clean house all the time. One show that I do watch that actually centers around a working mother is The Good Wife, and while Alicia Florrick is a great character in many ways, but I don’t think that she is someone you’d find in real life as often as the more relatable and realistic characters like Maude and especially with Roseanne. We need more characters like them, because even though I might not be one the main target for a family show like that, I can still see the potential and the positive effect it can have on the right audience.
(Originally posted on 2014/11/26 for Melanie Klein’s class blog “Women and Popular Culture”)