I never set out to be a feminist icon, yet they made me one. I was an inadvertent example of the movement. At the time, I did not yet realize there even was a movement, although I knew a woman’s place in society was fundamentally wrong. I simply tried to acquire some freedom for myself. I wanted independence, my own income and a life where I would not be solely defined as ‘wife’.
On the downside, I was also an uptight thirty-something Minneapolis transplant, on the rebound from a failed relationship and one step away from doormat-ism. But to call me a representative of 2nd wave feminism? That was hardly accurate.
Take my first day at work. Sure, I became an associate producer at WJM News. It was a fancy title, yet my pay was ten dollars less than the lowly secretaries. When my boss, Mr. Lou Grant interviewed me, the first thing he asked was my religion. The second thing was my marital status. When I informed him that I was Presbyterian and single, he asked why. Why I was single that is. I should have automatically said “Nunya bizness bitch!” (It was, after all, an illegal question.) But no. I stammered, clasped my hands and choosing my words very carefully, I began to explain to this total stranger, who was in a position of vast authority over me, that there were a multitude of nuanced reasons as to why one was ‘still single’ at the ripe old age of thirty.
Mr. Grant was not interested in my explanation, which made me wonder why he had asked in the first place.
That very same night a drunken Mr. Grant showed up at my apartment. He told me, among other things, that I had a ‘great caboose’. He was lonely and his wife was out of town.
In the meantime, my ex-fiancé (who had been persuaded by my landlady to come rescue me) also showed up at my door with flowers. My ex was a doctor and he proceeded to inform me he had stolen the flowers from a very sick patient.
There I stood, a resistant sex object, not even worthy of receiving store bought flowers. See what I mean about doormat-ism?
I sent my ex fiancé packing. Mr. Grant typed a letter to his wife, then staggered out to mail it. I was relieved to be rid of them. The next day at work I was given a stack of pencils to sharpen. My pseudo-feminist career had begun.
The good thing was I realized then I could take care of myself. Every woman needs to realize she is able to take care of herself.
Up till my last day in the newsroom I could never get past calling my boss ‘Mister Grant’ although everyone else called him ‘Lou’. Even my best friend Rhoda, a fast talking New Yorker, would saunter in his office and boldly call him ‘Lou’.
My self assertion was wrought with shortcomings. I was no Betty Friedan. Gloria Steinem hated me.
As for the traditionalists, they didn’t like me either. I heard Phyllis Schlaftly was appalled because I often stayed out all night with my dates. ( Oh yes, I did have dates! A plethora of men called on me. I had no intention of marrying any of them.) This type of thing was a real no-no for a nice Midwestern girl in 1972. I remained polite. Never once did I speak of my sexual escapades. After all, those who DO, do not speak, and those who SPEAK, do not DO. Yet I was a sexually liberated woman. A ring never crossed my finger.
So you see, on the spectrum of feminism I really fit right in the middle. People loved me for it. My ratings soared.
In years to come the women’s movement would explode. Every issue would be tackled, from reproductive rights to equal pay to single filing income tax to home ownership. (Even Miranda of Sex and the City was expected to have a husband or father sign off as joint owner of her condo!)
Gender roles would be questioned. Non-traditional family structures would be accepted. Single motherhood and ‘childless by choice’ became (almost) okay. Young women became more and more vocal in their demands. And precisely at the time when they were given almost everything they wanted — young women would demand more. They took to the streets wearing pussy-cat ears and Styrofoam genitalia. ( I could not join them. It was simply not my style.)
Rhoda got married and then divorced. The newsroom closed in 1977. As far as Mr. Grant’s behavior, nowadays he would be sued. Ironically, I would not have wanted to sue him. He was, believe it or not, a good boss.
In re-runs I remain America’s sweetheart.
One of the best parts of my show was of course its theme song! Who knew this catchy little number would inspire the likes of Husker Du and Joan Jett?
I, Mary Richards am now permanently signing off, but I will leave you with this final statement: