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Television feminism weak, lecturer says

Jan. 31, 1997

Jennifer Paschal/The Baylor LariatDr. Bonnie Dow gave a lecture Thursday afternoon on feminism found on television.

By Allison Curlin

Lariat Reporter

A University of Georgia professor discussed feminism and its place in American television and popular culture in a University lecture Thursday.

'Americans are ambivalent toward feminism because it means significant change,' said Dr. Bonnie Dow in her lecture entitled 'Prime-Time Feminism.'

In a little more than an hour, Dow, a Baylor alumna and Waco native who now teaches in the University of Georgia's department of speech-communication, covered the last 25 years of women in television.

She specifically concentrated on The Mary Tyler Moore Show from the 70s and Murphy Brown from the late 80s and the 90s.

Dow said television can be thought of in three different ways -- as a commodity, as an art form or as a public forum of ideas. Her lecture centered around the public forum.

'Television can tell us what we like about feminism and what we fear about feminism,' Dow said.

Dow used examples and clips from Mary Tyler Moore and Murphy Brown to prove that these shows were only successful because they were not truly progressive feminist shows.

Mary Richards, the main character in Mary Tyler Moore, was a single working woman, but she also played traditional female roles--such as a mother, sister and wife--to her coworkes, Dow said.

She said the feminists in society watched the show because it was a breakthrough for women, but traditionalists could also watch and say, 'But she's such a nice girl.'

Murphy Brown was also successful because Brown fit stereotypes, Dow said.

'Murphy Brown had masculine qualities and characteristics such as harsh wit, sarcasm and a checkered past at the Betty Ford clinic,' she said.

According to Dow, the show is popular because traditionalists can use it as proof that you can't be a working woman and have a happy home life.

'The American public has a hard time loving feminists,' Dow said. 'Just look at the career of Hillary Clinton.'

Both shows were breakthrough shows for feminism, but both were produced for a middle-class American audience, Dow said.

'They are only small slices of what feminism is all about,' she said.

The Gender Studies program sponsored the lecture to promote the new gender studies minor at the University, history professor Dr. Patricia Wallace said.

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