I have spent the better part of this day eating M&Ms and watching the first season of Maude. I am amazed at simplicity of M&Ms and the poignancy of Maude. I always loved the show, but I suppose I am just noticing the way it deals with race, women’s rights, and politics. It isn’t that I didn’t notice that sort of thing before; I think it may be that I wasn’t as invested in many of the issues the program raises as I am now.I wonder how many scholarly articles have been written about this show. I can’t imagine that there haven’t been any because the show is pretty complex while being surprisingly simplistic. Maude does more than just flip the female/male, black/white, and rich/poor dichotomies. The program actually explores the relationships between the groups of people and tries to sort out the wackiness of the early 1970s.
What frightens me about the program and the social situations it deals with is that they have changed so little since the show was created and filmed. There are three episodes that really strike me as representing problems that we still deal with today.
In one episode, Maude discovers that she is pregnant and has to decide whether or not to get an abortion. Despite the use of humor, the writers and the performers get at the heart of the decision that Maude has to make. Ultimately she decides that she and Walter are too old to have a child, so she gets an abortion. I am sure that when the episode aired, and if it aired again today, that viewers were a little unnerved that it didn’t end happily with Maude giving the child up for adoption or deciding that she and Walter were not, in fact, too old to raise a child. Well, it didn’t end happy and sometimes life doesn’t either.
In another episode, one of Maude’s friends from high school comes to visit her. When they graduated from high school, the girl, Phyllis, was known as Mousey and Maude was voted the most likely to be the first woman president. When they meet again in this episode, Phyllis has become a top executive at Avon and Maude feels sorry for her because she isn’t married. What the episode boils down to is the same problem we have in feminism today: is it better to be married with children and a happy home or to be a career woman with freedom and advancement opportunities? Maude and Phyllis decide that they both want everything. They both want to be free, bound, mothers, and executives. They each want the lives of the other.
For me, the point of feminism is to recognize that both lifestyles or any combination thereof should be celebrated. I would like to say in my twilight years that I have celebrated the woman executive or the woman who chooses to stay home with or without children. Isn’t a good portion of feminism to support the right of women to choose?
The third episode that still rings true is one in which Maude has an identity crisis. She worries that her only identity lies in being Mrs. Walter Findlay, she contemplates her lack of monetary compensation for her work, and she feels inadequate because she doesn’t feel as if she is contributing to the financial well-being of their household. I think many women, whether they work outside the home or not, still feel those pressures. More than men, I think women wonder where their identities lay. How do we name ourselves if we are married? How do we identify if we aren’t married? Where do we find our worth? Of course, Walter does an excellent job of pointing out the specific fears of men, too. And I have to believe that my male friends struggle with the issues he raises.
I think watching a whole season of Maude has made me reconsider the progress I thought we had made with women’s issues, race issues, and questions of class. I am not sure weve made much progress, and in some cases I think we may have even digressed.
My favorite quotes:
“God will get you for that, Walter!”