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Bewitched or Mad Men?

I am obsessed with Bewitched. It was my favorite show as a kid because of the magic but it’s my favorite show now because of the nostalgia – not nostalgia for my childhood memories, but for an era I have no memory of…the Sixties that existed in the pregnant pause before the cultural revolution–that long tail of the post-war Baby Boom that would fuel the counter-culture that changed it all.

But the show is also amusing on its face and even my modern kids enjoy it. I don’t let them watch TV or use electronics on school nights mostly because they fight too much over who gets what for how long. A month or so ago, however, I made an exception and bought the first season of Bewitched. Now we watch one episode per night as a family. We all love it. But when we first started watching it, I grieved for American innocence lost–a culture of etiquette and gentility that perhaps skewed corny but was fundamentally good. Then the outdated terms of the husband-wife relationship broke through to my consciousness and it occurred to me that really this might just be a white-washed version of the ugly culture depicted in Mad Men. Darrin Stevens and Larry Tate were the original mad men and the cigarettes and martinis and gender roles ring true in both versions. I was a little disturbed by this possibility, but also a little relieved because I didn’t have to have Good Ol’ Days syndrome – maybe those days weren’t so good after all.

To check my instincts on this, I took advantage of an opportunity to get an unbiased impression of that era as I was driving in the car with my 8-year-old son and 9-year-old daughter. My 9-year-old had announced at dinner the night before that she “accidentally” stumbled across the word “sexist” in the dictionary while looking up some “other word.” It didn’t take me long to come up with a list of “other words” she might have been looking for on that page, but I let that pass. I did, however, use that information later in the car to ask, “Hey, since you know what the word ‘sexist’ means, let me ask your opinion on something. Do you think the show Bewitched is sexist?” I was so amazed by their answers, I decided to share them….

I made sure the kids knew what the word “sexist” really meant and I gave them a moment to reflect. My son was ready first. He said, “Yes the show is sexist because it’s really all about women, all the witches are women, there are few warlocks and the women have all the power.” My daughter then chimed in, “Yeah and there’s a lot of smooching…Darrin likes to smooch but I think Samantha just does it to make him happy–I think there’s something else going on there. And yeah, it’s sexist cause it’s all about the women. All the men always look at the women, listen to what they say, stop everything to talk to women, talk ABOUT women…and if a beautiful woman says something, they always listen and agree with her. Larry was even reading a WOMEN’S MAGAZINE in bed one night.” (I didn’t correct her misimpression, though I remembered my horror a few nights previous that Larry was reading a girly magazine while his wife brushed her hair at the vanity beside him!)

The children seemed to be missing the point entirely! So I said, “Yeah, but do you notice that all the people in the workplace are men?” My daughter replied, “But even there, there are women, while at home there are no men.” “But all the men are the workers and all the women are the secretaries,” I insisted. “Yes,” my daughter answered, “but even there, they will always focus on the woman if there’s one around.” Now sure, what she’s talking about is the very definition of sexism, but in her perception it gives the woman the advantage! Why? Because she sees that women had power over men. She wasn’t thinking in terms of who was more respected because of their work, she was just thinking about attention, deference, influence. Sure, you might argue, but she doesn’t understand the power of the economic superiority men had over women – it’s all about money, after all.

It’s true, money has a lot to do with it. My mother had 9 children during the ’50s and ’60s and my father was as sexist as they come. I always knew if I wanted any power in a marriage or any sanity in my life (my mother had neither), I would have to have some economic security and independence. I took that informed opinion and went to Harvard to study economics as an undergrad and got a JD-MBA from Stanford, I became an investment banker and married a fellow JD-MBA – an “enlightened,” thoroughly non-sexist man raised by liberals (Texans though they are!) I am highly satisfied with my choice to ensure that I be treated with respect at home and in the world by commanding it through knowledge and accomplishment, and I can’t tell you how much I resent the condescending glance from a foreign man who hails from a “sexist” culture.

But I can’t ignore the information in my daughter’s perception of traditional gender roles: there was some power in the role women shrugged off. Maybe there wasn’t enough power, maybe some had more than others (that’s not fair!), but there was some power. I assume it stemmed from possessing a then-scarce commodity men valued more than money; perhaps it was more complex than that. No matter where it came from, though, or where it went, it was real, and regardless of how today’s women are trained to feel, Samantha Stevens seemed happy to work real magic with Feminine Mystique alone.

13 thoughts on “Bewitched or Mad Men?

  1. Monica,
    My late parents were married 65 years and had a fine marriage, but not without its trials. My father once confided in me, regarding women, that “you can’t live with them, and you can’t live without them”. And indeed, I sometimes wonder if we are of the same species. Not too long ago, the differences were referred to as the “battle of the sexes”, and that certainly fits as males and females are indeed very different. But today, its called sexist, or sexism. And you have other “isms” or “phobes”, such as racism or homophobe, etc. Today’s PC environment has taken normal differences between males and females, etc., and used those differences to further divide people and to penalize one group and favor other groups. And back to my parents, they encouraged my older sister obtain the ability to professionally row her own boat and not to be dependent on a male for survival. That sure made perfect sense to me. And finally, as a ps. it was very interesting that your daughter made the observation that Samantha only smooched with Darren for his benefit. Seems to me like a hard wired difference between males and females that is learned very early. And in economic terms, you could relate that to supply and demand. (pun intended there!)

  2. I don’t know if this makes me sexist or not. I don’t really put much stock in that word, sexist. I do have a take on bewitched though. What i see there is an arrangement that seems to be favorable to both Darren and Samantha. Darren goes to work and does pretty well, and provides his family a comfortable income. All he asks in return is that samantha abstain from witchcraft, and care for the household. But temptation and busybodies interfere, and she breaks that agreement, making Darren unhappy, and endangering his position and status. it happens every week, which is funny to us, but very unsettling to Darren. Her foul mother is constantly initiating force against Darren, and the only way for Darren to be free is to divorce Samantha and let her go back to her magical ways. But he’s too devoted to do that to his wife and child, so he is essentially a slave in his own house forever. Perhaps he’s just a victim of his own unrealistic expectations, though. Samantha is unwilling to sacrifice her relationship to the magical community in order to keep her promise, so I wonder why Darren keeps his.

    • I’m glad I’m not the only one who will put time into analyzing Bewitched! I always think of Samantha as the one who is putting up with Darrin’s unreasonable demands to refrain from witchcraft – just seems like he is a control freak – I see your side of the story though…and I’ll tell you, i did notice that she did not tell Darrin about being a witched until their wedding night! I thought that was rather sneaky! but what about the culture that was lost – don’t you think the show represents a more wholesome time? or do you think it was total BS and mad men was more like it? i guess it was somewhere in between…i know for sure my household was more like Roseanne than the Brady Bunch – but I was a child of the 80s anyway…

      • Yes, Monica, that was sneaky on Samantha’s part. But, I’ll throw another thought into the mix that relates to my last comment above on the “smooching”. I was talking to one of my friends at work and he told me that Darrin admitted at a later date that he was a homosexual. You can do an Internet search and verify that. So Samantha, with her special powers, or also certainly with her female intuition, knew that, and hence displayed the lack of “appreciation” that was noticed in your blog post.

        • I just love that we can have a conversation about Bewitched 50 years after the fact! As for Darrin…Dick Sargent, the second Darrin was gay, but we’re still on the first season so Darrin is Dick York, who sadly had to leave the show due to drug addiction resulting from the pain of a back injury. His story is super sad :( …My kids are really becoming disgusted with all the smooching! (Tonight’s episode was rather racy, I guess – a college co-ed was going after Darrin! There was much jealousy & making up.) I guess I’m doing a good job sheltering these kids – who knew that was even possible in this day and age! (But when do I need to reverse it & prepare them for the real world?)

          • Hold off as long as possible. But that is a suggestion from a non-parent, so take it with a grain of salt.

          • I just looked up the bio for Dick Sargent and per Wiki, Sargent was initially offer the role. That’s very interesting to me. Was there manipulation going on at that point? I also looked up Dick York’s bio. His back issue was the result of an injury sustained while filming. Very sad, indeed.

        • what i like about shows like that is that they weren’t politically correct. It was ok to get a high salary, and it was ok to have ambitions and luxuries. And you could poke fun at anyone then, even samantha’s flaming uncles and spinster aunts, and overbearing mother, and it was no big deal. we don’t live in a friendly world anymore, cause in a friendly world we could make fun of one another without being seen as a monster, or racist, or homophobic or whatever. I find a lot of things funny, but i wouldn’t initiate force against anyone who I disagreed with.
          I ask one question: now that everyone is a victim, and it’s practically illegal to notice funny things about some groups, are we having more fun, or are we all equally miserable.

  3. Late to the conversation, but here is my question: Do your kids read your austrogirl posts? I’ve gleaned some interesting things about you and your view of the real world that your kids might catch sooner than you think. At 4 years old I was marching around the house banging on a pot with a wooden spoon. My 4 year old grandson walks in my house, turns on my tv and PS3 and selects the world domination game RISK to play….. I grew up watching Annette Funnicello on the Mickey Mouse Club and Ricky Nelson on Ozzie and Harriet. According to Spike Lee, that makes me a racist, a comment I find interesting because I wore out my copy of Spike Lee’s video tape of a capella singers he made years ago. Rick Nelson’s 1972 song “Garden Party,” was a pretty good summation…. I drove a truck for awhile…. Libertarian married to a liberal watching “Bewitched”…. gotta think on that…..

    • My kids do not read my blog – I wouldn’t even let them read this blogpost even though they wanted to because I thought the line “a then-scarce commodity men valued more than money” – i thought it would raise some questions that I am aiming not to answer until they are 12. They think the show is “inappropriate” because of all the “smooching” – I feel like I might achieve my goal of keeping them innocent til 12! (but maybe not…the other day my daughter asked me about santa – i told her what i knew and she promptly told a friend – i freaked and said, “next time i won’t tell you the truth” and she said “next time? what do you mean next time? what else is there to know?” Touche!) And for the record, my husband is not a liberal, only his parents…he’s just a hard working dude who hopes the s%!#house doesn’t go up in flames before he gets to enjoy the fruits of his labor – i do not give him peace of mind on this front, i’m sorry to say. I was asked on the show the other day if I thought the culture was better or worse all in all – between segregation and sexism you can’t deny a change for the better. I always assumed it was worlds better now but I’m beginning to think we didn’t have to throw the baby out with the bathwater and we could have mutual respect, shared values & open access to free markets without sex shows that pass for musical performances or censorship guised as sensitivity – sounds like a show!

  4. I can tell that you mused a bit before writing that reply.
    My parents were rock solid Catholic Democrats. They raised 11 kids, 10 still living, and the voting split up to Obama was split 1 Conservative (me), 4 Republicans, and 5 Democrats (who put a ‘Grandmas for Obama’ bumper sticker on my mom’s car even though she stopped driving years before). Since Obama was elected, I’ve noticed a change in family. My older, Democrat sister, who lives behind a Catholic church, mentioned that she hasn’t been attending and my newly retired Democrat sister started sending me cartoons making fun of Obama and his policies. hmmmm.
    I can relate to your husband. I’m still working 12 hour days 3 to 5 days per week and probably won’t be able to stop till something physically breaks that can’t be fixed.
    I find it fascinating that the black community became Democrats because I grew up in the George Wallace / Lester Maddox era. (Our family was watching from Kentucky.) When Martin Luther King was killed, it seemed to me that the black community figured, ” We can’t beat them, so we’d better join them.”
    I had 8 sisters all of whom were smart, opinionated, hard-working and still are, for the most part. The boys were raised to protect women and my grandfathers and my dad were excellent examples. I can’t really see how feminists improved the treatment of women. Technology (Camera phones stopped Japanese women being groped on commuter trains.) and the internet have increased awareness of women being mistreated as large groups (Obama Administration STILL underpaying women compared to male counterparts) but, one-on-one, we have WAY too many battered women and the news reports of kidnapped girls and child porn arrests are treated with very apparent, indifference.
    I watch my children trying to raise my grandchildren like you are trying to raise your kids. Not too much tv, good books, (homeschooling, in some cases) attend church of choice and surround them with family and friends that have equal values. What scares me the most is, America hasn’t existed as a free country for 300 years yet and we are zooming backwards to becoming serfs again at an alarming pace. And the general population seems too ignorant to realize it….. or even care. When it is gone…..?

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