She's a rebel
She's a saint
She's salt of the earth
And she's dangerous
~~ “She’s A Rebel” by Green Day
Ken is out with his mentee at a hockey game tonight, so I was on my own for dinner.
I decided to watch a couple of episodes of “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” on Hulu. With her recent death, I had seen a few clips of the show and remembered how much I enjoyed it. For whatever reason, it was one that I didn’t go back and watch multiple times like “I Love Lucy” or “The Dick Van Dyke Show.” But I watched it in real time back in the ‘70s, and I even watched the spinoffs, “Rhoda” and “Phyllis.”
I watched the first two episodes of the series and it was like a total wallop of déjà vu. When it originally aired, I was in junior high and high school, sitting around and watching TV after dinner, and with maybe five channels—tops!—it wasn’t difficult for me to be able to persuade my parents to watch a show like MTM. I mean, everyone loved Mary, right?
I was struck by just how engaging MTM was as Mary Richards. Kind, funny, smart, and as Mr. Grant said, “You’ve got spunk! I hate spunk.” Her movements, her body language, her expressions...just perfection. Valerie Harper as Rhoda was brash, self-deprecating, tough, but with a heart of gold. And Cloris Leachman as Phyllis was just brilliant. There was so much implied in what she said and did, and it was so subtle.
As I watched, I realized how much this show probably shaped my attitude about being a woman. Whether in the workplace or at home, married or single, Mary Richards was a role model for so many of us, even if SOME of us (raising hand) didn’t truly realize it until just now.
What really struck me was this exchange in the very first episode of the series. Mary’s ex-boyfriend, a doctor, comes to visit her in Minneapolis. There seems to be the possibility that they might get back together, but she quickly realizes that she broke it off with him for all the right reasons and she had no desire to get back together with him. He asks if she really just told him goodbye and she says yes, I suppose so.
He says: “Take care of yourself.”
She says: “I think I just did.”
Maybe it’s a matter of looking at that from a much older perspective from when I first saw it, and from having been there a few times myself, but HOLY SHIT. Is that one of the most powerful moments for a woman? Yes, it is! I think most of us have been to that point, where we know that it is time to put ourselves first. To come to the realization that you don’t give a fuck about what your parents will think or what anyone else will think, or that some people will completely shun you and be angry with you for your decision. That you are better off on your own. I speak from experience here. It’s better to be happy on your own than to be in a bad relationship.
To say, “Enough. I want to do what is best for me, and that means not having YOU in my life. I’m better off taking care of myself and I am perfectly capable of doing so.”
I was going to write that I’m sure that holds true for plenty of men, too, but you know what? It’s not the same. In 1970, when this show came out, it was still a pretty radical idea that women didn’t need to be married to have a fulfilling life. And when you come from a very conservative, religious family, divorce was still a stigma. When I got a divorce in 1989, I was worried that my parents would be angry with me. At one point, I felt like they were taking sides against me with my ex because for whatever reason they kept in touch with him for a while, and my Dad set me straight about that pretty quickly. He said they loved me totally and my concerns were unfounded. (Pro tip: maintaining relationships with ex whatever-in-laws is usually not a great idea, although there can be mitigating circumstances.)
So for Mary Richards to be a single working woman and to be happy and fulfilled was a big deal at the time. In watching those two episodes tonight, after not having seen any for decades, it made me realize that Mary Richards had an effect on me and I didn’t even realize it.
Here’s to you, Mary Tyler Moore, and here’s to you, Mary Richards. You were both trailblazers and I am grateful.