The Golden Girls' feminism is self-evident: Four outspoken, post-menopausal women live together and support each other through older age, dealing together with their grown kids, ex-husbands, and dating lives. And they are not the punchline—they make the punchlines. This show, against all odds, was a massive hit in the '80s.
When shows like this happen—groundbreaking shows that disprove network executives' narrow views of what makes good TV—we tend to believe that everything has changed in one swoop. But we are usually wrong. When Golden Girls became a hit in the '80s, it was easy to imagine a whole spate of wonderful shows about older folks ushering in a new era of acceptance for stars of all ages.
On a chilled-out weeknight in a chilled-out gay bar, you wouldn't be surprised to see clips of Designing Women or The Golden Girls playing on the big-screen TVs. That seems intuitive, right? Gay culture has long embraced these shows, to the point that seeing Rose and Blanche eat cheesecake while we sip a gin and tonic would barely register.
And yet these shows are not explicitly gay at all. They're about groups of empowered women, most of whom are over 40. They are, in fact, built upon relationships forged post-widowhood. What's the connection?
A gay character or two may have sauntered in on occasion (or a maybe-gay character, in the case of Meschach Taylor's Anthony on DW). Some episodes even tackled real gay issues, particularly Designing Women, which was known for its strident political bent. But that wasn't the crux of any of these shows. And gay rights plotlines don't feature in the clips I've seen gay men chanting along with—say, Dixie Carter's famous-among-fans rant about how her beauty-contestant sister's flaming baton-throwing caused "the night the lights went out in Georgia."
Television icon (and feminist favorite) Rue McClanahan passed away this morning at the age of 76. She was best known for her role as Blanche Devereaux on the classic sitcom The Golden Girls (though I probably didn't have to tell you that). Blanche was always my very favorite of the four Golden Girls. I loved her Southern wit and charm and her unabashed sexiness (oh, and I thought her flowing pajama robes were the height of glamor).
Though us feminist TV fans will miss Rue something fierce, she leaves behind a legacy that won't be soon forgotten. She was a pioneer when it came to representations of older women on television, never apologizing for her sexuality or her age. Thank you for being a friend, Rue McClanahan!
It's the latest episode of Bitchcast! Taking cues from Issue 46, the podcast includes an interview with a feminist blogger who's wise but not old, an interview with members of the Meerkat Media Collective about their recent documentary where generations collide, an excerpt from the Old issue of Bitch, and a chat with one of the 90s biggest stars. Plus tunes from the Swedish melodic pop band JJ. Stream it below, download the epsiode here, or subscribe via iTunes or RSS.
This week's installment of Adventures in Feministory goes out to a very special lady, one who broke barriers for older women in the entertainment industry like nobody's business: Estelle Getty. (And no, this post isn't just an excuse to talk about her fabulous exercise video, but yes, the video is included after the jump.)
It is a sad day for fans of the incomparable Bea Arthur, who died of cancer Saturday. Arthur was revolutionary on so many fronts, on both stage and screen, bringing feminist issues like abortion and ageism to light while crushing gender stereotypes. She proved the snake eye, a commanding voice and a confident swagger were just as fit for the ladies as they were for the fellas. She played funny, smart and unrelenting sarcasm to a tee. She was one of a kind. She will be missed.