1970s Feminist Sitcoms: All in the Family

Archie Bunker, Meathead and Women, Too!

All in the Family cast, 1976
All in the Family cast, 1976: Jean Stapleton holding Corey M Miller, Carroll O'Connor, Rob Reiner and Sally Struthers. Fotos International/Getty Images

Sitcom Title: All in the Family
Years Aired: 1971-1979
Stars: Carroll O'Connor, Jean Stapleton, Rob Reiner, Sally Struthers
Feminist Focus: Almost no political issue of the 1970s was left untouched by this show, including multiple concerns of the Women's Liberation Movement.

Norman Lear’s creation All in the Family brought a new sensibility to TV sitcoms. The old-school bigot Archie Bunker may dominate some viewers’ memories, but the underlying feminism of All in the Family surfaces in the reactions of the characters around him: his wife, Edith; his daughter, Gloria; his nemesis, Mike “Meathead” Stivic; and various neighbors, friends and fellow New Yorkers.

Out With the Old?

The set-up of the four characters reveals the feminism of All in the Family through the disconnect between the older and younger generations. Carroll O’Connor as Archie and Jean Stapleton as Edith sing longingly during the opening theme song about the good old days of Glenn Miller music, Herbert Hoover and their old LaSalle: “Those were the daaaaays!” they practically warble.

Reality intrudes. Sally Struthers as daughter Gloria and Rob Reiner as son-in-law Mike Stivic live with them, disrupting life in the Bunker home not so much with their presence as with their political views. This modern couple consists of a working woman and a counterculture husband who is still in school. The young ones voice liberal, open-minded viewpoints that clash mightily with Archie’s narrow-minded views of the world.

Facing Serious Issues

All in the Family dealt openly with atheism, bigotry, gambling, homosexuality, impotence and plenty of other surprising topics.

The characters, especially Archie, used strong language and encountered crime and death, shocking viewers who were not used to seeing these things depicted on a television series, much less a comedy.

Facing Women's Issues

The feminism of All in the Family touched on issues such as sexual harassment, rape, abortion, menopause and the roles of women in modern society, including the recurring assertion that women can be doctors as well as men.

There are episodes in which even Mike and Gloria argue about a woman’s “role” in marriage. There is a story line where Gloria is fired for being pregnant, and one where Mike and Gloria have to deal with their roles in their physical relationship. They discuss who is responsible for birth control and whether he should get a vasectomy.  

A Televised Revolution

Throughout the 1970s, the feminism of All in the Family was one strong aspect of a highly regarded, smart, tough, fearless show that tried new things and forced the audience to think about myriad issues. It ushered in a new era, although few shows since have matched its powerful impact.

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Napikoski, Linda. "1970s Feminist Sitcoms: All in the Family." ThoughtCo, Jan. 9, 2016, thoughtco.com/all-in-the-family-p2-3529012. Napikoski, Linda. (2016, January 9). 1970s Feminist Sitcoms: All in the Family. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/all-in-the-family-p2-3529012 Napikoski, Linda. "1970s Feminist Sitcoms: All in the Family." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/all-in-the-family-p2-3529012 (accessed December 14, 2017).