Feminism in 1970s Sitcoms

Women's Liberation on 1970s Television

During the Women’s Liberation Movement, U.S. television audiences were offered a dose of feminism in several 1970s situation comedies. Moving away from the “old-fashioned” nuclear family-oriented sitcom model, many 1970s sitcoms explored new and sometimes controversial social or political issues. While still creating humorous shows, television producers provided audiences with feminism in 1970s sitcoms by using social commentary and strong female protagonists – with or without a husband.

Here are five 1970s sitcoms that are worth watching with a feminist eye:

Cloris Leachman, Mary Tyler Moore, Valerie Harper pose on stools in 1970s fashion
Cloris Leachman, Mary Tyler Moore, Valerie Harper in 1974 publicity shot for The Mary Tyler Moore Show. Silver Screen Collection / Getty Images

The lead character, played by Mary Tyler Moore, was a single woman with a career in one of the most acclaimed sitcoms in television history. More »

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

Norman Lear’s All in the Family did not shy away from controversial topics. The four main characters -- Archie, Edith, Gloria and Mike -- held wildly varying opinions on most issues. More »

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Maude (1972-1978)

Beatrice Arthur as Maude, 1972
Beatrice Arthur as Maude, 1972. Lee Cohen/Liaison

Maude was a spinoff from All in the Family that continued tackling tough issues in its own way, with Maude’s abortion episode being one of the most famous.

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One Day at a Time (1975-1984)

Bonnie Franklin, 1975
Bonnie Franklin, 1975. Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

Another show developed by Norman Lear, One Day At A Time featured a recently divorced mother, played by Bonnie Franklin, raising two teenage daughters, Mackenzie Phillips and Valerie Bertinelli. It tackled many social issues revolving around relationships, sexuality and families.

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Alice (1976-1985)

Linda Lavin at Golden Globes, 1980
Linda Lavin at Golden Globes, 1980. Fotos International/Bob V. Noble/Getty Images

At first glance, it may not seem particularly “feminist” to watch three waitresses slogging away in a greasy spoon diner, but Alice, loosely based on the film Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore, explored the difficulties faced by a widowed working mother as well as the camaraderie among a group of working class characters.