Feminism in "The Brady Bunch"

Was "The Brady Bunch" a Feminist TV Show?

Brady Bunch cast
Brady Bunch cast, in character. Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

Can we find any feminism in The Brady Bunch? It is a fondly remembered and often mocked television show that infiltrated U.S. popular culture. Straddling the 1960s and 1970s - when it originally aired - The Brady Bunch was also a sitcom that looked at a blended family from many angles and took great pains to achieve balance between the boys and the girls.

Old-Fashioned or Forward Thinking?

Sure, there were stereotypes alongside any feminism in The Brady Bunch.

There was the famous trading stamps episode in which the girls want a sewing machine and the boys want a row boat. There was the fact that Carol could do housework, and Alice the maid could do housework, but Mike and the boys were perplexed by tasks such as laundry or ironing. The whole show strikes many viewers as wholesome, cloying and altogether old-fashioned.

Even so, the clichés and problems the Brady family faced always ended with unity and lessons learned. Its unique place in popular culture may be due to the fact that the Brady girls got as much attention and support as the Brady boys.

Feminist Episodes

Here is a look at some of the feminism in The Brady Bunch:

  • “The Liberation of Marcia Brady” – In this classic episode, Marcia speaks in favor of women’s liberation and wants to join Greg’s Frontier Scouts troop, heretofore a club for boys only. The boys retaliate by having  Peter join Marcia’s organization, the Sunflower Girls. When this doesn’t dissuade Marcia (she enthusiastically welcomes Peter), Greg tries being a stickler for the rules during her initiation campout, sure she will fail somehow, but she passes every test. The episode has as much lightheartedness as every other Brady Bunch episode, but it also speaks matter of factly about liberation and shows that the double standard in society’s treatment of the sexes begins at a young age. Furthermore, Greg’s underhanded trickery in trying to thwart Marcia is proven to be unwise and morally wrong.
    • “Is There a Doctor in the House?” – Don’t forget this episode from the newly blended family’s first season. When the kids come down with the measles, Carol naturally calls the girls’ female doctor while Mike calls the boys’ male doctor, and a debate ensues about which doctor to use for the kids going forward. Why waste time marveling at the fact that the Bradys have not one but two doctors who still make house calls when there’s such a feisty debate going on about the merits of female vs. male doctors?
      • “The Driver’s Seat” – Another classic, in which Marcia and Greg become the symbols of male and female drivers everywhere. Doesn’t every family set up an obstacle course of orange pylons in a parking lot to test their children’s skills and simultaneously settle a battle of the sexes?

      Legacy of Fairness

      The years that The Brady Bunch aired, 1969 to 1974, were the same years that awareness of women’s liberation swept the United States. Coincidence? Perhaps the feminism in The Brady Bunch can best be seen in its cultural legacy. The Brady Bunch was mildly successful in prime time, but inspires its fiercest loyalty in the generation who grew up watching daily syndicated reruns.

      There was an insistent, almost eerie fairness between the boys and the girls on The Brady Bunch. This may have played a part in influencing its viewers to grow up open-minded about gender roles. The Brady Bunch is a sitcom from the dawn of the women’s liberation movement that is worth remembering for feminists who do not need to take their sitcoms too seriously.