I was seven years old when “The Partridge Family” broadcast the episode “My Son, the Feminist.” Keith, the heart-throb lead singer, offers to play music at a rally for Power of Women because his girlfriend Tina is a member (get it? POW!). The rest of the family balks, especially when the right-wing Morality Watchdogs warn of a counter-rally.
This episode, which I don’t remember watching at the time, was brought to my attention by Jennifer D. Munro when I was working on an essay that is coming out this summer in Calyx. Every sitcom in the 1970s, it seems, had its feminist show, including “The Brady Bunch” and “The Courtship of Eddie’s Father.” They all, of course, caricatured the women’s movement while signaling some sympathy for it, as long as it didn’t go “too far.” In many of these episodes, the young feminist eventually gets her comeuppance when she realizes she still wants to retain some traditions. Tina pouts when Keith tells her he will no longer walk her to her front door because it’s a “condescending gesture.”
Watching this episode on YouTube, I was surprised not by the caricatured positions (“The family unit is decadent!” Tina complains), but by how little the political conversation has moved for folks commenting on the web site. Within the last month, one person commended Keith for showing “just how things can be taken to extreme. The fact that he didn’t walk her to the door, or kiss her good night and then she tried to censor their music just because of ‘I Love You’ in the lyrics…. [T]here is some validity in how we can take things too far.”
Other posts criticize Tina for being a follower, the women’s movement for being intolerant, and the entire episode for promoting feminism: “No man likes a Feminist type.” Capital F!
Sigh. Forty years later and the “feminist type” is still vilified even though most people now embrace the tenets of the 1970s wave of the women’s movement. The thread that runs from the anti-feminism of 1970 to today? Don’t go too far. Don’t push too hard. Don’t ask for too much.
But too far, too hard, and too much are relative. In one throw-away joke in the episode, Tina refers to the P.E. teacher, Ms. Bangkok (get it?), who is trying to organize a professional hockey league for women. The laugh track predictably laughs. Of course, there have been professional women’s hockey leagues in Canada since at least 1998.