Threat to Patriarchal Power in The Honeymooners, Roseanne, and Bewitched
Threat to Patriarchal Power in The Honeymooners, Roseanne, and Bewitched
The concept of the unruly woman simply defines the deviating role that the woman has assumed in contrary to the order of patriarchy specifically within contemporary industrialized American society. However, in relation to the characters of Roseanne Connor and Alice Kramden, this defiance of the structured patriarchal order occurs based on the release of speech and laughter primarily from the female’s mouth. Accordingly, the unruly woman is defined by behavioral patterns that contradict the elements of female mannerism. In addition to this, such patterns pose a threat on the supposed male-dominated hierarchy within the society. As such, deviation from patriarchy evolves into one not based on suffrage protests; rather, it occurs via the setting of comedy and satire in which the woman, despite being in the confines of the man, transcends above his authority and power by expressing herself in terms of wit, sarcasm, and laughter.
The characters of Roseanne and Alice are perfect illustrations. Within their role reprisals as homemakers, both protagonists are capable of threatening the patriarchal order even in their respective settings. In The Honeymooners, Alice assumes the role of a patient wife to her short-tempered husband, Ralph Kramden. Her role, despite that of a patient homemaker, possesses a certain level of similarity with that of Roseanne in the series, Roseanne. Regardless of the disparities they have, Alice and Roseanne are depictions of a domesticated society; a community that firmly defines the roles that women and men assume. Over the years, the issue of gender roles has elicited sharp reactions across feminists and male enthusiasts alike. Nevertheless, it is impossible to deny the negative potentials to which defined roles have imposed particularly on the female gender.
For instance, the narrative, Trifles, illustrates the extent to which the definition of familial roles between men and women has degenerated into stereotypes. In the short story, Susan Glaspell’s protagonist, Mrs. Wright, is actually responsible for the murder of her husband, John Wright (Glaspell 23). Ironically, the investigators (who are all men) doubt that she is capable of committing such an act. Additionally, the investigations, which occur in the kitchen (believed to be the woman’s place), derive nothing substantial to indict Mrs. Wright. Interestingly, this is not based on facts but rather, gender-based prejudice. The male investigators are biased since they believe that the locations (such as the kitchen) in which Mrs. Wright frequented most are incapable of releasing anything of relevance to the case (Glaspell 24). Moreover, the minds of the men, veiled by bias, force them to disregard significant clues and instead, lead them to search areas that assert male dominance such as the bedroom and the barn.
The subject of gender roles, as exemplified in Trifles, is an offside but imperative illustration of the commonality enveloping the characters of Alice and Roseanne. Moreover, it depicts a considerable contrast whereby the women in The Honeymooners and Roseanne respectively defy the male prejudice by leading the household and occasionally deviating against conventional social norms that depict women as specifically domestic. In spite of these daring attempts to deviate against the patriarchal order, negative possibilities arise largely centered on the implications that originate from assuming a newfound direction against the desired social norm. For Alice and Roseanne, these negative possibilities largely represent the oppositions that they attain when deviating from the accepted social norm. Such potentials incline towards the threat of domestic abuse, especially on the part of the female protagonist. This deviation from patriarchal authority is perceived as a threat to the olden setting of domesticity.
For example, in The Honeymooners, Alice’s role as homemaker considerably conflicts with the patriarchal order awarded to her husband, Ralph due to society’s definition of roles. The episode, “A Woman’s Work is Never Done”, illustrates this clearly based on the way Alice is disrespected in spite of the efforts she regularly undertakes for the security of her household. This is evident when Ralph gets in, greets Alice brusquely, and orders Alice to “Hurry up with my eats. I’m goin bowlin’”, as he enters into their bedroom (“A Woman’s Work is Never Done”). In addition to this, Ralph complains that his shirt has not been washed and that his sock has a hole. However, amidst all these squabbles, Ralph fails to notice the immense burden of work that Alice bears in a single day. Furthermore, Ralph displays male chauvinism when he threatens to commence a demerit structure that will keep track of his wife’s obedience.
The conflict becomes evident when Alice rejects her defined role and declares that they hire a house help. In spite of the enraged opposition from her husband, Alice firmly stands her ground by utilizing her sharp tongue. In this respect, the male audience ultimately reacts to the notion of a woman rejecting her patriarchal-based role. Nonetheless, Alice’s role concerning this positions her effectively as the ‘unruly woman’. According to Rowe (30), the unruly woman exudes outrage and deviates in a manner that she influences the derivation of ambivalence, happiness, contempt, and at times, fear. The character of Alice illustrates this considerably due to her firm stand against a representative of patriarchal authority: Ralph Kramden. Due to her dejection of feminine norms and the male social hierarchy via outrageousness, the respective character disrupts patriarchal power.
In spite of this, the character of Alice does not effectively disrupt patriarchal authority in comparison to that of Roseanne. Indeed, Roseanne completely assumes the description of the unruly woman as established by Kathleen Rowe. Based on her assessment of Miss Piggy in the Muppet Show, Rowe provides a definite list of traits and qualities that mark the unruly woman. Consequently, the respective character is fat, too talkative, and jocular. At times, the character may possess few masculine aspects, ‘loose behavior, and gain association with dirt (Rowe 30). In spite of this, the unruly woman constitutes a resource of potential authority (Rowe 31). As such, the particular character can be perceived as an object of feminist resistance since she threatens patriarchal power by possessing the authority to actually stand firm against it and disrupt it considerably by mainly deviating from established social norms, which in this case involve domesticity and confinement of the woman.
Reflecting on these traits, Roseanne fits the picture of the unruly woman perfectly. Additionally, her role and mannerisms effectively disrupt patriarchal power in comparison to Alice’s character. Firstly, Roseanne is overweight, non-Jewish and in her late thirties (Lee 470). Additionally, she is a mother to three children and a wife to a fat construction worker. Accordingly, Roseanne’s character assumes a different set of occupations ranging from that of a phone salesperson to a factory worker to a receptionist to a bartender and an attendant at a beauty parlor. However, her house is rarely clean. These characteristics define Roseanne as an object of female resistance against the male-based ideals of the American society. This is best exemplified by her stance against the bourgeoisie class. For instance, in one episode, Roseanne leads the working fraternity out of the factory and engages in a heated debate over issues concerning occupational health and wellbeing (Lee 471). Further representation of female resistance is based on her acceptance of her weight, which represents the aspect of sovereign womanhood (Lee 472).
In Bewitched, Samantha acts as a respectable homemaker with magical powers. Despite honing such powerful skills, she is restricted from using her powers in public specifically by her husband, Darrin. Despite this, Samantha sees this as a flaw; for her, the utilization of magical powers seemed more of an advantage. Therefore, for the character, such an action would obviously come across as an innocent thing. Nevertheless, Darrin shared a different opinion. Accordingly, he asserted that using her powers was unnecessary and as such, not important (Douglas 128). Hence, as a submissive wife, Samantha attempted to obey the wishes of her husband to the best of her capabilities. Regardless of this, she continued to utilize her magical powers in order to assist other people in obvious predicaments. Simply, Samantha was a normal person who wanted to aid others and since she had the ability to do so, she could not resist from using her powers. Additionally, she was not the common homemaker type; rather, she experienced a sense of inspiration based on changing the world. Overall, she meant not harm to her husband or any other person and was aware of the roles that she assumed as a superior being and a submissive wife (Douglas 133).
Samantha’s character comprises a representation of the extensive rights guaranteed to women in the 1960s. Marked by civil rights movement and the assassination of John F. Kennedy, the American society was largely identified by modifying social patterns, class values, and reversals in gender roles. This is best exemplified by the role that Samantha assumes as a powerful woman in the series. Interestingly, Bewitched illustrated an intensifying gap within the patriarchal community. Additionally, it derives its content from a darker era in the history of the state based on its characterization of magic as a communal stigma and a cultural mania. Despite being a jocular sitcom, Bewitched acted as a platform illustrating the rapidly dynamic social structure exemplified by women who intensified their efforts for the attainment of freedom specifically against roles that contributed to their confinement within the domestic setting.
The conflict between Samantha and Darrin represents this situation considerably. Despite being more powerful than her husband is, Samantha still resorts to act in submission particularly for the sake of her love for Darrin and subversively, her role as homemaker in the society. Nevertheless, the romance exuded between both partners is obscured by an abnormal wife and husband dynamic and a structure of authority different to the conventional perspective on marriage by the society. Simply, the ideal wife, Samantha, is prevailing than Darrin. Irrespective of her magical capabilities, she is coerced and submissive to Darrin. Accordingly, her husband wants her to carry out household obligations without the utilization of her magical powers. This is evidenced when he declares that, “You’re going to have to learn how to be a suburban housewife – to keep house, to cook, and soon we’ll be normal, happy couple just like everyone else” (“Be It Ever So Mortgaged”).
Additionally, she subscribes to the notion of the patriarchal order and becomes acquiescent, passive, and assures her husband that, “Anything that makes you happy, makes me happy” (“I, Darrin, Take this Witch, Samantha”). She is not externally deviant, not brash, and tries to comply with the defined social etiquette. Nonetheless, through each episode, she slips magic into her ordinary life in order to complete her considerable bundle of domestic chores, to put icing on a birthday cake, and to deliver Darrin to their home’s basement while arguing. For the character, the utilization of magic represents a silent variant of rebellion against her husband’s patriarchal-influenced directives. In addition to this, her engagement in the act depicts a flight from the commonality of the suburban society in the 1960s. Even though she desires the domestic life desired significantly by her husband, her inability to cease from depending on magic shows that she, subconsciously, dejects the verve of a subversive woman reliant on her male spouse.
Aside from utilizing her magic in order to lighten her domestic life, Samantha’s powers also enable her to perform benevolent acts for normal people and are therefore, harmless. Despite this, Darrin is consistently disapproving and worried about the perception of society concerning them. Thus, with his insistence on the issue, Samantha has to conceal her abilities, from her inquisitive neighbor Gladys, her husband’s superior Larry Tate and the rest of the external world. Simply, she is forced to modify her natural self for purposes of sustaining a façade of normalcy. Consequently, the fact that Samantha has to conceal her true self reveals the implications that arise when the ascent of female independence conflict with conventional norms and institutions such as gender roles and the husband-wife relationship. As illustrated, it is more stressful to disrupt the belief of the male spouse as omniscient rather than establish the wife as sovereign and equal to her counterpart.
Irrespective of the restrictions imposed on Samantha concerning the use of her powers, Darrin does not possess ill intentions towards his wife. Accordingly, he is not resolute towards the purposeful subordination of his wife. Nonetheless, even though he exudes significant love for her, Darrin fails to visualize the demerits that exist within the time-honored authority structure of marriage. Consequently, women have consistently acted as the lesser sex and as such, there are null grounds to modify this relationship. Darrin is simply a derivation of convention and fearful of breaking the people’s status quo. His irredeemably puritan-based perspectives on marriage are jeopardized especially when he struggles to acclimatize to his position within the relationship as the less powerful individual. Therefore, Darrin’s restrictions on Samantha concerning the use of magical powers can be perceived as the actions of a man unable and unsure of the manner with which to deal with the increased authority of his wife.
Therefore, in relation to her good intentions and the restrictions imposed on her by her husband, Samantha can simply be viewed as a repressed homemaker and a casualty of the patriarchal community. However, the actions following the directives of her husband indicate the power she possesses irrespective of not using her powers. The fact that she can actually choose to remain submissive to her husband illustrates that she already possesses the power to modify her life regardless of societal rules. Even though she is aware of her powers, Samantha chooses to segregate herself from her magical capabilities. Hence, the capability to possess and reach to decisions constitutes the main essence of feminism. In this respect, Bewitched evolves into a narrative metaphor concerning the responsible restraint of power, abilities, and alternatives and deciding to desist from utilizing them.
Even though the role of Samantha may illustrate the woes of a woman occupying traditional American suburbia, the essential message depicts that the docile homemaker has an indisputable power. Regardless, the wider society consistently insists on hiding the authority and the privilege to exploit it. Additionally, her dream to assist those in need is confined to the restrictions imposed on to her by the society via her husband. Indeed, Samantha’s dream is inundated by the expectations of the society and the paternalistic concerns of Darrin. The essence of magic itself acts as a threat towards suburban placidity. However, what makes it more problematic is because such a power belongs to a woman. This undoubtedly illustrates the extent to which the status quo seeks to be maintained irrespective of occurring changes. For Darrin, the presence of magic acts as a threat to the normal state present within the society. Therefore, Samantha is required to desist from revealing her magic powers in order to facilitate the status quo, rather than become deviants within the very community they inhabit.
“A Woman’s Work is Never Done”. The Honeymooners. Writ. Marvin Marx and Walter Stone. Dir. Frank Satenstein. CBS Television Distribution, 1955. DVD.
“Be It Ever So Mortgaged.” Bewitched. Writ. Barbara Avedon. Dir. William Asher. Sony Pictures Television, 1964. DVD.
“I, Darrin, Take this Witch, Samantha”. Bewitched. Writ. Sol Saks. Dir. William Asher. Sony Pictures Television, 1964. DVD.
Douglas, Susan. Where the Girls Are: Growing up Female with the Mass Media. New York: Three Rivers Press, 1995. Print.
Glaspell, Susan. Trifles. Ed. Donna H. Winchell. Boston: Thomson Wadsworth, 2004. Print.
Lee, Janet. “Subversive Sitcoms: ‘Roseanne’ as Inspiration for Feminist Resistance. In Gender, Race, and Class in Media: A Text Reader (Eds.) Gail Dines, 469-474. Thousand Oaks, 1995.
Rowe, Kathleen. The Unruly Woman: Gender and the Genres of Laughter. Austin: University of Texas Press, 1995. Print.
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