Anyone else out there watching Golden Girls? I was young when it originally aired (1985-1992) and didn’t watch it at the time, but knew of its existence. When I found out several months ago the whole series would be on Hulu I was excited to watch this acclaimed and award-winning show, to experience what I’d only seen in snippets. Four women living together in Miami? 80s fashion? I loved every bit of what I knew of it.
It’s always interesting to watch a dated show through the lens of current times. We’ve become a more progressive society since the era this show aired, and I expected some non-PC moments (such as when Blanche—the most sexual of the bunch—confuses bilingual with bisexual).
What I didn’t expect is that the three most prominent women in the show (Dorothy, Blanche, and Rose) would so blatantly represent three very damaging female stereotypes. The trio was comprised of the vain slut, the sex-starved bitter hag, and the naive airhead. I’m confident that I don’t need to assign each stereotype to the associated character, because I suspect anyone who has seen even five minutes of the show can draw correct connections.
(I’ll interrupt the rant that is ramping up for a moment to mention that I am only in season 3, and that there’s a possibility of character development in upcoming seasons that I am not taking into account. If anyone reading this has watched the entire series and has an opinion on that, I would love to hear from you!)
This show is not without merit. I imagine that, at the time it was aired, the show was somewhat groundbreaking in the facts that it was depicting women living together, featuring women middle-aged and above, and discussing topics like sex (and sexuality), domestic violence, HIV/AIDS, and aging/death. That a show comprised of a cast of women (with men playing only supporting roles) could realize significant acclaim is noteworthy and important. I wish the internet had been around during that era so that I could read up on media commentary on the show during the eighties. (Or, perhaps those articles ARE out there in a corner of the internet that I’ve forgotten how to access since my days in college when I knew how to do historical research.) The thought of going to the library and getting on the microfiche machine crossed my mind – fleetingly.
Media now is fairly complimentary. Check out some of the positive articles before I go full speed into indignation.
My favorite character currently is Sophia. She’s strong, funny, opinionated, honest, and nurturing when nurturing is needed—but I noticed that the show essentially apologized for her blunt manner in the very first episode when they attributed her frank nature to the fact that she’d had a stroke and therefore couldn’t self-edit. Essentially giving the audience permission to like her even though she spoke her mind in a way that might have been considered unladylike at the time. The first fail.
Playing up stereotypes and traits makes for good TV. I get it. We’ve seen damaging stereotypes in more recent shows such as Friends, and they even exist in television today in more subtle ways. They might even be in every show I watch today, I’m just not picking up on them.
These stereotypes are, in fact, not the thing that bothers me the most about these women. I might have felt more comfortable if the show had portrayed the characters in this way, but displayed friendships that were accepting and uplifting. Demonstrating that was totally okay for these women to be who they were, because they were loved and appreciated by each other.
In the same way I earlier disclaimed that I am only in Season 3 of the show, I will also disclaim that I am only in decade 4 of my life, and I likely have a lot to learn about female friendships and the ways the might evolve in later chapters of life. I expect my understanding of these relationships will continue to evolve into something more enlightened and less prescriptive as I age into wisdom. I also never had sisters, so I possess a degree of ignorance about what it’s like to have relationships with women where you bicker regularly but still love each other in a meaningful way.
However, watching these women today, through the lens of my experience, leaves me with a bad taste in my mouth. There are constant insults that focus on core stereotype traits. They believed Blanche had an STD because of her sexual appetite. Dorothy would be alone because she was ugly and undesirable. Rose wasn’t worth listening to because she was so damn dumb. The show depicted them supporting one another in the larger life decisions and trials. Yes. Heartbreaks. Financial challenges. Family strife. But outside of that, they tore each other down in their everyday interactions. I kept waiting for Blanche and Dorothy to stop bullying Rose. For Blanche to stop talking about her own beauty for enough to recognize her friends’ loveliness. For Rose to recognize that she should listen to others more than talking about her own life in St. Olaf. (A running joke.) For Dorothy to to STOP WITH THE CONSTANT CONDESCENSION. (For real, lady.)
Because, in real-life friendship, we should try to be kind. Right? Friends are our found family. Yeah, family can bicker. But shouldn’t family ultimately respect one another? Sure, we can make mistakes. And I believe that acceptance of our friends’ flaws (to a degree) is an expectation of real intimacy (the friend kind, you dirty minds), but we should all be setting our sights on giving friends our best and most caring selves. And we should always be able to find those qualities in our friends that leave us a little bit in awe. Every single one of the women I’m with possess qualities that I admire almost to the point of envy. I love feeling like my friends are incredible and accomplished. (Sometimes frustrating and complex, but always in the way that the most interesting people are.)
Had the show not claimed these women were best friends, I would have fewer issues with this. Roommates living together and throwing shade? Fine. Just don’t dress it up as what friendship should look like. I came across a t-shirt available for sale now, with the faces of the ladies on it and text saying “Squad Goals”.
What do you guys think? I don’t usually have really strong reactions/get worked up like this in this type of situation. And this is a sitcom. I get it. But this struck a chord with me. Perhaps because in the past several years my friendships with women have become so important to me. Such a support system that I rely on. Am I having this reaction because I’ve never had sisters, and can’t take that dynamic into account? I started writing this post several weeks ago, and went back and forth internally about whether the show was really such a big deal. I felt watching, kept chuckling, and felt – is this topic even worth writing about? Let alone by me, an only child who has a limited perspective on sister relationships, etc.?
What if I re-watched Designing Women? Would I find that every show from this time period did the same thing? Is Julia = Dorothy? Charlene = Rose? Suzanne = Blanche? I found at least one recent article claiming that Blanche was the original Samantha Jones (a sentiment that made me bristle HARD, as Samantha was the truest and most uplifting friend on SATC, in my opinion.) Do modern shows carry these character lines, and I simply haven’t been paying attention?
I love the idea of women living in community later in life. Just… not like this.
The last thing I’ll say though… is that their robes were fabulous. If only I looked as glamorous as all of them when I lounged around the house.