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Tuesday, June 16, 2009

The Golden Girl Effect

A recent television ad surprised me for a couple of reasons.

First, the product being advertised is called the Trojan Personal Massager – “the vibrating touch for her pleasure.” I’m not going to post a photo of it, nor am I going into detailed description. This blog is family rated. Use your imagination. Mike and I were startled to see it advertised on tv – and during prime time.

But then there was another surprise. In the ad, two young women are seated in the foreground and one is telling the other about the product. This includes giggling and whispering. When one of them wonders aloud about how to purchase the item, the more mature woman in the background steps forward and tells where to find it. “That’s where I got mine,” she says. Which produces more giggles.

The joke, of course, was that the “older” woman was still a sensual human being. What a thought! I call it The Golden Girls effect.

Television sitcoms have led or at least mirrored women’s evolution since the ‘60s. That Girl, starring Marlo Thomas, was the very first tv show in which the female lead wasn’t there because she was someone’s wife, daughter or mother. It was a show about a single woman making it on her own. And it was funny. It was mild by today’s standards, but it was groundbreaking in its day.

We also saw Julia, which starred the beautiful Diahann Carroll, as a single mom – respectably widowed, not divorced. The show broke two barriers with a Black woman in the lead.

The Mary Tyler Moore Show and One Day at a Time took the “single woman” theme a little further and laid the ground work for Murphy Brown that took on many women’s issues.

And then, boys and girls, The Golden Girls – certainly not a deeply profound show – shattered the glass sensuality ceiling. There were four, 50+ women who didn’t sit in their rocking chairs and knit. They were active in the community. They had political opinions. They dressed up. Had boyfriends. And also had sex. Oh my!
To contrast, you surely remember the lovable Aunt Bea from The Andy Griffith Show. She was supposed to be 50 years old. Sweet lady, but she was plump, frumpy, always wore an apron, and lived to cook and clean for Andy and Opie because the men were the important people. The very few romantic interests scripted for her were scam artists who were pursuing her for financial gain. The message was clear that no one else would be interested in her and that Andy, The Man, had to prevent her downfall because she wasn't smart enough to take care of herself.
The Golden Girls changed that stereotype.

Bea Arthur, one of The Golden Girls, had previously starred in the sitcom Maude, as a married, but independent woman with strong opinions. Ms. Arthur once said in an interview that she and her co-stars believed that their story lines had “given permission” for mature women to enjoy their beauty and sexuality.

And look who’s around to show us the beauty of mature women: Cher, Goldie Hawn, Diane Keaton, Susan Sarandon (photo on right).

Growing older is a privilege. Now let’s make it a glowing pleasure.

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