Originally published in Politico Magazine
To understand the complex dynamics of gender and equality in the workplace, you could read academic treatises, review statistics, absorb a million think pieces in a million magazines.
Or you could watch the 49th episode of The Mary Tyler Moore Show.
In The Good-Time News, which first aired in September 1972, Mary Richards—the only female associate producer in a Minneapolis TV newsroom—discovers that her male predecessor made $50 more per week than she is paid. Incensed, Mary storms into the office of her boss, Lou Grant, but suddenly loses her nerve. She fumbles through her complaint, finally spits it out, and finds Grant genuinely flummoxed by her anger. Why was this guy paid better than she? “Because he was a man,” Grant says, matter-of-factly.
Some women’s rights advocates have complained that Mary Richards, the working woman Moore played for seven influential seasons on CBS, was too passive and congenial to be a true feminist icon. But it was those contours of her personality—the authentic sense that she was grasping for the best way to assert herself in a man’s world—that made these scenes so meaningful. It’s easy to craft righteous speeches in your head or, these days, to pour out earnest, abstract diatribes on Twitter. It’s harder to navigate real-world relationships, to assert yourself in the thicket of power, hierarchy and respect. So it is in The Good-Time News: Grant’s sexism isn’t hostile so much as perfunctory. (“He had a family to support. You don’t,” is his further explanation of the pay disparity.) Richards truly likes him—and loves her job. Later in the episode, she is not afraid to contradict Grant in front of his boss. And in the end, out of respect, he gives her the raise.
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