Traditional Gender Roles in Sitcoms

By: Emily Elliott

Sheehan explains in his chapter explain how in postwar America the men were supposed to be the breadwinners while the women were expected to stay at home and work in the domestic sphere. This is exemplified in the episode of The Honeymooners that we watched. Alice suggests that she could go out and try to find a job in order to make some money in response to Ralph being “fired” from his job. As a response, Ralph gets heated and exclaims that he would rather starve than have Alice go out and get a job. This scene is enacted in a comedic way, but Ralph’s message is still true. He would rather starve than admit that he was not capable of providing for his family.

Additionally, this idea of women not being fit for the work force and men being the only breadwinners is seen in the “Job Switching” episode of I Love Lucy. Ricky and Fred believe that Lucy and Ethel would not be able to hold a job because all they do is sit around the house all day. This idea of women being inferior to men in the working sphere is then reiterated by Lucy and Ethel themselves when they go to the job hunter and exclaim “We don’t know how to do anything.”

These two examples provide support for the gender roles that were believed in and expected to be followed in the 1950’s. I know this is how the times were back then and I accept that. However, I can’t help but get rather annoyed when watching these scenes today. Times have changed since the 50’s and now if these scenes where on the air there would be much backlash. I recognize that especially with I Love Lucy the show was attempting to critique the traditional gender stereotypes; however, it still amazes me that at one time these scenes were perfectly acceptable and seen as humorous.

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One Response to Traditional Gender Roles in Sitcoms

  1. One thing I think about with the I Love Lucy episode you mention, as well as most other episodes/ TV shows of this time in terms of the housewife/ breadwinner dynamic, is that all the actresses in these shows are working women. It’s so ironic to me that the actresses were fine with playing this traditional gender role and thought is was the norm, because they were working women themselves. When I watch old TV shows like these I can’t help but always question this dynamic.

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