Moment in Women’s History: Roseanne Barr

12 Jul

In her own words, “Welcome to Roseannadu.”  I have been thinking a great deal in the past month about how to celebrate Roseanne. The reasons are evident, but I want to make sure I do justice to a pioneer for women in television.

During the Bush Sr. years, 1988-1992, (Bush who raised taxes, what a novel idea. Who do I need to strangle? The current Republicans are making me defend Bush Sr.!) we were in a significant recession and jobs were hard to come by.  There were no television shows that reflected Americans struggling with issues of money, paying the mortgage, unemployment, food, birth control, homosexuality, and abortion.  Later during the Clinton years, television shows only gave us “I wanna be skinny like the Friends.”  Today, the recession of the late 80s looks like a merry-go-round in contrast to the never ending recession Bush Jr. started.  I reflect on my own situation and think about the fact that my husband and I are actually worse off financially now then we were 12 years ago, as many in this country are.

I don’t see the struggles of Americans being reflected in television shows in the way Roseanne was able to do with great aplomb. With the show Roseanne, we saw an overweight, strong, and independent woman struggling to raise children and pay the bills all with a sense of humor.  We also saw gay characters.  While I credit Soap with the first ongoing gay character, albeit they turned Jodie straight by the end of the show, Roseanne had two regular gay characters, breaking through stereotypes and paving the way for television to finally show a much more accurate depiction of what America looks like. We are big, small, short, tall, thin, fat, gay, straight, poor, rich, and we are all Americans.

When I look back at episodes of Roseanne, I’m also saddened by the fact that we seem to have gone backwards for women’s rights. While Maude, was the first show to deal with the issue of abortion, Roseanne did a marvelous job of dealing with the issue on her show: being pregnant at the Planned Parenthood clinic yelling at the misogynistic and idiotic protesters, “Hell no, we won’t go. Life begins when we say so.”

Another remarkable episode is when Roseanne goes with her daughter to buy birth control. Roseanne takes a very real and very intelligent approach to a sex and family planning.  If only Sarah Palin had had that conversation with her daughter. While I’m elated that we see increased visibility of the LGBT community and African-Americans, I am quite sad that we do not see greater advocacy for women’s rights, specifically reproductive rights; it is as though we, as a nation, have gone backwards.

Where does this leave us?  Where is the next Roseanne? Who will take up the cause and be a champion and role model for women?

7 Responses to “Moment in Women’s History: Roseanne Barr”

  1. Jennifer Lockett July 12, 2011 at 6:20 pm #

    I have always liked Roseanne Barr and the television show. It was one of the few shows where everyone and everything was perfect. It was the first time where women could be crude, strong, aggressive, and powerful while being ‘likeable.’
    Also, correct me if I’m wrong, but wasn’t Roseanne the first lesbian kiss on network television, between Roseanne and Sandra Bernhardt?

  2. Paul Peterson December 29, 2012 at 9:18 pm #

    I still love this show. I am now sitting through reruns with my sister, a more recent re-immigrant to the U.S., and she is loving them as much as I did the first time around.

    • Michael Hulshof-Schmidt December 29, 2012 at 9:31 pm #

      It warms my heart to know that you are watching Roseanne with your sister with great appreciation. I actually bought the series on DVD.

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