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TV History: The Honeymooners

by Christine Becker

This clip was uploaded for an assignment in Christine Becker's FTT 30461: History of Television class at the University of Notre Dame in Spring 2019. Check the commentary dropdown menu for a student's analysis of the clip.

1950s Sexism: A Woman's Work is Never Done

by Danielle Patterson

Seeing how far we have come in terms of television from the 1950s to present day 2019, we can argue that we have climbed steep mountains. After watching a show like The Honeymooners, we can see just have far we have come in terms of television and its respect for a gender that has been “othered” for so long, that being women. Alice Kramden, played by Audrey Meadows seemed to almost be the exception (at least in this episode) for most women at this period of television and can be described as very gutsy, especially next to her loud mouth husband, Ralph Kramden, played by Jackie Gleason. Alice is the typical housewife of the time, staying home to cook and clean as her husband tackled a job outside the home. They live in a 1950s Brooklyn apartment, even though we never really see the outside of their home. Ralph very much prides himself on being the “king of his castle,” leaving Alice to perform any of the house duties. By examining the Kramden lifestyle, we see that they were very much they typical family, and at the same time very far from the typical family. This is a post WWII era, where you have the picture-perfect family consisting of the breadwinning husband who makes all the rules and the housewife that is happy enough to get up and do the same thing- every single day of her existence. They don’t have any kids which was somewhat weird for a family at the time but like I said before the Kramdens may be a bit removed from typical- specifically because of Alice.
Alice does enough to play by the rules and do what she has to do as a wife but at the same time doesn’t always follow the rules of her husband, showing the audience that she has fight (something not very typical in a Post War 1950s America.) The clip starts out with Ralph walking into their apartment, when he later finds out that Alice hasn’t completed any of her chores for the day, like iron his shirt for his bowling tournament or make his supper. Alice responds to his uproar by just being defiant and saying that she didn’t feel like nor have the time to do the work. They both bicker back and forth and finally Alice challenges Ralph to do what was referred to as “woman’s work;” he refuses of course, because of his male pride, leading them to get a maid. Just by seeing this small 10-minute clip we see just how this patriarchal society was solidified in the idea that men could have a highly constructed identity, when the best a woman could hope for was to get married, possibly have kids and if not tend to her husband by comforting him and running to his every beck and call. Simply put the work of women, even though very important was never actually seen as heroic. Susan Douglas in her article titled, “Where the Girls Are” says this, “Rarely if ever, did they see any suggestion of the incessant, mundane, and often painful contortions of a woman’s daily life might, in fact, be heroic too. (44)” Years earlier during the World Wars Douglas also speaks to fact that while men were off fighting, women would step out of the home and find work manufacturing planes, ships, and ammo, but all of a sudden found themselves once again stuck in the home (46). By the end of the war women had realized how much they liked working outside of their homes, they liked the money, the autonomy, and 80 percent even wanted to continue working (46). Dreams of working outside the home at the time never really came to fruition because immediately during the post war era, women were initially told they were once again inferior to men and were made to feel like it as well (52).
This clip gave good implication of what American Television was accepting of at the time as well as what the audience was like at the time. I think that because this was the norm in society, American TV never really seen a problem to broadcast these same problems on sitcoms available to families at home and because TV had such a huge impact on the American Household I think that it also reinforced yet again that women should not be put on the same pedestal as men, in many ways it almost served as very blunt reminder because it was in your face almost every show. It also showed how very accepting the audience was of this sexism against women because the show went on to record 39 episodes over 1 season. The show didn’t have much longevity but was pushed enough to society where it received some credibility based on the show theme.
This clip proves to be very important because it shows us what we don’t want to ever go back to in terms of television. That was a very low point for women, in many ways because of the representation and how it was depicted to American society, making women out to be nothing more than a maid. It shows us the progress that we have made but also can show us what we still need to fix going forward even though we have made huge strides. I think it also shows us once again just how powerful American Television is to our world and the impact that it can have to either change us for the better or for the worse. As I mentioned earlier, by Alice standing up to Ralph she was the exception and Susan Douglas also adds to that by saying, “Whatever this category “woman” was, I didn’t want a big part of it since it meant you were torn in a million different directions and be ridiculed as dumb yet overbearing, incompetent, yet scheming and frivolous yet dangerous. Of course, there were always exceptions to every rule and that’s what I wanted to be, an exception (60). I think 1950s television taught women to be the exceptions to the stereotypes set against them especially on television.

Works Cited

Douglas, S. (1995). Mama Said. Where the Girls Are, 43-60. Retrieved February 28, 2017.

The Honeymooners - "A Woman's Work is Never Done" Excerpt

An excerpt from the "A Woman's Work is Never Done" episode of THE HONEYMOONERS

from The Honeymooners - "A Woman's Work is Never Done" (1955)
Creator: Jackie Gleason
Distributor: YouTube (User: Archaic TV)
Posted by Christine Becker