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TV History: I Love Lucy

by Christine Becker

This clip was uploaded for an assignment in Prof. Christine Becker's FTT 30461: History of Television class at the University of Notre Dame in Spring 2017. Check the commentary dropdown menu for a student's analysis of the clip.

Views of Women During the 1940s/1950s

by Jacqueline Marino

Following World War II, the sentiment with regards to women in the workplace had shifted. During the war, women were encouraged to work and fill the gap where the men previously were. However, this sentiment drastically shifted once the war ended and men returned home. According to the article “Where the Girls Are” by Susan Douglas, women in the late 1940s and early 1950s were discouraged from working and urged to return to their jobs within the home. In fact, there was an anti-feminist movement during this time, where being a feminist was “at its core a deep illness.” Douglas’ definition of feminist is, “…any women who thought there might be more to life than baking cookies and administering rectal thermometers…” (1995, 47). Advertisements bashing working mothers emerged, implying that children of working mothers will turn out “bad”. Specifically, they would turn into alcoholics, criminals and delinquents (1995, 48). There was a strong emphasis on women remaining in the home and caring for her family. However, on television in the late 1940s and 1950s, various female characters defied the compliant, womb-centered, housewife stereotype, one of which being Lucy Riccardo of "I Love Lucy" (1995, 50).
"I Love Lucy"  aired on CBS from 1951 to 1957 and centered around its main character, Lucy Riccardo. Lucy was happily married to her husband, Ricky, a singer/bandleader living in New York City.  Lucy was not the typical housewife and she challenged many social norms for women at the time. She was loud, domineering, and ambitious. According to Douglas in “Radio Comedy and Linguistic Slapstick”, Lucy used her face and body in slapstick enactments of the battle of the sexes. Furthermore, Lucy’s voice was very important as she was loud, not afraid to yell, and didn’t back away from verbal combat (1995, 50). This was uncharacteristic of women at the time. She often worked outside of the home, challenging the societal norm for women to stay in the house and tend to the children and the kitchen. As Susan Douglas mentions in “Where the Girls Are”, television wanted to contain and tame women who went against the social norm. Often at the end of episodes, women were happily tamed and returned to their normal housework. However, Lucy Riccardo was not one of those women. She constantly challenged the social norms, working outside of the home as well as failing at her duties inside of the home. “Women should not ‘argue about politics or religion,’ or be ‘good at cracking wise and making pointed remarks’” (1995, 53). Lucy was quite the opposite.
In this clip “I Love Pizza That’s Amore!”, Lucy is seen going against typical norms for women during the 1940s/1950s era. Lucy is working in a pizza restaurant. She is going against the norm of staying in the home by working outside and pictured to be serving men. It seems as if the roles are reversed- the woman is working and the man is not. However, she is not portrayed to be doing her job well. Lucy is seen struggling to make pizza properly and at a reasonable pace. Outside of the home, women were depicted to be out of their element and sub-par workers. Furthermore, this clip is ironic as women during the time were supposed to be good at cooking, however Lucy is clearly not. However, there is a distinction between cooking in the home and cooking outside of the home. Women were associated with cooking inside of the home, informal cooking for their families. On the other hand, men were associated with cooking outside of the home- in restaurants, a more professional setting. Men would cook for many people as a profession. Men were chefs, whereas women were not, they were merely ‘cooks’. In professional settings, men should be the ones in charge, and here we see just the opposite.  
The fact that Lucy was working outside of the home was typical for women at this time, however not typically depicted on television. Following the war, women were urged to stop working almost “nine seconds after the war ended” and let the men return to their jobs outside of the home (1995, 47). However, many women did not want to do so. They continued working, both because they liked the autonomy and because they needed to for financial reasons. There was a disconnect between what people were watching on television, the traditional women who were home: taking care of the kids, cooking supper, and doing the laundry, and what people were seeing in real life: women going to work, coming home late at night, and complaining. What was correct? Should all women be staying home or could they have everything, work and be good mothers? Could women have their cake and eat it too?
This clip of "I Love Lucy" confirms how people viewed women during the 1940s and 1950s. Women were meant to stay in the home and tend to their families, they were not meant to venture outside of the home. However, when and if they did, they performed their jobs poorly and made fools of themselves.

Work Cited Page:

Douglas, Susan J. "Mama Said." Where the Girls Are: Growing up Female with the Mass Media. New York: Random House, 1995. 43-60. Print.

Douglas, Susan J. "Radio Comedy and Linguistic Slapstick." Listening In: Radio and the American Imagination. Minneapolis: U of Minnesota, 2004. 100-23. Print.

"Visitor From Italy," I Love Lucy

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This is a clip from the I Love Lucy episode entitled "Visitor From Italy," which first aired on CBS on October 29, 1956.

from I Love Lucy (1956)
Creator: CBS; Director: James V. Kern, Writers: Madelyn Davis, Bob Carroll, Jr., Bob Schiller, and Bob Weiskopf
Distributor: Hulu
Posted by Christine Becker