Sunday, April 26, 2009
Bea Arthur Tribute: Maude's Dilemma Pioneered Reproductive Rights Before Roe V. Wade
Actress Bea Arthur passed away yesterday and many have mentioned her career as one of the premier comediennes of her generation. Many fondly recall the series Golden Girls from the 80's which was a definite precursor to Sex and the City. I still watch reruns from time to time and that show was very funny and ahead of its time. It also covered many issues around social justice before it became trendy i.e. "safe" to do.
Her earlier series from the 70's Maude isn't one that I recall in detail except that Esther Rolle was featured before her character was spun-off to the series Good Times. Yes, there was a time when Blacks used to count the other Black people on television because there were so few of us. Now the fact that so many women were playing maids is another story...
I do recall the episode that caused a lot of brouhaha back in the day. Bea played the title character where Maude has an unexpected pregnancy and debates whether or not to have an abortion. This character is middle-class and married but at the age of 47 doesn't want to raise a child. It actually aired before Roe v. Wade completed its course through the legal system and the creators took a chance on it passing. So it was ahead of its time and controversial.
You'd be hard-pressed to find a show today where the lead character decides whether or not she will have an abortion. The writers/producers almost always cop out and the woman has a miscarriage or almost loses the baby, has a change of heart and completes the pregnancy to term. It's not as if I'm advocating abortion, but it is a choice that's made by many women. Men who often are so resistant to the idea of having children don't take the steps they need to make sure they won't impregnate a woman by mistake. I'm certain it's a no-win situation for the woman but since the idea of motherhood is worshipped by so many, yet the quality of life for (poorer, non-white) children is so disdained it's not a surprise.
Now that the Dominican Republic has amended its constitution to outlaw ALL abortions it will be those least equipped to handle child-rearing, the poor as well as survivors of sexual abuse and rape who will pay the price. As always there's the element of personal responsibility for our choices and the consequences we may face when we make mistakes. Yet it goes without saying we're talking about women being left to shoulder the burden of them in these situations - usually alone.
This was a 2-part story arc which you can continue viewing here. There's been critical analysis of the impact of this storyline at The Beachwood Reporter. I'll let you view to find out what happens.