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.

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Khadija said...

Hello there, Faith!

I remember that I really liked the "Maude" character and show even though I was too young to understand the nuances of what was going on. [I recall the All In The Family episode where Edith's cousin Maude visited and told Archie off. Big time. It was hilarious.]

This really speaks to how the quality of tv has drastically declined over the decades. I remember enjoying the spin-off from the Mary Tyler Moore Show comedy---the crusading reporter drama "Lou Grant."I would add journalism to that overall Great Decline also. Nobody seems to do investigative reporting anymore. And the few working journalists who do engage in that seem to date back to the Watergate era.

What's even scarier to me is that we now have several generations of people who don't remember these things. They really don't know that things were not always as they are right now. {sigh}

Peace, blessings and solidarity.

Faith at Acts of Faith Blog said...

Good Afternoon Khadija: You bring up some really interesting nuances to this conversation! You're absolutely correct that the quality of all entertainment - and journalism - has declined. It's why the newspapers are stumbling (and the karma of hiring discrimination). I can watch All in the Family and still find the humor. Who knew a show about a "lovable" bigot would provide many teachable moments? Much more so than what's on today.

Renee said...

I didn't see that episode when it originally aired but caught it in rerun. It always stayed with me. Maude was so ahead of its time. Bea Arthur always played roles of strong women and her voice will be missed. The laughter that she gave the world will not seen be forgotten.

Faith at Acts of Faith Blog said...

Renee: Yeah she also challenged the image of women who weren't disposable sex pots. I always wondered if she was lesbian and that may seem "unenlightened" of me but I specifically remember thinking this as a kid because I knew she didn't conform to what was "acceptable" femininity.