The Archetype of the Single City Girl (Ongoing)

During the tumultuous 1960s and 70s, America experienced a drastic ideological shift that moved previously underrepresented groups, including women and black Americans, to the forefront of social consciousness. There was an increasing conservative political presence in the government that was countered by liberal morals, and popular television simplified the tensions caused by the subsequent cultural contradictions. As a mediating agent between current events and the domestic space, television set forth to introduce the new American woman to the nation at large. Television helped create the archetype of the single city girl and was integral in popularizing the women’s movement by negotiating pre and post feminist ideologies. From Sally on The Dick Van Dyke Show to Laverne and Shirley, television introduced America, and American women, to single American womanhood, and solidified an archetype that is still present in American culture and in the expectations of young American women.

In 1960, the release of the birth control pill kicked off a new era of sexual identity and liberation. Two years later, Helen Gurley Brown published the seminal work, Sex and the Single Girl, a how-to guide for the interim phase between adolescence and marriage touting the lifestyle choices of a single woman in America. Women could follow Brown’s example and devote themselves to their own bodies, careers and leisure. In 1963, Betty Friedan’s, The Feminine Mystique was released, destroying the myth that most middle-class American women of the post-World War II generation were content with their roles as domesticated housewives. These books initiated an ideological shift, the Women’s Movement, which would continue to grow through the 1960s and 1970s.

During the Women’s Movement, television was forced to change. The top rated programs at the end of the 1950s were westerns and adventure programming including Gunsmoke, Rawhide and Bonanza. In 1961, FCC Chairman, Newton Minnow described television as a “vast wasteland,” referring primarily to the dominance of game shows, westerns and slapstick variety. Suburban housewives dominated representations of women and the programming was generally distanced from real world problems (Spangler). A decade later, this would all change.

Prior to 1963, female characters on television were limited, and often resigned to domestic duties. Single women were portrayed as desperately unhappy and constantly searching for a mate. This negative depiction of the single woman remained dominant until Brown’s Sex and the Single Girl, which proposed that the single woman was far more glamorous than her married counterparts and encouraged young women to embrace the time before marriage to explore and enjoy themselves. Brown’s book defined of the single American girl: content, even ecstatic, with her independent status.

The transition to feminist television began slowly at the start of the sixties. In 1961, Hazel debuted on NBC; It featured the family of a successful corporation lawyer and his housekeeper, Hazel, who “ran his home more efficiently than he ran his office” (Brooks 433). The show ranked fourth that season and ushered in a new woman on television: the subversive housewife. Through a variety of means, the subversive housewife managed to “smash the cult of domesticity,” humorously containing and subjugating female power while mocking the patriarchy (Spiegel). In Spiegel’s “From Domestic Space to Outer Space,” she outlines how programs like Bewitched and I Dream of Jeanie subvert the suburban family sitcom in a non-threatening manner by featuring powerful women who trade their powers for domestic bliss thereby superficially maintaining the patriarchal order. Despite being encouraged to abandon them, the women’s powers are required to save their husband (or master) from a foolish situation, often caused by the husband’s incompetence. Spangler defines the marriage roles on the show Bewitched, “she is a powerful, talented, modern woman and he is an egocentric, insecure, traditional man” (p 81). Looking back, these programs foreshadow the emergence of the powerful female protagonist in the 1970s.

Prior to 1963, female characters on television were limited, resigned to domestic duties. The Dick Van Dyke Show offered a tentative sketch of the single girl before Sex and the Single Girl. Sally, a close friend of the Petries, is placed in direct opposition with Laura, played by Mary Tyler Moore, the exemplary housewife of the early 1960s: intelligent, pretty and despite her potential, very excited to remain in the domestic role. Alternatively, Sally is the single career woman who is desperately unhappy with her single status. She reinforces the spinster stereotype that is pervasive through American culture by constantly searching for a mate. In one episode entitled “Dear Sally Rogers,” she delights audiences on a talk show when she advertises for a husband (Spangler 72). However, in other episodes, it is clear that she will not settle into just any marriage, a decisions that anticipates feminist ideology regarding personal choices around happiness and marriage. In a study conducted by Tedesco in 1974, he found that “marital status was portrayed as more crucial in the lives of women than of men in the world of television genre” (Gunter 9). Sally’s desperate search for a husband confirmed the social expectations of a single adult woman. Unfortunately, Sally is positioned as unfeminine and aggressive, reinforcing the idea that feminine behavior is the most successful method to acquiring a husband:

Some of the single men Sally encounters are emasculated by her verbal powers; others can only see her as a source of the valued commodity of humor. None can accept her as a woman.” (David Marc in Spangler 71)

This negative depiction of the single woman remained dominant until Brown’s Sex and the Single Girl, which proposed that the single woman was far more glamorous than her married counterparts and encouraged young women to embrace the time before marriage to explore and enjoy themselves. “Sex and the Single Girl offered tips on decorating, on making one’s way through more affluent social circles, and suggestion for looking stylish on a budget. Throughout its pages was the constant message: being single is fun, and there’s a whole world of men out there ready to flatter their dates” (St. James). Brown’s book introduced a new definition of the single American girl: content, even ecstatic, with her independent status. 

As if a direct response to Brown’s how-to guide, Peyton Place, the first prime time soap opera, debuted on ABC in 1964. It contrasted the lives of two women: Allison, a well mannered, girl next door, who chose to remain in the small New England town of Peyton Place while her friend Betty explored the single life in New York City. “Peyton Place focused on female sexuality outside marriage and its role in defining women’s identity and selfhood. Its narratives were thus widely interpreted as propaganda for the era’s fundamental social reorganization and critiqued for their role in the erosion of moral propriety.” (Luckett 75)

The themes of Peyton Place were consistent with the changing culture. The program questioned taboos regarding sex and exposed the domestic frustrations of women. It juxtaposed the lifestyle options of women in postwar America, the single city girl vs. the happy chaste wife-to-be, although neither role results in unmitigated happiness. “Betty’s errant sexual behavior… ironically resulted from her hunger for a traditional marriage, whereas Allison’s fragility belied her desire to become a successful professional writer” (Luckett). The two main characters served as the dominant life choices for women in the early sixties and the program went to great lengths to juxtapose and compare their lives for judgment by the audience.

As the first program to feature the single city girl, Peyton Place established the new single city girl myth: a young woman moving to the big city looking for freedom, and adventures unfettered by social and moral restrictions. The scenes in NY are lavish, featuring shopping, dinner parties, and nights on the town with exciting men. The viewer is encouraged to identify with Betty’s gaze and desire for this life. In the midst of the gaiety described, the show ensures pre-feminist ideologies by contrasting material pleasure with emotional security. The single city life is buffered by urban problems from women being murdered in their sleep to the cost of living to a dearth of good men. Above all, the narratives of Peyton Place emphasize the loss of camaraderie and community in the big city, emphasizing Betty’s unhappiness until she finds a wealthy female companion. The program contrasts domestic and economic restrictions between New York and Peyton Place, offering a cautionary message suggesting that young viewers had better stay at home if they want real freedom (Luckett). Like the subversive housewife, this early incarnation of the single city girl was forced to curtail her life to traditional ideologies.

Peyton Place was one of the first programs to negotiate the confusing terrain of the emerging feminist ideologies. Its popularity suggests that conventional representations of female characters as serene, self-sacrificing homemakers, dutiful daughters, or one-dimensional sex symbols were out of touch with contemporary women’s fantasies (Luckett). It also embraced certain pre-feminist storylines that feature sexually forceful women as the source of society’s disorder. According to genre conventions, Betty enters America’s consciousness as a troublemaking harlot, but the producers could sidestep the effects of her sexual encounters on the rest of the cast by moving her to the city and emphasizing her consumer lifestyle filled with high-class leisure. Peyton Place served as a bridge between two ideologies, pre and post feminist America. It shifted the terrain to examine the equally pivotal differences involved in the period’s struggle of definitions of femininity. This duplicity is pervasive throughout feminist programming thereby confirming television as the national mediator. The show experienced a drop in ratings after Mia Farrow (Allison) quit, but continued to run until 1969. By the end of the decade, the scandals and sins that had established Peyton Place as a risqué late night soap opera were outmoded.

Picking up on the positive qualities of the single city girl from Peyton Place, That Girl debuted in 1966 on ABC. Initiated, co-produced, and based upon the life of Marlo Thomas (daughter of Danny Thomas, a successful producer and entertainer), it featured a young, attractive, aspiring actress named Ann Marie. It is rumored that Thomas approached David Scherick, the head of ABC, with a copy of The Feminine Mystique and demanded he read it. She claimed that the book described what millions of women were going through and in order to reach them “you need to tell this” (Spangler 87). The project was approved and two writers from The Dick Van Dyke Show were hired. Thomas was assigned the title of ‘series producer,’ to ensure continuity of the program as she began to conceptualize this new single woman.

That Girl featured Ann Marie, “a high-spirited young actress who had left the comfort of her parents’ home in rural Brewster, New York, to build a career in the big city” (Brooks 1013). The program ushered in new representations of feminism including lifestyle and careerist feminism, both of which would be fully developed with The Mary Tyler Moore Show. Lifestyle feminism highlights personal choices of women over the radical reformist demands of political feminism. Included in this general heading, careerist feminism emphasizes career over marriage: Ann Marie’s priorities resided in her career and making something for herself; marriage was secondary.

That Girl catered to pre-feminist ideologies in order to maintain a likeable character and avoid offending the audience. On the surface she was an independent woman, but often received help or support from the major male figures in her life including her father and her regular boyfriend, Donald. Although Ann Marie’s dating life was one of the show’s central themes, a steady boyfriend was half of the show’s success. The relationship between Ann Marie and Donald was a 1950s fantasy with a liberated twist, “Their fights are believable, but the chasteness of their relationship is not. During the time of a so-called sexual revolution spurred by the availability of birth control pills, Donald is show at the end of their dates, after just a few kisses, to leave her apartment” (Spangler 89). That Girl may have helped initiate feminist television, but it was forced to cater to existing standards appropriate behavior. “Television’s version of feminism in That Girl period consists in a particular intertwining of new and traditional female qualities which seems to have particularly appealed to some women, satisfying both newly inculcated feminist desires and the attempt to live up to aspects of an older female ideal”(Press 78).

Her construction of the new single city girl depended heavily on Helen Gurley Brown’s newest publication, Cosmopolitan magazine. In early 1965, Brown was hired by the Hearst Corporation to revitalize the failing magazine in its attempt to target single, fun-loving women as its readership. It now expanded on the topics addressed in Sex and the Single Girl, offering more tips on dating, fashion, sex, and so on. The magazine became a print resource for the single girl and That Girl offered the televisual supplement.

The show defined the visual aesthetic of the single city lifestyle. Thomas insisted that Ann Marie be attractive and fashionable. Despite living on a sporadic paycheck, she possessed a closet filled with the latest styles and flawless makeup morning, noon and night. “Lead character Ann Marie is praised for her independence, good looks, and generally glamorous lifestyle. It is interesting that in these descriptions, qualities that could be termed “feminist,” such as independence, are juxtaposed with more traditional female qualities like attractiveness and glamour” (Press 78). She became the pinnacle of femininity while representing the women’s movement. This balance made That Girl a hit with audiences across the country. Together, Ann Marie, Helen Gurley Brown and Gloria Steinem managed to turn the American unmarried woman from a “spinster” to a “single girl,” and created the image of a beautiful, glamorous woman who did not want for a husband.

“Renowned feminist Gloria Steinem said it’s clear the series was influential ‘because young women wrote her [Marlo Thomas] with enormous gratitude. The saw possibilities for themselves besides immediate marriage or staying home with their parents, which had not been on TV before.’ The show received between 3,000 and 5,000 letters per week with many of them asking MT/AM for advice on serious problems.” (Spangler 90)

If Ann Marie opened the door for the new single city girl, then Mary Richards walked through (Spangler 91). In 1970, The Mary Tyler Moore Show debuted on CBS and became the ultimate definition of the new liberated woman. Smart, witty and career driven, Mary Richards resolved representational contradictions to create the perfect embodiment of new feminist values. After ending a two-year relationship with her boyfriend (because of his commitment issues), thirty-year-old Mary Richards moves to Milwaukee, is hired as associate producer at a local news channel, and settles into a new life. At the end of the first episode, her ex-boyfriend returns, hoping for reconciliation. Faced with her first decision as an independent, liberated woman, she refuses him, choosing the life of the single city girl and defining the direction of the program for the next seven years.

Mary Richards is situated against the grain of all existing stereotypes of women on television (Dow): she is single by choice, over thirty without being a widow or a nurse and is self-sufficient. Unlike Ann Marie, she does not turn to Daddy for assistance, nor does she have a steady boyfriend. Rather, The Mary Tyler Moore Show focuses on the interactions in the workplace and within her building over relationships with men. Her decisions are personal, not political, emphasizing liberal lifestyle feminism over reformist ideologies. “Although Mary Tyler Moore offers an alternative to traditional womanhood, it does so without an explicit critique of the problems of traditional womanhood. Feminism becomes a matter of lifestyle choice, not systemic oppression or social transformation” (Spangler 111). The Mary Tyler Moore Show was the first sitcom to assert that work was not just a prelude to or a substitute for marriage; rather, a career was the center of a satisfying life. Mary took pride in her work at WMJ-TV News and depended heavily on her workplace family. By softening the firm ideals of the Women’s Movement, Mary Tyler Moore managed to popularize the cause.

Although the show received relative creative freedom (it was one if the first shows not to require a pilot – Feuer), The Mary Tyler Moore Show debuted in a culture still holding onto pre-feminist ideologies. Originally written as a divorcee, Mary Richards was changed to a single woman for multiple reasons: the network executives wanted to avoid the connotation of Mary divorcing Rob Petrie in her forming life on The Dick Van Dyke Show and they felt that the nation was not ready to foreground a divorcee in 1970. The narratives of The Mary Tyler Moore Show were steeped in sexism, conscious of the environment of most young liberal women, but Mary met every misogynistic comment with a smile and a witty remark. She was “sophisticated enough to recognize sexism, [but] not assertive enough to do anything” (Dow 47). In the first episode, her new boss, Lou Grant, hires Mary after an inappropriate interrogation, demanding to know her marital status, age, and religion.

In the office, she is constantly referred to as the token woman, and assumes a motherly role. She alternatively plays wife and daughter to her boss, whom she refers to as “Mr. Grant” while the rest of the office calls him “Lou.” She is always emotionally available to her coworkers in the time of need and facilitates social interactions outside the workplace at her apartment. “The [sitcom] genre adjusted to a new location (the workplace) and to a new kind of character (the careerist woman) and then proceeded to slot these new elements into familiar structures (the family) and role expectations (the accessible, nurturing, submissive woman). In this process, the feminist challenged posted by Mary Richards is contained and made less threatening to audiences who have palpable fears about what women’s liberation might mean” (Dow 45). Mary’s role as mother, wife and daughter is contextually supported by her original role as the exemplary housewife on The Dick Van Dyke Show. The constant echo of Mary-as-mother continues the balancing act of feminist television: desperate to change representations of women but fearful of losing the mass audience.

Many of the show’s spin-offs achieved various levels of success. Programs such as Phyllis and Rhoda continued the reign of The Mary Tyler Moore Show and the new single woman. Phyllis (CBS 1975-77) featured Mary’s landlord, recently widowed and a single mother who moved in with her scatterbrained mother-in-law. Alternatively, Rhoda (CBS 1974-1978) followed Mary’s neighbor as she fell in love and got married. The show suffered a ratings drop and two seasons later, Rhoda separated from her husband and the show returned to the single girl lifestyle and a higher share in the ratings.

At the end of the 1960s, the Women’s Movement began to gain momentum. In 1966, the National Organization of Women (NOW) began, headed by Betty Friedan, which centralized political activists. In 1968, feminists stormed Atlantic City to protest the Miss America Pageant; the event received heavy media coverage and helped kick off the Women’s Movement. By 1970, the goals and ideology of feminism was spread nationwide and the print coverage regarding the movement was sympathetic and accurate (Dow). The Mary Tyler Moore Show ran from 1970-77 and helped to define a decade rife with cultural and political turmoil. While the nation still grappled internationally and domestically with the Vietnam War, the Civil Rights Movement was forcing major political actions including the Supreme Court decision in 1971 to uphold the 1964 Civil Rights Act, Congress approving the Equal Rights Amendment in 1972 and Roe v. Wade in 1973, which guaranteed a woman’s right to choose to have an abortion. Feminist was a household term and Mary Richards embodied it.

Imbedded in these changes, Ms. Magazine (Gloria Steinem) emerged in 1972 and changed the way women viewed themselves; concurrently, politically conscious programming changed the way Americans looked at the world. These programs included M.A.S.H., All in the Family and its multiple spin-offs. Maude premiered on CBS in 1972, a popular spin-off of All in the Family, featuring Edith Bunker’s outspoken cousin, Maude, her husband, their 29-year-old divorced daughter and her nine-year-old son. The show dealt with such subjects as politics, abortion and menopause. Even though network executives were not ready to foreground a divorced woman in 1970, the culture had changed so drastically that it was acceptable in 1972.

By the late 1970s, the single city girl was an established image in America, and television began to diversify the environment of this genre. Laverne & Shirley premiered in ABC in 1976. This 1950s era show produced by Gary Marshall featured two single, working class girls full of ambition living together in Milwaukee. A combination of The Odd Couple and I Love Lucy, the two possessed conflicting personalities and a common tendency to arrive in the most ridiculous of situations. Echoing the duality of Peyton Place, Laverne was the audacious party girl, while Shirley was determined to remain a virgin until marriage. Although both actively dated men, the storylines focused primarily on the relationship between the two women. The characters were not questioned as to their status as two single girls living in the city alone in the 50s, or their divergent lifestyle choices. “In one episode, Laverne has morning sickness after a party, making her wonder if she is pregnant” (Spangler 134). The single city girl became so commonplace by the late 70s that it allowed the stereotype to exist free of temporal socio-cultural barriers.

The cultural shifts in the 60s and 70s were drastic, but there were a variety of other pressures, primarily changes in the television industry, that caused this surge of “quality programming” in the early 1970s. In 1961, Newton Minnow described television as a ‘vast wasteland,’ a terrain containing stereotypical images of housewives and cowboys sprinkled with quiz shows and slapstick variety. Audiences were seen as an undifferentiated mass, composed of men, women and children, and programming catered to these narrow definitions. The theory of “Least Objectionable Programming” drove the industry, creating mediocre, non-offensive shows to appeal to the widest audience. Women were seen as wives and mothers, whose primary interest (and function) was within the domestic domain. “Daytime TV had for years organized its fiction, formats and commercial advertisements around a homogenous group defined as female married and house bound” (Rabinovitz). They were the primary spenders in the home and television catered specifically to this consumer-based ideal.

A second programming theory appeared at the end of the 1960s that addressed a quality audience, composed of fewer but more specialized viewers. Advertisers could now pay less for a specific audience, leading to a change in programming that spoke to individual segments of the population. A.C. Nielsen overhauled a system that had been in place since 1938, before the popularization of the television set. This outmoded audience consisted of a fixed sample of 1,200 households that was originally based on radio homes, not television households (Meehan – Why we don’t count 74). In 1970, the ratings giant announced that it would replace these radio homes with a younger and more urban audience, thereby changing the commodity audience and initiating a series of youthful protagonists dealing with modern problems in urban settings. These changes resulted in television’s “Year of Relevance” (Barnouw); political satire found a place in American sensibilities and popular culture (MacDonald).

CBS dominated the new urban commodity audience with programs such as The Mary Tyler Moore Show, All in the Family, their spin-offs and M.A.S.H. This dominance arose from a demand to recoup losses suffered by an FCC decision to standardize towards RCA/NBC television sets, NBC’s emphasis on CBS’ “geriatric and rube” audience (evidenced in programs such as Hee Haw and Green Acres) and the subsequent talent raid of NBC (Meehan – Critical Theorizing). By taking a chance on Mary Tyler Moore and a young producer named Norman Lear, CBS managed to co-opt the top rated spot from NBC in 1971.

Networks also began to differentiate their shows from competing programming. When That Girl premiered in 1966 on ABC, the parallel programs were the CBS Thursday Night Movie and The Hero on NBC, a sitcom about a television western star that only lasted two seasons. That Girl clearly stood out from other Thursday night shows. This “counter-programming” flipped genres in order to disrupt their rivals’ flow (MacDonald) while maintaining the desired audience. That Girl followed Bewitched, maintaining an audience of young women intrigued by ideas of independence. Together, the programs appealed to domestic (consumers in the house wares market) and independent (consumers in the fashion and culture market) women, a demographic lost on the other networks. According to Raymond Williams’ ideas of flow, which address network’s methodology in maintaining an audience over time, the union of these programs and their counter-programming led to a successful Thursday night lineup attractive to women of all political beliefs.

The consciousness of the television industry was raised because of the high ratings of “primetime feminism” (Spangler). The transformation of women’s’ liberation into a lifestyle or a set of attitudes was aided by the growth of the single-woman market and by the appearance of pop culture heroines who could symbolize the meaning of liberation (Dow). “Urban women between 18-35 were the top spending group, they served to legitimize ‘women’s issues’ as a relevant topic in television series” (Spangler 109). Once again, television’s innovation is confused with its lust for ratings; the independent woman was a burgeoning market, one that was ready and willing to spend money on maintaining an image that television established.

Television has drastically changed our perceptions of the world and ourselves. In the 1960s and 70s, it served to mediate the cultural shifts occurring for a national audience. Change dominated the east and west coasts as well as the south, but television and other media brought the fight to every community in the nation. “When sitcom brings social issues into the family, it personalizes them, making them the problems of individual characters rather than tying them to structural and political circumstances… The feminist sitcom helps construct powerful everyday knowledge about political and cultural feminism” (Dow 27). Prime time programming introduced a new single city girl lifestyle and explained the effect that the women’s movement was having on America’s sisters and daughters.

To emphasize the importance of television images on self-identification, several studies were conducted to assess the representation of women on television. Initiated in the 1970s, these studies generate an objective quantification of qualitative cultural phenomenon. In 1974, Manes and Melnyk compared female models at four levels of achievement and showed that only those models at the lowest level of achievement were depicted as having successful social relations with men (Gunter 12). In the three years following this study, Greenberg, Richards and Henderson conducted an analysis of female characters and discovered that women were portrayed as needing emotional support more often than men (Gunter 18). These studies confirm the need for diverse images of women on television. Although conducted after the surge of feminist programming, the prevalence of female characters dependent on men surpasses the few token characters that are delineated in this analysis.

Self-identification and stereotypes are dependent on our surroundings. Television functions as a window to the rest of the community and its representation of a group usually defines the expectations of members and non-members regarding that group. The representation of the emotionally content, single city girl on television helped refute the pervasive images of an unhappy workingwoman cited in the studies above. Evident in letters to Marlo Thomas (sometimes addressed to Ann Marie), women turned to their televisual counterparts for advice on how to dress, walk, talk and behave in a new world of female liberation. These changes were necessary for American women to develop as independent entities, with or without marriage.

Although the positive intentions of bringing a mediated version of reality to the masses, socially-conscious programming fails to develop and describe the actual problems encountered in this chaotic environment. NBC’s Julia (1968-1971) serves as a prime example. One of the first sitcoms to feature a black female protagonist, Julia was a widowed nurse struggling to raise her son in a culture of racism and sexism, both of which she encounters as a “beautiful negro” looking for work. Unfortunately, instead of dealing with one subject well (as was the privilege of the single white city girls), it covered many topics superficially, with a closer focus on racism. The show was chastised for its misrepresentation of most single black mothers in America; “Racial difference was acknowledged readily in different scenes, but racism was not serious threat to Julia” (Spangler 92). The small family lived in an integrated, middle-class neighborhood and avoided many of the issues present to most blacks.

In Bodroghkozy’s analysis of Julia, she claims that the series was not as sensitive to women’s issues as it was to racist issues. The show debuted in 1968, before the major surge in the Women’s Movement, and therefore did not have to contend with catering to feminists.

“One might expect that a program dealing with a working woman’s attempts to raise her child alone would open a space for questioning sexual inequality… while racist depictions of blacks were being questioned, sexist portrayals of women were not. The show and its creators seemed as blithely unconscious in their portrayal of women as they were self-conscious in their portrayal of blacks.” (Bodroghkozy 146)

This complaint is often present in shows that tackle pressing social issues; one program or person becomes responsible for an entire movement and is derided for not covering every aspect of the cause. Julia occupied an important role in the civil rights movement and media history by offering the first black female protagonist on television, but was incapable of dealing with the massive cultural contradictions that exist in the reality of single black women. Note that there are no single black city girls, this trend continues for many years. A regular complaint of the women’s movement is that it assumes all women are equal, neglecting the specific plights of black women, while the civil rights movement emphasized the experience of black men. Black women become a lost group during this time, a point enhanced by their absence from television. 

Unfortunately, even with the most influential feminist programs, social issues are co-opted in order to present a television-friendly (read: consumer-friendly) representation of reality. In the case of The Mary Tyler Moore Show, sexism became integrated into everyday life, and Mary humorously brushed it off. Her experience of sexism was just short of harassment, therefore, the political issues of objectification in the workplace became a recurring joke. She was never overtly offended or incapable of standing her ground with comic style. She presented “fantasy solutions to pressing problems” (Press) which rubbed many feminists the wrong way, but they could not deny the powerful effect of the program on American sensibilities.

Several studies emphasize the importance of television images on self-identification. In 1974, Manes and Melnyk compared female models at four levels of achievement and showed that only those models at the lowest level of achievement were depicted as having successful social relations with men. Almost 30 years later, Signorelli & Morgan found that heavy female viewers reported a greater desire to get married younger, have children earlier in life and have high career expectations (2001). Despite the fact that these studies were conducted after the surge of feminist programming, the prevalence of female characters dependent on men continue to surpass the token characters delineated in this analysis, and marriage is still heralded as the culmination of any successful woman’s life. This irony is embraced weekly by Tina Fey’s character on NBC’s 30 Rock, who cannot achieve satisfaction from career alone. Television programs were integral in mediating the changing American woman during the Woman’s Movement and in doing so, it created an image of the single city girl – a vivacious, attractive, ambitious young woman living for herself in the big city – that is still present and impactful in the new millennium. In 2010, Sex and the City 2, the most recent element in one of the most successful single city girl franchises, grossed over $95 million in the United States alone, demonstrating that Carrie Bradshaw can have it all: the fabulous, fashionable single life, the man of her dreams, and successful subsequent movie deals.

Romance is a reward for, but secondary to, perfecting oneself.” –Helen Gurley Brown


Barnouw, Erik. 1991. Tube of Plenty. 2nd ed. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Brooks, Tim; Marsh, Earl. 1999. The Complete Directory to Prime Time network and Cable TV Shows; 1946-Present. 7th Ed. ed. New York: Ballantine Books.

Dow, Bonnie J. 1996. Prime Time Feminism: Television, Media Culture, and the Women’s Movement since 1970. Philidelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press.

Feuer, Jane. 1990. MTM Enterprises: An Overview. In CTCS 504 READER.

Gunter, Barrie. 1986. Television and Sex Role Stereotyping, Television Research Monograph. London: John Libbey & Company Ltd.

Joyrich, Lynne. 1996. Re-viewing reception: television, gender, and postmodern culture. Vol. 18, Theories of Contemporary Culture. Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press.

Luckett, Moya. 1999. A Moral Crisis in Prime Time: Peyton Place and the Rise of the Single Girl. In Television HIstory and American Culture, edited by M. B. Haralovich, Rabinovitz, L.: Duke University Press.

MacDonald, J.F. 1990. One Nation Under Television; The Rise and Decline of Network TV. Chicago, IL: Nelson Hall Publishers.

Meehan, Eileen. Critical Theorizing on Broadcast History. CTCS 504 READER.

Meehan, Eileen. Why We Don’t Count: the Commodity Audience. In CTCS 504 READER.

Press, Andrea L. 1991. Women Watching Television. Philidelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press.

Rabinovitz, Lauren. 1999. Ms. Representation: The Politics of Feminist Sitcoms. In Television, History and American Culture, edited by M. B. Haralovich, Rabinovitz, L.: Duke University Press.

Spangler, Lynn C. 2003. Television Women from Lucy to “Friends”. Westport, CT: Praeger Publishers.

Spigel, Lynn. From Domestic Space to Outer Space: The 1960s Fantastic Family Sit-Com. In CTCS 504 READER.

Stoessl. 1987. Women as TV Audience: A Marketing Perspective. In Boxed In: Women and Television, edited by H. Baehr, Dyer, G., Dyer, G.: Unwin Hyman.

About charisselpree

The Media Made Me Crazy
This entry was posted in Advanced Work in Media Studies, Research and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to The Archetype of the Single City Girl (Ongoing)

  1. Pingback: Mary Tyler Moore: The Exemplary Disruption of the Single City Girl now available at | Charisse L'Pree, Ph.D.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s