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How The Golden Girls Shaped My Feminism

How <i>The Golden Girls</i> Shaped My Feminism

A child of the ′80s, I grew up watching TV shows like Murder She Wrote and Love Boat. Living with my grandparents for six years clearly influenced my television viewing habits! My favorite series of my childhood—and still one of my absolute favorites as an adult—was The Golden Girls.

I didn’t realize at the time that The Golden Girls was such a cutting-edge show. It’s not often that a movie or a TV series focuses solely on female characters. It’s even more rare when those women are over the age of 50. As it followed the lives of four single, female friends living together in Miami, The Golden Girls showed us that grandmothers are sharp, funny and sexy, that they still have goals and dreams. It forever shaped the way I view women, particularly older women.

The show was created by Susan Harris, and the series’ quartet featured smart, sarcastic Dorothy (Bea Arthur), sexy, feisty Blanche (Rue McClanahan), sweet, clueless Rose (Betty White), and sharp, jaded Sophia (Estelle Getty). These women formed a tight-knit family. They teased one another and supported each other through tough times, all while gossiping and eating cheesecake. (Sidebar: it was great to see women unabashedly eat on-screen.) Dorothy, a bibliophile with her witty quips and shrewd outlook on life, was the one I could identify with most. But the show gave equal time to delve into each woman’s life and her perspective.

The Golden Girls was ahead of its time. To this day, we rarely see female actors over the age of 50 portraying characters who embrace and own their sexuality. Reduced to our appearances, women are told time and again that beauty, youth and thinness determine our worth. And so in our youth-obsessed society, it’s revolutionary to see women over 50 on-screen as beautiful, vivacious and sexual. 

A groundbreaking show, it dealt with issues such as safe sex, ageism, sexism, mental illness, domestic violence, interracial relationships, homelessness, HIV/AIDS, LGBT rights, immigration and animal rights. Yet it was equally revolutionary for focusing on women and their friendships. 

The Golden Girls paved the way for TV series like Sex and the City (even down to conversations at the diner, echoing The Golden Girls late-night cheesecake chats), Living Single, Girlfriends, Designing Women, and Girls. While it might be easy to brush off the four women as caricatures or archetypes, each role was nuanced and complex. 

The women cared about their careers and volunteered in their communities. They talked about current affairs, social issues, motherhood, family, their aspirations and goals. They swapped stories on dating, marriage and sex. But they were never defined by their love interests. They defined themselves.

The Golden Girls reinforced the importance of women’s opinions, that their lives and stories matter even as they grow older. It highlighted the value of female friendship, proving that women’s lives don’t revolve around men. It showcased social justice, conveyed the detriments of patriarchy and proved that women don’t have to abide by confining, stereotypical gender or age roles. It taught me that it’s never too late to start over. You’re never too old to live the life you wish or to forge new friendships.

So Dorothy, Blanche, Rose and Sophia…thank you for being friends to us all.  

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Tags:   living arrangements    media    myths and stereotypes 

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Our Mission

The Silver Century Foundation promotes a positive view of aging. The Foundation challenges entrenched and harmful stereotypes, encourages dialogue between generations, advocates planning for the second half of life, and raises awareness to educate and inspire everyone to live long, healthy, empowered lives.

Notable Quote

"It is not by muscle, speed, or physical dexterity that great things are achieved, but by reflection, force of character, and judgment; in these qualities old age is usually not poorer, but is even richer."

Cicero (106-43 BC)

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