Was Edith Bunker a Feminist?

Jeanne Murray, aka; Jean Stapleton, aka; Edith Bunker died yesterday. She was 90 years old. According to her son, John Putch, she died of natural causes, surrounded by her immediate family. Those of us who came of age during the 1970s, fondly remember watching the show All in the Family, for which she became famous.

From CNN:

The daughter of an opera singer and businessman, Stapleton grew up on Long Island and in New York City. It was there during the early 1940s, while working as a typist for the British War Ministry Office, that she began her career in theater.

She worked on Broadway, appearing in shows such as, Damn Yankees, Ring the Bells, and Funny Girl, and on TV shows like Dr. Kildare and Lux Video Theater, before landing her most famous role of the lovable, naive, beer fetching Edith.

I remember hearing criticism of the program for humanizing the bigotry of Archie. They also criticized Edith’s character because of her submissiveness to her husband. But those critics failed to recognize satire. This was, after all, the time of Gloria Steinem, bra burnings, Ms Magazine, NOW and protests for the ERA. To many of us here at Uppity’s Place…..The Good Old Days! Or to quote the show’s theme song; Those Were The Days!

Boy the way Glen Miller played, songs that made the hit parade, guys like us we had it made…..

Yes Archie was a guy. Guys had it made….and Archie liked it that way!

That was the point of the show, using Archie’s character to expose the soft bigotry of the time, with humor. As for Edith, Archie clearly loved her, but treated her like hired help. But we loved Edith too! At least, I know I did! Hearing Archie frequently call her “dingbat” and telling her to “Stifle!” and declaring an argument, “Case Closed” made me cringe! I wanted to *liberate* Edith! I wanted to liberate all women….especially myself!

…and you knew who you were then, girls were girls and men were men….

Yes, that was the point. Archie was struggling to come to terms with the changes he saw going on in society in the 70s. He didn’t want that kind of change, he, like Lou Dobbs and Erick Erickson of today, wanted to be the Dominant One! The Man of the House!

Erick and Lou having dinner.

What happened over the run of the program from 1971-1979, was a slow evolution of the characters, especially Edith. Edith began to become more assertive and independent. When she got a job, part-time outside the home as a caretaker for the Sunshine Home, I cheered her on!

Yea Edith! You go girl!!

The character Edith didn’t die yesterday, she “died” on the show in 1980. Stapleton wanted to pursue other projects. She played Eleanor Roosevelt in a made for TV movie, and later in a one woman show on Broadway.

But you know I’ve been wondering about something all day, in light of Uppity’s post on the neanderthal Erick Erickson and his views on women in the workplace. You know that pseudoscience invented by his own very manly cinnamon roll brain that says men are biologically predetermined to be the DOMINANT one in a marriage……I’ve been wondering what a 2013 Edith would say to Mr. Erickson. I think she might say something like this, “GO STIFLE YOURSELF!!!”

Was Edith Bunker a feminist? You tell me.
RIP Jean Stapleton.


29 Responses

  1. I loved Jean Stapleton. For a very long time, I wouldn’t watch All in the Family, just as I wouldn’t watch the Honeymooners and for the same reason – they portrayed people that I didn’t want to be around. Well, at least not the men. Later, when I looked beneath the surface, I realized what I had missed. 😦
    Jean Stapleton was wonderful (so was Audrey Meadows).
    But this is a time to say goodbye to Ms Stapleton.

    RIP Jean Stapleton

  2. imust ~ This was a wonderful tribute. Thank you for putting it together.

  3. Thanks leslie! And yes, there was a similarity with The Honeymooners. For the kiddies….The Flintstones too!

  4. I loved Jean Stapleton.a wonderful tribute Thanks. 🙂

  5. Yeah but alice knew Ralph was all bark and laughed at it. Ralph was NEVER in control.

  6. She whacked him good. Often.

  7. Yes I agree, imust did a great job on this. Thanks babe!

  8. leslie, honeymooners and All in the family wasn’t nearly as toxic as Married With Children. And once again, Al was NEVEr in control

  9. Well wasn’t that the theme of many 50s-60s shows? Donna Reed comes to mind. On the surface, her husband was the traditional Man of the House. But many episodes consisted of Donna schooling her teenage daughter on the fine art of getting what you want without upsetting the delicate male ego.

  10. Also, in the show, All in the Family, Edith’s daughter, Gloria, was the feminist. She was always trying to get her mom to stand up to Archie.

    **Check out about 7:50 on the video.…”Mike” the “progressive” gets asked by Gloria to help her argue with Archie about Women’s Equality. He refuses. When Gloria tells him that he stands up for equality in other groups…he says, “It’s not the same…I don’t believe women should open their mouth around the house!” Wow! Sound familiar?

  11. Upps, I saw one part of one episode of Married with Children and never looked back. I have so little time after work, that I don’t get caught up in much teevee. I think the last time I actually spent much time watching a series was West Wing and then only the first 4 seasons. (I ended up getting the entire series later on dvd and watched it when I had the flu.) I’m not boasting – just stating the facts of my life. I often don’t get home from work untl after 8:30 and now that I’m trying to remodel my 110 year old condo, I my computer is on more than my teevee.

  12. As smart as my parents were, they bickered and argued with each other more than anyone I ever knew. That is probably why I didn’t watch honeymooners and all in the family. It was too close to home – except for the ignorant prejudice of Archie. That never happened in my family.
    (BTW my mom was the one in charge here, too!)

  13. Of course Cousin Maude was also around to put Archie in his place:

  14. leslie, I NEVER watch sitcoms. I watched MWC after it went into syndication. I never saw an episode of seinfeld while it was running either. I just don’t get hooked on that stuff. Haven’t seen American Idol since “She Bangs”. But when I was younger, I did watch Archie and Edith.

  15. My dad loved the character Edith. Lovely post imust.

  16. I remember Gloria was my favorite character on AITF. But I also loved Edith and was infuriated with Archie. My mom loved AITF, one of her favorite shows. And we loved MASH, especially the first few years, it got sappy after that. But since the mid 70s, we’ve never watched any tv show with any regularity either. Also, did not watch Seinfeld when it was first run, that was a super busy decade for us. Caught some of them on syndication, but was never a devoted fan or anything.

  17. imust, this is a great tribute to Jean.

  18. Ah, I love Maude! The artist John Currin did a topless painting of her that Christies had up for auction recently.

  19. Great tribute imust.

    You know, if this show had come out in the last two decades, it would have been cancelled before anyone ever heard of it. They don’t give TV shows the kind of time to catch on that All in the Family got. And look at all the spin-offs: Maude, Good Times, The Jeffersons.

    I absolutely loved Maude!

  20. AITF would have been shut down now for other reasons too. Racism, sexism, homophobia. Did I miss anything?

  21. Silly Uppity. The sexism wouldn’t have shut the show down!

  22. oh yeah, that’s right.

  23. I lost my head. lol.

  24. Women don’t want equal pay according to republican congresscritterette:


  25. Well do they find these fucking ignorami that end up sitting their asses in congress? I mean you would think you would have to HUNT for morons like this.

  26. Great post Imust and ty. I loved watching AITF and identified with Glorias role most. Jean Stapleton did a fantastic job on it as well. The show I loved that Norman Lear did was All that glitters.
    Read the WKI on it if you never happened across it. I was so disappointed when they pulled it. It was a show where women ruled and men were sex objects and homemakers. It was absolutely hysterical. I think one can watch it on hulu. I swear by all that is holy all of you would get a kick out of it . Even God was female !

  27. Nice post imust!

  28. Marsha Blackburn is one of the most conservative members of the House. But here’s a suggestion: Since she voted against the Lily Ledbetter Act and the Paycheck Fairness Act, why don’t we just cut her congressional check by 19.1%?

  29. Completely agree! If a woman in congress thinks the rest of the women in America aren’t entitled to the same pay as the guy whose ass is in the seat next to her, then she isn’t entitled either. Cut her pay.

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