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Jennifer Keishin Armstrong grew up deep in the southwest suburbs of Chicago, then escaped to New York to live in a succession of very small apartments and write about pop culture. In the process, she became a feminist, a Buddhist, and the singer/guitarist in an amateur rock band. She also spent a decade on staff at Entertainment Weekly, cofounded, and now writes for several publications, including Women’s Health, Runner’s World, Writer’s Digest, Fast Company, and New York‘s Vulture. Her history of The Mary Tyler Moore Show, Mary and Lou and Rhoda and Ted, will be published by Simon & Schuster in 2013; her collaboration with Heather Wood Rudulph, Sexy Feminism, will be published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt in 2013. She is the author of the Why? Because We Still Like You, a history of the original Mickey Mouse Club published by Grand Central in 2010. She has provided pop culture commentary for CNN, VH1, A&E, and ABC, and teaches article writing and creative writing. Follow her on Twitter: @jmkarmstrong

The Mary Tyler Moore Show’s Feminist Struggle

Photo: AP Images

Jennifer Keishin Armstrong | Longreads | January 2017 | 8 minutes (1,800 words)


Mary Tyler Moore died this week at the age of 80, leaving what might be the most important feminist legacy in television history: Her Mary Richards, the main character on The Mary Tyler Moore Show, inspired generations of women just by being among the first single, professional, over-30 women depicted on TV when the show premiered in 1970. Her iconic beret toss and theme song—”you’re gonna make it after all!”—encapsulated the Women’s Lib moment perfectly. So perfectly, in fact, that Mary’s character was the subject of fierce debate among feminist leaders at the time. Like any “first” of an underrepresented group to break through in mainstream culture, Mary was attacked from all sides. While many male fans wrote letters voicing their disappointment when Mary stayed out all night on a date, feminist leaders voiced disappointment that Mary called her boss “Mr. Grant” while everyone else called him “Lou.” This conflict came to a head when one of the show’s co-creators, James L. Brooks, participated in a panel discussion at a women’s conference in 1975, as described in this excerpt from my book Mary and Lou and Rhoda and Ted, a history of the show. Read more…