Since the 1950s, sitcoms have gone through a lot of changes, especially regarding the role of women. There also have been shifts in the relationship between men and women in sitcoms. In the 50s sitcom, women almost always portrayed particular stereotypes. They were the other-half to their husbands: the quiet housewife or the one who had to clean up her husband’s messes (literally and figuratively). She was there to emphasize the husband’s role as the head of the family. The husband, also the father figure, was the voice of reason and the one who made the rules. The classic example of this is June Cleaver and her husband, Ward Cleaver from “Leave it to Beaver.” June was the typical housewife. She cooked, baked, cleaned, and gardened. She was the mother and wife. Ward, on the other hand, had a good job that earned enough money to support the family.
There were shows like “I Love Lucy,” though, that portrayed women as more of the clown or fool. “I Love Lucy” was also one of the first shows to have the lead woman as the protagonist. Lucy Ricardo is a different type of housewife. She’s tired of her tedious life and is always trying to join Ricky, her husband, in performing. Either she’s trying to perform or she’s trying to work out of the house in other odd jobs. Her schemes never work, though, which provides the comedic elements of the show. Lucy is always getting herself into trouble and Ethel, her best friend, always has to get her out of it. Lucy doesn’t want to be the typical housewife, she wants her own career, but she can never fully achieve her goal, placing her back in the domestic role.
In the 70s, however, the role of women in sitcoms started to shift. In 1970, “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” first aired. Unlike June Cleaver and Lucy Ricardo, Mary was an independent woman who had broken off her engagement (and is therefore—obviously–a single woman) and moved to Minneapolis in order to make it on her own. Not only is the female role different in “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” but the setting is also different. The setting has shifted from the family space, the home, to the workplace. The sitcom aims to show that a woman doesn’t need to find a husband and take on the role of dutiful wife and mother. Women have more options. They could get a job and be single, forming familial bonds with friends and co-workers who become like a surrogate family.
In the 80s, the sitcom shifted back to the family space but with more independent female characters. Then in the 90s and 2000s, there was more of a variety of female characters (a variety that started in the 80s). Shows like “Friends” and “Sex and the City” portray a bunch of different female roles. The promiscuous one, the quirky one, the perpetual bachelorette, the high-powered workaholic, and more. Men become more like accessories on these shows, only there to help enhance the female role. There has been a shift in the role of women in sitcoms since the 50s: the domestic space to the workplace, the wife and mother to the single career woman.