I happened to be listening to NPR’s Fresh Air with Terry Gross today, when her guest, songwriter Mark Mulcahy, busted into a kick-ass version of the theme song for the 1970s sitcom Maude. As I listened, I realized what a cool feminist anthem it is:
And then There’s Maude, by Marilyn & Alan Bergman and Dave Grusin
Lady Godiva was a freedom rider.
She didn’t care if the whole world looked.
Joan of Arc with the Lord to guide her.
She was a sister who really cooked.
Isadora was the first bra burner,
And you’re glad she showed up. (Oh yeah)
And when the country was falling apart,
Betsy Ross got it all sewed up.
And then there’s Maude (repeats several times)
And then there’s…
that old compromisin’, enterprisin’, anything but tranquilizing, right-on Maude!
It got me thinking about actress Bea Arthur as Maude and what a unique role model she was for a nine-year-old girl. That’s how old I was when the show came out. Back then, I watched it because my grand-mom watched it. It wasn’t a hard sell; I loved it. By the time I was 15, both Maude and Mary Tyler Moore had immersed me in two beliefs: 1) women are smart, strong, independent people who can achieve almost anything they set their minds to, even though it isn’t always easy, and 2) women are just as funny as men. Because I was so young, at first I had only a vague notion that this kind of thinking was new.
A couple of years ago, I gave a talk about my world travels to an audience of some 300 women, most of them retired professionals around my mother’s age or older. I was intimidated by the size of the crowd, and in my nervousness wandered off topic a bit. It seemed to me I spent an inordinate amount of time talking about living with an abusive boyfriend before I became a TV reporter in Alaska, and then an inordinate amount of time talking about my relationships with alcoholics before I went on a trek around the world alone—leaving myself little time to talk about the travel itself. I worried I’d let the audience down. But afterward, one woman told me something like this:
“The women here really needed to hear your story. Many of them married the nice boy in the suit and got stuck. They fought so that you could do all that you do. And I know it means a lot to them to know that they succeeded.”
As her meaning sank in, it was difficult not to cry. I had not failed them, and they had not failed me. We’d given each other a gift.
My mother ran away from home when she was 14, to escape a terrifying father. She spent years working her way up in a man’s world to become an executive secretary, getting her start during the days when jobs were still advertised “woman wanted” or “man wanted.” Though we still have a long way to go, I never had to deal with that, thanks to my Grand-mom, my mother, those 300 women, Mary Tyler Moore…and then there’s Maude!