Back before TV islands were for getting voted off, Gilligan and his motley crew of sitcom sailors dominated ’60s primetime TV and therefore contributed heavily to our emerging concept of adulthood — or more specifically, womanhood. Flash forward a couple of decades, and GenXers navigating the choppy waters of relationships in our 20s posed the question: Ginger or Mary Ann? Translation: which beacon of femininity are you most attracted to?
Billed in the theme song as “the movie star,” Ginger was not only red-headed but red hot. A Marilyn Monroe wannabe, Ginger spiced up island life with her diva antics, complete with throaty voice, eyelash batting, and bright red lip pouting (probably the series’ raison d’etre for shooting color after season one!).
Then there was Mary Ann, mentioned only as “the rest” in the opening sequence in the earliest episodes. Mary Ann worked her farm girl next door charm with gingham Daisy Dukes and sycophantic helpfulness sweeter than pecan pie.
While I always identified more with the cute Mary Ann rather than gorgeous Ginger, I also felt shortchanged by these narrow definitions of femininity. Aren’t these two just the Madonna/whore all over again, defining their identities by their effect upon men?
Fortunately today’s young girls have a larger fleet of role models than we did. On iCarly, Carly Shay puts her creative stamp on the world while she navigates uncharted waters as star of her own web show. Tori Vega may flaunt her skinny jean-clad bod a bit too heavily on Victorious, but at least the show’s message is about a female heroine pursuing her own performing career. The ditzy cheerleader types who run around chasing boys and reapplying their makeup might still dot the waters of today’s tween sitcoms, but they are most often the objects of satire.
Let’s stop rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic and capsize the Ginger/Mary Ann female dialectic once and for all. Choose your female role models based on what they think and do, not what they do for men. And take an active role in steering your daughters, nieces, granddaughters, and young girlfriends toward powerful women who chart their own course.
Tags: Feminism, Gilligan's Island, Ginger, Mary Ann, Sitcoms, TV