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Mary Richards: TV icon has a message for today’s women

Morning, UP

April 7, 2012
By RENEE PRUSI - Journal Staff Writer ( , The Mining Journal

It was a quiet Sunday morning and after two weekend work shifts and a Saturday evening of listening great live music, weariness had settled into my old bones.

Shuffling through TV channels, I hit upon something that immediately livened me up, better than any dose of caffeine.

"The Mary Tyler Moore Show" was airing in marathon on The Hallmark Channel.

The program played no small part in me typing this very sentence. And this one.

Fictional Mary Richards made me want to work in a newsroom. She did that for a lot of women in my age bracket, most famously, Oprah Winfrey, who saluted the show and its stars on her talkfest a few years ago.

It had been years since I'd watched an episode of "MTM." The last time, I think, was when it was part of the Nick at Nite lineup. And viewing the program again after all this time made me wish something.

The wish is that teen girls everywhere would watch the show. They'd laugh at some of the clothing and hairstyles and be confused by some of the references, but they'd (hopefully) learn something as well.

In the 40-plus years since "MTM" launched, the world has become a better place for women. Of course, it's not a perfect place for anyone and there are still many battles women have to fight to this day to be heard, to be respected and to be taken seriously.

The wish stems from occasional comments I've heard from teen girls about how they would never want to be considered a "feminist." That's not something recent: A decade ago when I was adviser to the yearbook staff at my old high school, a young woman said that to me.

She probably was sorry she did as what followed was my own take on women's herstory since 1970.

Feminist has been spun to have a negative connotation associated with such words as "loud," "pushy" and "bold." But without women who were willing to be loud, pushy and bold, opportunities would have remained limited to my generation of females and those generations which followed.

Many of those opportunities are taken for granted by young women today which in and of itself is understandable. But, as my young colleague Jackie Stark expressed in this space last week, some in politics are trying to regress women's rights instead of progressing them.

That means women need to stand up for themselves, no matter what label others might throw at them, be it shrew, troublemaker or, gasp!, feminist.

In her own quiet, lovely way, the fictional Mary Richards brought to light some inequities in the workplace and in everyday life. As the show progressed, she went from a shy associate news producer who made less than the young guy in the mailroom to a confident woman running her own life on her own terms.

It's an interesting evolution, one many of today's young females do not experience because they are raised to know - and believe - they are worthy of a chance to be who they are and pursue the life they want, whatever that may be.

No one has to tell them they've got "spunk," as Mary's fictional boss Lou Grant so famously said in the show's first episode. He hated spunk, by the way.

Watching "MTM," young women might be amazed to hear her speak up when she's going to be paid less strictly on the basis that she's female or to have to convince a friend she was OK with being single.

Mary Richards was a pioneering character as a single woman, not a widow, a divorcee or someone seeking a mate as her No. 1 priority, a character who helped bring the changing gender roles into American homes in a benevolent way.

Watch the show sometime and see what I mean.

Renee Prusi can be contacted at 906-228-2500, ext. 253. Her email address is



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