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The Feminism of "That Girl"

Finding Feminism in 1960s Sitcoms

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Sitcom Title: That Girl
Years Aired: 1966–1971
Stars: Marlo Thomas, Ted Bessell, Lew Parker, Bernie Kopell
Feminist Focus? A single young woman who is focused on her career and wants to be independent and successful.

That Girl is fondly remembered as the first independent career woman sitcom. The feminism of That Girl was an inspiration to television viewers of the late 1960s as the women’s liberation movement developed in the United States. 

Where the “Girls” Are

That Girl starred Marlo Thomas as Ann Marie, an aspiring actress in New York who works temporary jobs while strugglling to make it in the big city. The feminism of That Girl was praised by prominent feminists who were happy to see a realistic television image of a young woman on her own. Most sitcoms prior to That Girl portrayed young single women, if at all, as living at home with their families or looking for a husband. In reality, plenty of young women lived independent lives in apartments in New York and other cities, so why shouldn’t they be portrayed on TV?

Marlo Thomas Behind the Scenes

The feminism of That Girl was due in large part to Marlo Thomas, who was also a co-creator and producer of the series. Marlo Thomas brought the feminist, independent woman to television life with this 1960s sitcom. She continued as a women’s rights activist throughout her life after the show. Her 1970s television special Free to Be…You and Me gave children positive images of freedom, tolerance and independence.

No Fairy Tale Ending

By the last season of That Girl, Ann Marie was engaged. Network executives wanted the show to end with a wedding, which would bring great ratings. Marlo Thomas and her fellow producers did not want That Girl to deliver the message that a woman should be striving for marriage as the happy ending to her story, so there was no wedding in the series finale.

Of course, the feminism of That Girl is not perfect. Ann Marie has a boyfriend and a father, both of whom offer plentiful advice or help her out of tricky situations. Soon enough, feminists would make people think twice about using the term “girl” to refer to young women. But consider that Marlo Thomas as Ann Marie owned her “girlishness,” in the sense that as a young woman she stayed single and pursued her own interests instead of rushing headlong into the expected role of wife and mother that too many people said was the only option for a woman.

That Girl, importantly, had dreams of her own.

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