Bewitched

The timeframe that Bewitched was on the air coincided with a time of great social change in America. The civil rights movement took centre stage, schools were desegregated, and the women’s movement was beginning to gain momentum. [1] The show begins with the marriage of Samantha and Darrin Stephens, who appear at first to be a typical young, upper to middle class couple. However, Samantha reveals to Darrin on their honeymoon that she is more than simply a mere mortal. She is a witch, with the ability to clean the dishes, prepare the breakfast, and solve virtually every problem with a twitch of her nose or a wave of her hand. Samantha, unlike Lucy, seems quite content with her new role as happy housewife. 

 

This clip shows Samantha repeating to her mother that she loves doing things “the every-day mortal way.”  Although Samantha is constructed as “choosing” to be a housewife, the show is very clear that Samantha’s choice is the one made by “normal” happy women. [2]  

 

Samantha’s mother Endora is extremely critical of Sam’s decision to marry a mortal, and refuses throughout the show to call Darrin by his real name. She represents a resistance to traditional femininity, both through her challenge of marriage, and her own tenuous relationship to Samantha’s father. Susan Douglas notes “Endora got to say what many women wished they could say, and her complete indifference to the approval of men was a joy and relief to watch, even as we knew we did not want to be like her.” [3] The co-producer of Bewitched, Danny Arnold, is quoted as saying that there were two main conflicts in the show, “(1) the power of a women versus the ego of a man, and (2) a mother’s objection to her daughter’s marrying an unsophisticated man.” [4]  That is to say a ‘good wife’ must stifle her natural talents that might be superior in order not to overshadow her husband. [5]  

 

Unlike Lucy, Samantha does not challenge what a woman ‘should’ look like by using her body in a slapstick manner, but always remains ladylike and well-mannered. [6]  Mellencamp argues that this coincides with a social shift in which middle class young men and women were being urged to move to the suburbs, to the promise of “leisure” and “tranquility,” where husbands were meant to focus on their jobs in the city, and their wives were supposed to have breakfast ready in time for them to catch the train, and dinner on the table by the time they returned home again. For Mellencamp, it is no surprise that sitcoms would idealize this new, “blissful”—imaginary lifestyle.  [7] Susan Douglas notes that Samantha, who is young and beautiful, is contrasted with the neighbour across the street, Mrs. Kravitz, who is old and ugly. She suggests that this is part of a larger script of what might happen to a young women if she pays “too much attention to the outside world and not enough to your face, body and home.” [8]  

 

The actress who played Samantha, Elizabeth Montgomery, initially felt that her character should stand up to Darrin, and use her powers as she desires. When she complained of this to her husband, Bewitched director William Asher, he suggested that it was Samantha’s good upbringing that stopped her from being ‘impolite,’ saying “the guns shouldn’t be pulled out indiscriminately because someone could get hurt.” [9] This doesn’t seem to fit with how Samantha’s use of magic actually played out in the show. When Sam used her powers inside the home there seemed to be few consequences. However, if she used her powers outside the home Darrin became angry chaos would ensued. Susan Douglas suggests that this is because men are rendered impotent by Samantha’s ‘irrational’ magic, unable to behave in ‘rational’ ways in front of their male superiors, and so Samantha had to be punished if she allowed her ‘private’ magic to spill over into the ‘public’ space. [10] In fact, Samantha often successfully combines magic and diplomacy to come up with sensible and fair solutions to the problems she encountered, showing that her magic is primarily good and not evil. [11]  I cannot help but wonder how much of Bewitched is a reaction to emerging feminism, with witchery, especially Endora, representing ‘dangerous’ ideas women are getting in their heads that not only threaten men, but cause women to question their roles as housewives. 

 

[1] Spangler, Lynn C. 2003. Television Women from Lucy to Friends: Fifty Years of Sitcoms and Feminism. Westport, CT: Praeger Publishers.

[2] Spangler, Lynn C. 2003. Television Women from Lucy to Friends: Fifty Years of Sitcoms and Feminism. Westport, CT: Praeger Publishers.

[3] Spangler, Lynn C. 2003. Television Women from Lucy to Friends: Fifty Years of Sitcoms and Feminism. Westport, CT: Praeger Publishers.

[4] Spangler, Lynn C. 2003. Television Women from Lucy to Friends: Fifty Years of Sitcoms and Feminism. Westport, CT: Praeger Publishers.

[5] Douglas, Susan J. 1995. Where the Girls Are: Growing Up Female With the Mass Media. New York, NY: Random House, Inc.

[6] Douglas, Susan J. 1995. Where the Girls Are: Growing Up Female With the Mass Media. New York, NY: Random House, Inc.

[7] Brunsdon, Chartlotte and John Caughie, eds. 1997. Feminist Television: A Reader. New York, NY: Oxford University Press Inc.

[8] Douglas, Susan J. 1995. Where the Girls Are: Growing Up Female With the Mass Media. New York, NY: Random House, Inc.

[9] Spangler, Lynn C. 2003. Television Women from Lucy to Friends: Fifty Years of Sitcoms and Feminism. Westport, CT: Praeger Publishers.

[10] Douglas, Susan J. 1995. Where the Girls Are: Growing Up Female With the Mass Media. New York, NY: Random House, Inc.

[11] Douglas, Susan J. 1995. Where the Girls Are: Growing Up Female With the Mass Media. New York, NY: Random House, Inc.

One response to “Bewitched

  1. Emily

    What do you make of the fact that Samantha has to use magic to be the perfect housewife? For me it means that only a woman with super-natural powers could do all that society expected her to. For ordinary women, without access to Samantha’s powers (heck, even Samantha herself without access to her powers), the expectation was an illusion.

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