Roseanne

The series Roseanne, based loosely on the life and experiences of feminist stand-up comedienne Roseanne Barr, presents the most salient possibilities for readings of resistance out of the shows selected for this project. Roseanne is different because it is produced by Barr with a conscious effort to describe her feminist perspectives on ethnicity, gender and social class. [1] While many of the shows before Roseanne have been discussed as being written for a “male audience” or a “female audience,” Roseanne stands out a show for a female audience written by a women. Barr describes how a male former producer attempted to get her fired because she was fighting against his efforts to repeat what she saw happening over and over again on television, “[the] male point of view coming out of women’s mouths… particularly around families.” He compiled a list of everything she did that he considered offensive, such as how many times she farted and belched on set, and took it to the network. Barr does not deny that she did those things, saying “I do offensive things…. That’s who I am. That’s my act.” [2] Ultimately Barr was successful in gaining control of the direction the show would take, and that allowed for the show to have continued momentum to undermine the gender and class ideologies perpetuated in so much of prime-time television. 

 Roseanne’s relationship with her husband, Dan, provides another script of resistance. Unlike all of the other shows discussed in this paper, Roseanne and Dan seem to have a fairly equitable relationship. They are affectionate, even outwardly passionate towards each other. They support each other, but also have fights and squabbles over little things, because they are tired, or stressed, which reflects a more realistic portrayal of married life than many sitcoms, which revolve around highly dramatic life events. 

 

Barr deliberately works to disrupt traditional images of femininity, and resists conventional readings of her body, comfortable in her role as the “unruly woman”. [3] One major aspect of this is her weight. She is one of few positive images of large women on prime-time television. Barr argues that women need to take up more space in the world, not less. [4] Barr shows the power comedy has to expose inconsistencies between stereotypes and reality when she asks her family if they think her uterus is a tracking device when they are upset with her for not intuitively knowing where a lost item might be found. [5] This challenge to how a mother “should be” is exemplified through how Roseanne behaves towards her children, and reflects on trying to find a balance between her personal desires and her responsibilities to her family provides a resistance narrative to the idea that motherhood is a route to instant feminine fulfillment. [6]  This is further problematized by Barr through the intersection of Roseanne as a working mother, which is discussed further in the To Work or Not to Work section. Barr also embeds in Roseanne a challenge to patriarchal and heterosexist segregation of women when she depicts deep and long-standing friendships between women, showing the power that solidarity and community between women can have. [7]

Roseanne has been criticized for not offering more systematic strategies to disrupt the hierarchies that are being identified. If challenges are suggested, they are framed as individual solutions to interpersonal, not systemic, problems. [8] However, in comparison to Married With Children (1987-1997) which covered many of the same issues in the same time period, but with the intent of gaining ratings instead of creating a subversive narrative, it appears that the potential that Roseanne has for undermining patriarchal and hegemonic institutions is quite profound. [9] Through the use of laughter, both through the laughter of her characters, and the laughter of the audience, Roseanne was successful in exposing the “masculine rhetoric” wherever it appeared. [10] 

 

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

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

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

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

[5] Lee, Janet. 1995. “Subversive Sitcoms: Roseanne as Inspiration for Feminist Resistance.” Pp. 469-475 in Gender, race and class in media: A text-reader, edited by Gail Dines and Jean M. Humez. Thousand Oaks, California: SAGE Publications, Inc.

[6] Macdonald, Myra. 1995.  Representing Women: Myths of Femininity in Popular Culture. New York, NY: Edward Arnold.

[7] Lee, Janet. 1995. “Subversive Sitcoms: Roseanne as Inspiration for Feminist Resistance.” Pp. 469-475 in Gender, race and class in media: A text-reader, edited by Gail Dines and Jean M. Humez. Thousand Oaks, California: SAGE Publications, Inc.

[8] Lee, Janet. 1995. “Subversive Sitcoms: Roseanne as Inspiration for Feminist Resistance.” Pp. 469-475 in Gender, race and class in media: A text-reader, edited by Gail Dines and Jean M. Humez. Thousand Oaks, California: SAGE Publications, Inc.

[9] Lusane, Clarence. 1999. “Assessing the Disconnect between Black & White Television Audiences: The Race, Class and Gender Politics of Married… With Children.” Journal of Popular Film and Television 27(1):12-20.

[10] Representing Women: Myths of Femininity in Popular Culture. New York, NY: Edward Arnold.

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