July 5, 2009

Bewtiched as Feminist Allegory

I never realized until I was bored and housebound watching tv yesterday that Bewitched is such an interesting televisual text from a feminist perspective. I mean, think about it - the show is about a young wife's struggle to balance her needy husband's demands she be the perfect homemaker with her opinionated matriarchal family's desire for her to become a great and important witch. Throughout history, the term "witch" has been applied to independent women who sought knowledge and wanted to live independently from men. This is clearly an allegory.

So, Darrin marries a witch who wants to stop being a witch (eg. a potential feminist with great talent - here it is talent for magic - who could easily outshine her husband if she chose to). Samantha's mother and the witch community, however, desperately want Samantha to be something more - they want her to make use of her amazing potential (even electing her queen of the witches one episode), but Darrin isn't supportive of this type of wife. He wants the traditional homemaking he always thought he had that Samantha was in the beginning. The story reminds us of non-witch, real-life housewives in the 60's and the dilemmas they faced. After the publishing of the Feminine Mystique and the beginning of second-wave feminism, women had to decide if they should develop their potential (potentially upsetting and threatening husbands who weren't used to strong partners) or if they should just stick with their traditional role. The show illustrates the tensions between choosing feminism and keeping one's family-life harmonious many women faced at the time. Samantha clearly wants to be a great witch (She accepts the role of queen when offered and she finds it very hard to live without magic, often indulging in it), and yet she often agrees with Darrin's criticisms that she is being a bad wife and mother by being a witch. Having her family and feminism (here presented as witchfraft) seem to be mutually exclusive. It's hard to negotiate the two. I'm sure for many real-life women at the time, this was also true.

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