TV Show Analysis: Marital and gender roles in The Brady Bunch and House Husbands
Gender roles have been hardwired in men and women since the beginning of time. Men are the hunters and gatherers, breadwinners, fathers, husbands, authority figures—providing shelter and food to their families whilst maintaining some standard of masculinity. To complement that, women are the nurturers, mothers, housewives—they take care of the family and home. These roles were heavily emphasised and reminded to everyone in the 1960s, especially with television shows such as The Brady Bunch. These roles have evolved over time and have even been switched. In some marriages and families, women are the breadwinners and authority figures, and men are taking on the nurturing roles, especially of stay-at-home dad, so much so, that Australian TV series, House Husbands, was created to depict this role change in today’s society.
There is an episode of The Brady Bunch and an episode of House Husbands that perfectly illustrates this. The Brady Bunch episode, The Grass is Always Greener, involved having parents Mike (Robert Reed) and Carol (Florence Henderson) switch their weekend roles with their children—Mike cooked with the girls so Marcia could gain her cooking badge and Carol practised playing baseball with the boys. Before they made this decision they were venting to each other about how difficult their roles were and how easier one was over the other.
By the end of the episode, both of them eventually realised that each domestic duty was just as hard as the other, however Mike in particular emphasised the gender roles more with comments such as “the electric mixer was invented for the sole reason of making life easier for women”, “that’s the trouble with women, you should go to the refrigerator once and take out everything you need,” and a few more. Today, women might watch this and view it as sexist; some women of the time probably viewed it as sexist too. However today’s viewers must remember that comments and portrayals like this would have been typical of the times.
The House Husbands episode was different to The Brady Bunch episode, however it applies a similar principle. Mark (Rhys Muldoon) works part-time in marketing and is a stay-at-home dad while his wife, Abi (Natalie Saleeba) is a doctor working at the local hospital. After the death of another character, both Mark and Abi have moments of clarity about work and life and decided to quit their jobs. Mark gets his job back so Abi can be a stay-at-home mum.
There are four episodes in the series that show the effects of these changes, however one episode specifically stands out, Season 2, Episode 9. Abi struggles with her new role as a housewife and later admits to not being able to cook, clean or pay bills, and feels that she is in competition with another character, Dimity (Madeleine West).
Dimity is the mother of a child who goes to school with Abi’s daughter. Abi inadvertently encourages Dimity to leave her own husband, Simon, because he doesn’t notice her or talk to her, and enforces an allowance on her. Dimity stays at Abi’s house and displays her abilities as a housewife, which makes Abi feel inferior. However she feels sympathy for Dimity when she realises how badly Simon treats her.
Although Mark briefly enjoys Dimity’s housewife qualities such as bringing him a beer at the end of a working day, Mark tells Abi at the end of the episode that he doesn’t expect her to be a “domestic goddess” and it doesn’t matter to him if they eat sandwiches for the rest of their lives, that Abi should hang out with their daughter, Poppy, and that she’ll be back at work before she knows it. A couple of episodes after this one, both characters switch back to their regular marital and “gender” roles.
House Husbands treated the gender role switch in a different way, due to the times and way of the show, and was more equal in its gender portrayal. Interestingly, it also showed how outdated The Brady Bunch storyline and way of thinking is now, by going into more depth with Dimity and the dynamics of her marriage, and what she is like as a housewife.
It will be interesting to see how evolving marital and gender roles will be portrayed on television another thirty or so years from now.