I was born in 1970, the same year as “The Mary Tyler Moore Show.” Growing up, I knew one thing: my mom wouldn’t let me watch it. I went to bed at eight, and she turned on the melody that would haunt my dreams in the next room.
Years later, in my 30s, I stumbled across the show again. A local network was running reruns. I was instantly hooked. I also started to understand why my mom had not let her young daughter watch with her. This was not a show for a young child.
In one episode, The Happy Homemaker has an adulterous affair with one character’s husband. In another, Mary openly dates two men at the same time. Even the opening episode is rough: Mary and Rhoda spar angrily over an apartment with a barely controlled fury. The famous line, “I hate spunk” comes across as a punch in the gut rather than funny, only redeemed by Lou’s later agreement with Mary that her former fiancee is a jerk.
Still, the show is funny. I looked up Veal Prince Orloff only to find it is a real dish. I cheered when Mary asked for a raise, and watched as she grew in confidence with her job each year. Being short myself, I laughed even more when she realized her date was about 10 inches away from her forehead.
Mary struck me as still relevant, her struggles as real as her mustard and brown clothes made the shoulder pads of my 80s classmates look like the height of fashion. Her earnest Midwestern niceness was not the brash Brooklyn style I grew up with, but somehow real and utterly likable.
I went back to it again about a year ago, after a friend played an episode clip on YouTube. My eldest daughter is in her teens, and she came in with me to watch. Episode after episode came to life in our house during the middle of a blizzard. I made the decision to let her watch it on a whim. She’s not the child I was the first time it aired, when my mom sat watching in the living room.
Together, we laughed again and again. We cheered on Rhoda, rolled our eyes at Phyllis, and cried when Lou’s life left him. She asked me why women dressed like that, and I told her I didn’t know because I don’t.
As the snow outside looked like something right out of Minneapolis, I realized something important: I had never really discussed the show with my own mom. I began to realize why she had watched so entranced in the early 1970s, and why, so many years later, she once told me to find my inner Mary.
I suppose, in a way, the struggles of the main character mirrored my mom’s struggles. She was in her late 20s back then, married with kids. She was a world away in Queens from the urban world of Mary and daily production schedules, but still a Mary trying to decide how to make her own life in a man’s world.
Years later, she’d recount to me with great anger how she’d been denied the right to open up a bank account in her own name. The bank official had demanded she get her husband’s consent, while my dad could open an account at the same bank without her consent.
She would also tell me of going back to work when my brother and I were finally in school full time and encountering the same condescension and sexism. I told my own daughter this story and explained what life had been like for women back then – and what it’s still like for many of us today.
In the last two seasons, “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” would suffer, as such shows do, from a lack of ideas. The funny is still there, but there’s way too much Ted, and he’s about as interesting as Frank Burns from “M*A*S*H.” As a whole, though, it still holds up. My teen daughter certainly thought so. She laughed and I laughed. And together, in the middle of it all, we went someplace special, a place my mom had gone before – three generations knowing that we can each create a fantastic world of kindness, laughter, and a career.
I hope my daughter understands that the world still has a long way to go for its female citizens. I also hope she understands that she will make it after all, catching that hat in her hand with a pride Mary would have truly understood.
This post originally appeared on Kveller.