7 decades of women who changed TV forever

7 decades of women who changed TV forever

TV screens woman

WandaVision ended about a month ago now. Even for those of us who weren’t fans of the show, it was really interesting to see the way they accurately recreated how TV has adapted and changed throughout the decades.Women have been right at the centre of this change.  Let’s have a look at how it has changed.

The 50s – Lucille Ball

After WWII there was a serious issue in the western world. As men returned home and to work, they found the situation had changed. Women had acquired more freedom and were no longer relegated to domestic roles. However, those female roles still persisted in the media. Let’s look at I Love Lucy for example. In the show traditional gender roles were shown as the norm, in order to reaffirm masculinity. But it’s no mistake that Lucille Ball is included here. Her husband (the same man both on and off screen) was what allowed a woman in the 50s to have a main role in the TV world. But it was her talent which allowed Lucille Ball to set a precedent in TV history.

The 60s – Elizabeth Montgomery

In the 60s, technology started to improve. Everything sprung to life with colour TV. Ifluenced by the ever-globalising world and international relations, all these changes brought about  science fiction and the supernatural on the TV. That is why shows like Bewitched staring the amazing Elizabeth Montgomery were so successful. It spoke to the curiosity of the unknown. The show departed from the largely reductive roles of 50s sitcoms by making Samantha (Elizabeth Montgomery) powerful, as well as a central character in an arguably feminist show that had women’s issues central to the narrative.

The 70s – Farrah Fawcett-Majors, Kate Jackson and Jaclyn Smith

In the 70s people were very aware of social issues. Class, gender, race, social politics and equality were all common talking points and TV reflected that. One show that managed to be a runaway success was Charlie’s Angels. Charlie’s Angels was unique in the way that it put women in former male roles. These women were cool, athletic and smart.  They cared about justice, were effective and successful. The three female protagonists were multi-lingual, streetwise and most importantly they were not reliant on men.

The 80s – Bea Author, Rue McClanahan, Betty White, Estelle Getty

In this iconic decade, as people’s wealth increased, they wanted to see that reflected in the TV they watched. This decade was all about fast cars, luxury and fancy houses. Golden girls’ treatment of women, rather than focusing on typical 18-35 age range, moved towards women who were a few decades older and didn’t shy away from being progressive. The show was astonishingly feminist. The characters were able to live full lives, despite being widowed or divorced, which was pretty remarkable for the time. They had dreams and ambitions, new hobbies and enjoyed male company. They took on social issues like marriage, equality, age discrimination and even racism before people had really started to deal with it.

The 90s – Roseanne Barr

By the 90s, people were tired of seeing unrealistic polished middle-class families. They wanted the gritty reality. Roxanne burst onto our screens and it was relatable and very sarcastic. This show was criticised for having terrible role models, but the show pulled the world in a different direction by portraying the women who didn’t have it all. Most of the shows at this time featured successful women who were in the minority, but Roxanne had money issues and so did contemporary women. She didn’t have a 2point4 family, neither did contemporary women. In fact, she had naughty teenagers and guess what, so did contemporary woman.

The noughties – Lauren Graham & Alexis Bledel

This was an interesting time. As feminism progressed, we suddenly noticed an ‘arms’ race between sexism and male-gaze appeasing television, which appeared to be gaining ground. Even though legally the noughties were a long time coming for women, in terms of television, this was not such the case. In Britain, EastEnders ran a powerful story about little Mo, whose tragic domestic violence storyline caused many a talkative moment. But it was really Gilmore girls who showed us a modern refection of true life. We saw a situation many young people were in; priced out of independence and struggling with their parents’ approach to adulthood.

The 2010s – Phoebe Waller-Bridge

This was the decade that women in TV peaked. We encountered  world class talents of Michaela Coel and Phoebe Waller-Bridge. Women were writing, producing, making decisions, starring in and owning their storylines. Fleabag came into life and was comic genius! Finally, we saw successfully funny and relatable women. Characters who weren’t likeable but were still relatable, as well as personal freedoms being showcased, which meant finally women were afforded the same level of judgement that men had.


As you can see, TV has changed. Women have been right at the centre of this change and will continue to be.  Now, let’s see what the 2020s bring.


We Can Do It


Laura Villa
Laura Villa