Mary Tyler Moore and white feminism

She paved the way, now let’s keep moving forward.

Kate McCarthy

A few days ago, pioneering actress and comedienne Mary Tyler Moore passed away. A few days before that, women all over the country marched in reaction to the inauguration of our new president. In a short time span, we said goodbye to an icon partially responsible for planting the first seeds of feminism in mainstream culture and then saw the heights that same movement could reach. And yet, the growing is far from done.

Actually, this is not my first mention of Mary Tyler Moore in a column. I’ve previously cited her as having a special place in my heart since routinely watching her sitcom as a kid.

The Mary Tyler Moore Show was an unprecedented hit in television: The premise of the series centered around a thirty-year-old woman leaving her fiancé and moving to Minneapolis, where she begins working at a local news station (surrounded by various colorful characters that round out the cast).

The show premiered in 1970, and changed the landscape of television. For audiences, MTM normalized the experience of a single woman living for her friends and career — a TV life for a woman made up of more than just kooky dating and klutzy mistakes. And on top of that, it was damn good TV — funny and well-written to boot.

The signature moment of the show, and of the actress herself, comes from the opening credits: Mary triumphantly tossing her hat into the air right on Nicollet Ave. Freeze frame, and an indelible image nestles itself into the zeitgeist. It’s an “I am woman, hear me roar” sort of image, and is emblematic of a generation of feminism reaching new cultural and political mass in history. With a hit TV show spotlighting such matters, what more needed to be done?

In the recent weeks leading up to the highly anticipated women’s marches, contentions arose concerning intersectional feminism — the marches ideally were meant to specifically highlight and support the issues of feminists who don’t exclusively look like Mary Tyler Moore.

We have to work against that misconception of feminism, most served to us in media and entertainment as the default. It’s not enough to march once a year, proudly brandishing a “Pussy Grabs Back” sign.

There won’t be equality until white and/or privileged feminists consistently support women of diverse backgrounds, who have been carrying the weight of protests like these for many long years.

I will never forget what the depiction of Mary as a character did for me. She was everything I wanted to be, but she was lucky in this world, like me. She was able to leave her relationship, pick up and move, easily find a comfortable job — and do it all in a slender, alabaster frame.

This is privilege. We thank Mary and the women who came before her, but this isn’t the end goal yet. I will show up for other women, all the while keeping that famous hat toss in mind as a starting pistol to keep going and going until all voices are heard.