To Gain Another Is To Lose Yourself by Miranda Lazar

“To Gain Another Is To Lose Yourself”:

Gender Construction of Marriage Displayed in Bewitched and Charmed

Through cultural text, the changes in gender roles and expectations can be visible.  The expectations for both men and women can be distinguished through the previous decades and the media produced from that time, showing the ideas and roles constructed by society.  By progressing through the media produced to the media of the modern day, the shifts in gender roles and their impact on the culture of the era can be examined and analyzed, showing how the text can display these changes and whether or not, the text has an influence on the shifting of these expectations.  Gender roles for women in the 1950’s were restrictive to what women could and were able to do.  Many of these roles for women are not present in modern-day society.  Today, women have less restrictive gender expectations, allowing women to have a job and personal identity.  By examining the early 1960’s show Bewitched and the 1990’s show Charmed, this shift in women’s roles can be seen.  In Charmed, the gender construction of women in marriage and family situations has become more open.  Women are able to have a personal identity and don’t have to be the typical housewife where as in Bewitched, women were expected to be a housewife and the property of their husbands.

Through Samantha and her marriage to Darin Stevens in Bewitched, the loss of identity through marriage can be seen.  During the 1950’s, men and women were placed in separate sphere and therefore, their genders were constructed differently.  Men were thought of as the breadwinners of the family.  Their role was to provide for their wife and children.  Women, on the other hand, did not contribute to the family financially.  Wives were expected to stay at home all day, doing housework, such as cooking, cleaning and taking care of the children, while their husband was at work (Coltrane 25).  Motherhood was thought to be the “natural role” for women (Jackson 181) and women were presumed to “aspire to be mothers” (Nicolson 201).  While most women embraced their gender constructions and stayed at home as mothers doing chores, many women thought that the social pressure and expectations of motherhood were “oppressive” and didn’t give women another option in life (215).  Women of this time also believed that housework was boring and not enjoyable (Jackson 185); women were looking for something more.  Because of these gender constructions, many women felt that through marriage they had lost their identity.

In the show Bewitched, a witch named Samantha marries Darin Stevens.  When this happens, Samantha becomes Mrs. Darin Stevens, not Samantha Stevens, showing that she has lost her identity through the marriage.  In the first episode of the show, Samantha and Darin are wedded.  After they are married, Darin tells Samantha that he thinks it would be best if she were a stay-at-home wife, the expectation of women in the 1950’s.  Through this, Darin is denying Samantha her identity.  She is not able to be herself; she is required to be Darin’s wife who stays at home, doing household chores.  Throughout the rest of the show, Samantha stays at home all day while Darin goes to work, providing for his family.  While Darin is at work, Samantha is at home, cooking, cleaning and washing laundry.  She doesn’t have much of a life, other than waiting for Darin to come home.  She has lost her identity and become Mrs. Darin Stevens, a housewife.

The fears of gender expectations in marriage are exhibited in Charmed through Phoebe and her hesitation to marry Cole.  These fears are displayed in the episode, Lost and Bound. At the beginning of this episode, Phoebe confesses to Cole, her fiancé that she thinks that she will lose her identity when they get married in the same way that Samantha lost her identity when she married Darin.  Phoebe doesn’t want to become a housewife like Samantha did and she feels that when she married Cole, this will happen.  Cole promises Phoebe that this will not happen and gives her the engagement ring of her grandmother.  Unknown to Phoebe and Cole, her grandmother had placed a hex on the ring and inscribed, “to gain another is to lose yourself” on the inside of the ring.  By wearing the ring, Phoebe becomes Samantha; she becomes a perfect housewife of the 1950’s.  She is only concerned about cooking, cleaning, washing laundry and, mainly, taking care of Cole.  Phoebe becomes oblivious about the outside world and is not phased or concerned about the crisis that her sisters need help with; she has completely lost her priorities and what is important to her.  Throughout the episode, the only even that Phoebe is concerned about is Cole losing his job, the income and support for their family.  Further into the episode when Phoebe’s sisters need her, Phoebe says that she is not Phoebe, she is Mrs. Cole Turner, showing that she lost her identity just as Samantha had done.  Eventually, at the end of the episode, Phoebe finds out that her grandmother had hexed the ring and discovers why.  For her grandmother, who lived in the 1950’s, marriage was accompanied by “the loss of identity, subjugation by men and a focus on housework”.  Marriage forced women into specific gender roles.  These are the same fears that Phoebe has but Cole says that her grandmother was from a different era and that things will be different for them because society and gender roles have changed since then.  This shows that while the same fears are present today as in previous eras, the gender performativity for each gender has changed.

In today’s society, the gender roles of men and women, in marriage and family structures, have greatly changed from the expectations of the 1950’s.  Through the Women’s Movement, women have gained the freedom to vote, as well as have equal jobs as men.  Because of this, many families consist of both spouses providing for the family.  The twentieth century has exhibited an increase in women’s participation in paid work and the work force (Witz 274).  In the 1960’s, women were responsible for nearly all the housework and childcare, but this would soon change.  In the 1970’s, women entered the work force but men still left the majority of the housework to women; in the 1980’s, women were further integrated into the work force and the housework labor was equalized between men and women (Coltrane 8).  Another change that occurred regarding women’s work was the effect of motherhood.  In the 1960’s, when a woman became pregnant, she quit her job and stayed at home, doing housework and taking care of the baby.  However, by the 1980’s, many pregnant women kept their jobs, showing that women can be mothers, as well as part of the work force (211-12).

The role of fathers has also changed.  Fathers are becoming more involved and some are even staying home while their wives go to work and provide financially for the family.  Fatherhood has become more than providing for the family; it now includes physically and emotionally caring for the children in the family (5).  In the 1950’s, men who took an active part in parenting were very rare (42).  This helps to show the drastic changes that have occurred regarding the gender construction of fathers since the 1950’s.  This increase of fatherhood activity began in the 1970’s when men began to spend more time with their children (49).  These changes show that the gender roles for both men and women have changed and that now both genders include some of the same roles, such as parenting and providing for the family.

Because women have entered the work force and men have become more active in family life with the children, spouses have become more equal.  Both men and women are vocal in the marital relationship and decisions that are made.  While women and men are both providing for the family, this paid work is not central to the identity of women. But for men, it is “central” for the male identity of husbands (VanEvery 99).  Men want to provide for their family; this gives them a sense of masculinity.  For women, identity is found in the balance between working and housework.  The importance of non-domestic work is a balance between non-domestic work and mothering (101).  The gender roles during the 1950’s were clearly set and restrictive.  However, in today’s society, gender roles have become a balance between work and family for both men and women.

Through texts and other media, it can be seen how the gender roles of both men and women have changed and shifted, altering society’s expectations and the culture of the time.  Women have become more involved in society, such as joining the work force, and well as in the family structure.  Women now are able to provide for their family and have a voice in decisions that are made.  Men are also becoming more incorporated in the family life as fathers.  Today, more and more men are taking care of children and housework; they aren’t leaving it to solely their wives.  The gender roles of men and women are becoming more equal, giving women a voice and more power to have a personal identity.  Women are no longer just housewives.  The texts that are produced help to show these changes but also to further integrate them into society.

By comparing shows from different eras, the changes in social construction and the roles that each gender plays can be seen.  In Bewitched and Charmed, the changes in the construction of marriage are displayed.  The audience can see differences in the roles that each gender plays and the levels of equality that are placed between the genders.  Overall, the values of marriage are shown.  In more modern shows than Bewitched and Charmed, we can see that the values of marriage are changing again.  In shows like Will & Grace, we see marriage-like relationships between people that are not married and, in fact, have different sexual orientations. In the recent popular show Modern Family, a same-sex marriage is seen.  This couple also decides to adopt a child, which is a controversial subject in today’s society.  These shows tell us that the values of marriage are again changing and our society is being confronted with the idea of same-sex marriage.  In the future, will we be able to look back on the popular show now and see the changes that marriage has evolved through?


Works Cited

Bewitched. ABC: 17 Sept 1964. Television. 17 Mar 2011.

“Lost and Bound.” Charmed. The WB: 7 Oct 1998. Television. 17 Mar 2011.

Coltrane, Scott. Family Man: Fatherhood, Housework, and Gender Equity. New York: Oxford University Press, 1996. Print

Jackson, Stevi. “Women and the Family”. Thinking Feminist. Richardson, Diane and Victoria Robinson, ed. New York: The Guilford Press, 1993. Print.

Nicolson, Paula. “Motherhood and Women’s Lives”. Thinking Feminist. Richardson, Diane and Victoria Robinson, ed. New York: The Guilford Press, 1993. Print.

VanEvery, Jo. Heterosexual Women Changing the Family: Refusing to be a ‘Wife’!. Bristol: Taylor & Francis Inc., 1995. Print.

Witz, Anne. “Women at Work”. Thinking Feminist. Richardson, Diane and Victoria Robinson, ed. New York: The Guilford Press, 1993. Print.