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Sunday, October 6, 2013

Why I am No Longer Bewitched

When I was a kid, I loved the show “Bewitched”.   Actually, when I was a kid I loved TV, period.  Too many shows captured my attention to name, and the fantasy of living on an island making coconut cream pies seamlessly merged with my desire to wear harem pants and turn into a puff of pink smoke at the blink of an eye.  But “Bewitched” was a very particular favorite, mainly because I wanted to be Samantha, at least as played by Elizabeth Montgomery, when I grew up.  Samantha was beautiful, smart and had excellent values and priorities, especially considering the fact that she was a witch.  A devoted wife and mother with nary a hair out of place (unless it would be very funny for her hair to be out of place, then Samantha might comically blow air up at her messy bangs, as if that would solve the problem), Sam never came up short.  Samantha Stephens could and would solve any problem, and much of the time she’d solve it without the use of her magical powers.   Just a regular problem solving machine she was, and always with dinner on the table for her man!  A gorgeous, competent, devoted wife and mother, I absolutely adored her and wanted to be just like her.

Samantha was married to a mere mortal named Darrin Stephens, at first played as an angry and frazzled man by Dick York.  What Darrin had to be angry or frazzled about I’ll never know, but he had an avuncular yet overbearing boss and Samantha’s magically interfering relatives to deal with, much to his ire.  Samantha’s mother, a fabulous creature named Endora, distained Darrin and his churlishness, telegraphing her disrespect with every new mispronunciation of his name.   The essential war between them was one for control…control of Samantha and dominion over her magic.  As played by York, Darrin was a fumbling and crude Frankenstein of fury, often rendered speechless by the shenanigans of his enchanted extended family; but always, Samantha was able to smooth over his rough edges and soothe his wounded pride, and in the end all was well between them.  A problem solver, that Sam!  Later, Darrin was recast and Dick Sargent took over the role, providing a more urbane and sarcastic foil to Endora and her various cohorts (my first clue that gay men are better company than straight ones!), but the theme remained the same…in order to retain Darrin’s love and provide a stable and “normal” home environment for their children, Samantha had to give up her magical powers.  Never minding the fact that it was eventually revealed both of their children had inherited supernatural abilities as well!  Sam kept the ship on course, no matter what the obstacle.
HEY, WAIT A MINUTE!  THIS was my “role model”???  THIS was the woman I hoped to be when I grew up???  A woman who was born to a culture of unlimited mystical powers and complete authority over the elements, but GAVE IT UP in order to be a proper wife and mother???  Holy CRAP!  Sol Saks, what kind of devil ARE you?  Come to think of it, Sidney Sheldon, what is UP with Major Nelson keeping Jeannie in her bottle all the time so she doesn’t annoy him with her desire to fulfill his wishes???   And HEY, Hans Christian Anderson!!!  Why should the Little Mermaid give up her voice and walk on knives for the rest of her life for a DUDE???  Notice when the proverbial shoe is on the other foot—say, Samson and Delilah—the woman who convinces the man to give up his special powers is branded as E-V-I-L.  In fact, the name Delilah means “she who weakened or impoverished” (fun fact for anyone who has ever considered that name for a girl).  So from a very young age, I prepped to believe that in order to be a good and valuable woman, I had to give up my powers (Samantha), my freedom (Jeannie) and my voice (the little mermaid)…but if I asked a man to give up anything for me, I was a real bitch.  Huh.   Huh, really?  Sometimes there is nothing to say, right Ariel?  Nothing to say at all.

Except I’d still like to look like Elizabeth Montgomery.  Damn, she was a beautiful lady.
And you know what?  I actually have PLENTY to say about this.  One thing that strikes me as an adult is that Samantha’s relatives, who were constantly cajoling her to return to her essence and power, were painted as “the bad guys”.  True love was the epitome of accomplishment for a girl like Sam, birthright be damned!  Sacrifice is the order of the day, sacrifice your power, and subjugate who you are or you are not loveable!  You are not worthy of the peak experience of approval.  A powerful woman is an aberration that needs to be brought into line, stat.  And do you think I am the only girl who heard this message?   I certainly look around and see Jeannie’s aplenty, woman who are caught in the “bottle” of their own sexuality and body image, women who vamp and preen like porn stars at a Mardi Gras parade, because they believe that their beauty is their power.  But it is a power that is handed over to men to judge as worthy, and a power with a shelf life that does not encompass a healthy life span (R.I.P. Marilyn Monroe).   We all know Ariel, the friend who would “never say that” to her Mother or “never ask that” of her husband, the woman who believes that voicing her opinions and desires is the death of acceptance.  But the larger question remains:  how many Samanthas are out there?  How many women gave up their power for convention?  How many times has the call to return to power been ignored, or worse yet, vilified?  Interesting to consider:  when Superman gave up his powers for Lois Lane, they both quickly realized that Lois wasn’t in love with Clark Kent.  She was in love with Superman, and all the magic and mayhem his abilities brought with them.  Can a man love a woman, not in spite of the fact that she is a witch, but because of it?  Can a woman love herself, while accepting with grace that she is a creature with power, freedom and a voice?  Or will we always be bewitched?


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  2. You are so right! What the hell were we thinking?!!!

  3. This was hilarious, and so true! I totally wanted to be Jeannie, put my hair in a pony tail on top of my head and everything, and never understood why the Major was such a dick!