The Mary Tyler Moore Show addressed the wage gap in 1972
Today is Equal Pay Day, the symbolic day created to bring awareness to the fact that it takes until April 10 for the average woman to make the money that men earned the previous year. While America has made some strides since 1980, when women were paid about 60 cents for every dollar men were, it's still nothing to brag about. These days, women are bringing in about 77 to 80 cents for each man’s dollar. This gap is even larger for many minority women.
While the rise of third-wave feminism and the use of trending hashtags has brought this conversation back to the forefront, it’s been on the minds of women for decades. So of course, the trailblazing Mary Tyler Moore Show touched on it, all the way back in 1972.
In the first episode of the third season, Mary Richards goes over the station’s budget in preparation for a meeting, where she finds out that the man whom she replaced at WJM-TV made $50 more per week than she currently does. Mary asks Murray and Gordy whether they think she’s as good of an associate producer as the guy who had the role before her. They tell her how terrible he was and how much better Mary is at her job.
She marches into Mr. Grant’s office to see if there’s a reason she may not know about that justifies her low pay. Trying to keep her emotions in check, Mary listens to Grant tell her about how well the station has been doing and all of the awards its won in the last year. When she asks Grant why the previous associate producer made $50 more per week than her, he answers, matter-of-factly, "Oh, because he was a man."
Despite the show’s laugh track that played as Grant assures her that the pay disparity has nothing to do with her work — in fact, he says she actually does her job better — this conversation brings to light how millions of women still feel in the workplace. Grant justifies it by saying that the previous employee had a family to support and she doesn’t. That argument didn’t hold much water back in the '70s, and despite it still being a weak-willed justification used in today’s workplaces, the argument is even weaker, since more women these days are their family’s breadwinners than ever before.
The Mary Tyler Moore Show may have ended in 1977, but we learned more about what happened to Richards in the 2000 made-for-TV movie Mary and Rhoda. It's revealed that upon being let go from WJM-TV, Mary pursued her master's degree in journalism and ended up as a studio producer at ABC News in New York. There, we'd like to believe she was paid fairly.
Catch two episodes of The Mary Tyler Moore Show each weekday at 2PM Eastern on Decades.
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