7 Feminist Moments From The Original ‘Murphy Brown’ That Highlight How The Show Changed The Pop Culture Landscape
After 20 years, Murphy Brown is returning to TV. The titular journalist played by Candice Bergen broke a lot of ground and feminist moments from the original Murphy Brown help to explain why CBS decided to bring back the show. The sitcom returns for its 11th season on Sept. 27 and promises to have Murphy tackle the news of today with the same unflinching integrity as she did during the original run from 1988 to 1998. So let's look back at the feminist moments from the show's heyday that made Murphy such an icon.
Murphy Brown was far from perfect when it came to feminism. As Murphy's foil at the news show FYI, Faith Ford's Corky Sherwood often epitomized the stereotypes of a "dumb blonde." And there were way too many jokes about how Murphy's female hormones impacted her attitude in the workplace. Plus, there are jokes about gender roles in this '90s-era sitcom that are simply outdated. But that doesn't change the fact that not many other shows at that time were showing a female character who was so utterly confident in her competence. She was a recovering alcoholic returning to her career as an esteemed investigative journalist who never shied away from a confrontation. And many plot points over the course of the political series display just how revolutionarily feminist that in itself was.
There's no denying the impact that Murphy Brown — the show and the character — made on pop culture. So as the series tries to reignite the magic it once had back in the late '80s and '90s for the 2018 audience, here are some of Murphy's most influential moments.
Just the existence of Murphy Brown as a nationally-recognized journalist was in itself profound since men had dominated the news industry for so long. Even the show's creator, Diane English, told Entertainment Weekly in 2014 that she always referred to Murphy as "Mike Wallace in a dress." Murphy helped to show that women in journalism deserve to be respected and the series often gave shout-outs to real-life female news anchors, like Barbara Walters, Diane Sawyer, and Katie Couric (who attended Murphy's baby shower).
Speaking of her career, Murphy also made sure she was getting paid what she was worth. When her fellow anchor Jim finds out that Murphy is pregnant, he asks, "Murphy, do you need any money?" Murphy replies, "Jim, I make as much as you do." He asks the executive producer of FYI, "Good god Miles, is that true?" This joke showed the misogynistic belief that women don't deserve to be paid the same as their male counterparts — and that Murphy would never stand for her work being undervalued.
Her Healthy Sex Life
As Paulette Cohn wrote for Biography, "In keeping true to the fact that Murphy was an adult, English made it clear to audiences that she enjoyed sex." That shouldn't be a big deal, but Murphy was a single woman in her 40s — and the sitcom hit TV a decade before Sex And The City. So it was extremely important that the series addressed how women enjoy sex and that an independent, career-focused woman (who was also a single mother) is sexually appealing.
Helping Other Females
When FYI needs to find a replacement for Murphy while she's on maternity leave, the gang expects Murphy to feel competitive about her female fill-in. Murphy being Murphy means that she isn't overly thrilled, but her irritation changes to concern when she realizes that her replacement Hillary (Kate Mulgrew of Orange Is The New Black) has a drinking problem. Murphy is sympathetic to what Hillary has gone through to get this far in the industry and as a recovered alcoholic herself, shows Hillary the tough love she needs to get help.
Before Donald Trump, politicians didn't always make a point to criticize pop culture. But Vice President Dan Quayle called out Murphy Brown for the lead character's decision to raise her child on her own. In a speech about how America needed to refocus on its Judeo-Christian family values, Quayle said how Murphy was "mocking the importance of fathers by bearing a child alone."
The series directly responded to Quayle in the Season 5 premiere. Murphy calls out Quayle on FYI over the fact that his "only unacceptable definition of a family is a mother, a father, and children" — a definition she calls "painfully unfair." Murphy says, "Perhaps it's time for the vice president to expand his definition and recognize that, whether by choice or circumstance, families come in all shapes and sizes. And ultimately, what really defines a family is commitment, caring, and love."
Murphy also recognized her own privilege in this episode — at a time when that wasn't really a thing. She not only stood up for herself and her right to raise a child on her own, but for others who didn't match a traditional definition of family.
Murphy singing "Natural Woman" to her newborn Avery is one of the most memorable scenes of the series. But it was what Murphy was going through before that makes this moment so touching and a well-rounded depiction of womanhood and motherhood. She showed her vulnerability by being uncertain in her new role as a mother and she acknowledged that she was bound to make mistakes — something every mother has gone through.
In the final season, Murphy was diagnosed with breast cancer. While men can get breast cancer as well, the series helped bring this predominately female health issue to the forefront. English told Entertainment Weekly in that 2014 interview that this plot was responsible for more women getting mammograms and a Baltimore Sun article from 1997 confirmed that the show raised awareness about breast cancer. So Murphy Brown had a real-world influence on women advocating for their health.
The rebooted Murphy Brown may not pack the same punch as it did when it initially aired since a lot of progress has been made in terms of feminism. But, as many recent news stories show, there is still so much that needs to be done to achieve gender equality. And Murphy will return to TV to showcase once again that there's never any reason to doubt that women are just as capable as men.