In remembering one of the greats, I think it’s necessary that we take a moment to unpack just how we’re remembering her. I’m talking, of course, about Mary Tyler Moore, who died at age 80 on Wednesday, Jan. 26. Moore is being remembered and honored primarily for her contributions to television and to feminist portrayals of women in the media. This is, as you might expect, laudatory and entirely accurate.
Moore was an innovator. She has been described as a woman who inspired other women, who was eternally optimistic and a person to whom we could look for guidance. But it seems that the one thing people are choosing to remember when they honor her — in articles, tweets, Instagrams, you name it — is an incredibly pithy phrase that she didn’t even say and wouldn’t be an accurate representation of Moore.
“Who turns the world on with her smile?” is one of the opening lyrics to the theme song “Love Is All Around” from The Mary Tyler Moore Show. The song itself is relatively problematic because it reduces a show about a single working woman focused on her career to a song about a woman bolstered by the constancy and universality of love. It was antithetical to the show’s actual plotline and now, it feels a bit too outdated.
But that lyric was transformed into “She turned the world on with her smile” in headlines and captions in the hours following Moore’s passing. Somehow, we’re unconsciously keeping an outdated, sexist, reductive sentiment alive, well and in association with a woman who worked to defeat that trend. The Mary Tyler Moore Show and Moore herself made for some of the most feminist television programming of the 1970s; can’t we think of a more accurate way to honor her?
Moore tackled the wage gap on her show, was one of the first women to wear pants on television (so much so that the Dick Van Dyke Show producers wanted to limit how often she did it), she played against type, she spoke about her alcoholism and effectively chipped away at her “good girl” image (which only makes her more empowering, honest and relatable to women).
Let’s not forget that she played a single woman on television. No previous divorces. No messy breakups. No children. On her own television show, Moore simply played a single woman dedicated to her career. Airing at a time when the second wave of feminism was sweeping the nation, Moore made sure to transfer those feminist values to her show.
So perhaps it’s a bit easier now to see why reducing a woman down to a physical attribute as a way to pay tribute to her literally monumental legacy can be a bit irksome. Yes, Moore was a beautiful woman. But is that all? Is she really just a smiling gal, tossing her beret up into that air as she stands on a busy New York City street corner? Not at all.
So, I’m going to whip up a few captions for you right now that you can use when paying your respects to Moore going forward. They’re audience-friendly and accurately describe her, not just her smile.
Mary Tyler Moore, eternal pants-wearer, will be missed
Mary Tyler Moore, fictional single woman and real-life badass, will forever be an icon to me
Who can turn the world on with her tireless work ethic and devotion to charitable causes? Mary Tyler Moore
If you think I’m not gonna fight to close the wage gap in Mary Tyler Moore’s honor, you’re dead wrong, my dude
And now, if you’ll excuse me, I think a binge-watch of The Mary Tyler Moore Show is in order.
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