How will you make it on your own?
It’s a question I’ve been asked by family members, employers, concerned parents of friends and most frequently, myself.
Almost 50 years after The Mary Tyler Moore Show’s debut, that is still the default question we ask women, still in disbelief that going solo is a legitimate option. Even though the lyrics of the theme song changed after the first season — adopting the more familiar “Who can turn the world on with her smile?” — I’ve always identified more with the original version and its spunky heroine Mary Richards.
Today, Mary Tyler Moore — the woman who brought Mary Richards to life — died at the age of 80, and given the influence she has had on me and other women in the media, it feels like a death in the family.
My first job in a newsroom was in the early 2000s. Despite being a full 30 years after The Mary Tyler Moore Show debuted on CBS, people couldn’t help but draw the comparison between us — especially since I was the only woman in the office.
It would be more than a decade until I worked in another newsroom (where I’m sitting right now). As soon I found out I’d be working at SheKnows, I excitedly told people that the office reminded me of Mary’s workspace at WJM-TV — complete with my editors situated in offices at the perimeter behind floor-to-ceiling windows.
On my first day, a dear friend (specifically, my Murray from my previous job) texted me saying that he was debating whether to call me and sing The Mary Tyler Moore Show theme song. I immediately told him not to because I knew I would cry and at this point I still wasn’t sure if I had made it after all.
It’s not just the concept and star of the show that I’ve always responded to — it’s also the progressive issues the show addressed during its seven-season run. It took on feminism, the wage gap, the fact that single women actually have sex before marriage, divorce, LGBTQ issues and infertility. As someone committed to openly sharing accurate sexual and reproductive health information, I’m especially partial to the Season 2 premiere, which featured Mary producing a controversial segment on sex education. A Season 5 episode where Mary goes to jail for refusing to name a story’s source is unfortunately relevant given the rapidly changing journalistic environment since the change in administration.
Unlike other shows starring a strong woman in media (looking at you, 30 Rock and Sex and the City), Mary ended the show the same way she started it — single. She was successful and she was thriving — without a man. Yes, she dated and enjoyed herself, but obtaining a husband was not part of her mandatory checklist for a happy ending. By every account, she did make it on her own.