What were the effects of feminism and how were women portrayed in the media, like advertisements, television, movies, and music? The result of feminism influenced the portrayal of women in the 1980s.

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Karen P.L. Hardison eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Using network television programming as an example, the results of feminism (or the women's movement as some call it) were evident in the 1980s as some character roles for women did show the effects of feminism, though an upward momentum toward improvement did not continue unchecked.

In the 1980s a dominant feature of prime time (evening) television was the newly innovated prime-time soap operas with titles such as Dallas ("Who killed JR?"), Knott's Landing (where glamorous Abby and Valene fight over dashing Gary Ewing) and Dynasty (with John Forsythe caught between Linda Evans and Joan Collins). The women's values these shows represented seemed centered around material wealth, while their ethics centered around claiming the man of their aspirations. Yet the women had dominant roles as family focal- and power-points and as schemers.

In the mid-1980s some of this scheming shallowness changed, probably through lobbying by the National Commission on Working Women (NCWW). 1984 was a particularly notable year due to the launch and continuation of Kate & Alley and Cagney and Lacey, respectively. In addition, Hill Street Blues put forth some strong female characters including Joyce Davenport, J.D. (lawyer).

In addition, made-for-televisions movies provided exposes of the social and cultural issues oppressing women, such as spousal abuse (which seems now to be more widespread). The NCWW labeled 1985, though, as a year of decline as detective shows returned women to victimized roles with women who had no power or voice to use in their own behalf.

After 1985, though, there were a number of shows that represented marginalized women in American society. The prime, and best loved, example of shows featuring marginalized groups of women and their issues was The Golden Girls.

In summary, while glamour and material desire followed the image of women into the 1980s in television, even the glamorous women were shown as being able to dominate, out-think and out-smart men while leading families and companies (which is how they got the wealth to be so glamorous). The image of glamor gave way to the image of ordinary well educated and successfully career oriented women, or divorced women with children, who found themselves able to fend and speak for themselves.  

The image of women further showed the effects of feminism by depicting them with power and a voice, an image that was strengthened on serious shows like Hill Street Blues. The feminist themes of strength and voice then extended to images of marginalized women struggling to succeed within their darker spheres of action, like in Roseanne.