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Negotiating popular feminism:
Butterflies and The Feminine Mystique

Julia Hallam

This paper explores how the popular 1970s sit com Butterflies engaged with feminist ideas. I will argue that through Wendy Craig's portrayal of the leading character Ria, the series' principal themes - female entrapment, lack of confidence, feelings of failure, uselessness and sexual frustration - are similar to those identified by Betty Friedan in the book often dubbed the 'founding' text of the second wave feminism The Feminine Mystique (published in GB 1963 and reprinted 1965, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1976, 1979, 1982). In its day, Butterflies seemed to have little to offer a generation of critics interested in contemporary feminist ideas, but the re-print dates of Friedan's best selling text are indicative that although written in the early l960s, it took some years for the book to percolate the popular imagination. The series negotiates many of the issues articulated by Friedan such as 'The happy housewife heroine', 'The crisis in woman's identity' and 'Housewifery expands to fill the time available'. My argument is that the gentle satire of Butterflies negotiated a nascent feminist consciousness with a generation of viewers experiencing similar discontents and frustrations in their everyday lives. This thesis will be examined using memories of Butterflies solicited from readers of women's magazines and the local press. (227)

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