Come for the feminism, stay for the laughs.

I must admit that before I received the recently released box set of the 1970s sitcom Maude—aka "Television's First Feminist"—I'd seen only a few clips of the iconic show. While Bea Arthur's other masterpiece, The Golden Girls, is still in heavy syndication (as it should be, because every single episode is a goddamn national treasure), Maude has not had the same lasting popularity. Despite being frequently referenced as the first real feminist sitcom on American television, Maude is not easily found on your television screen these days.

Pacific Northwest Ballet’s The Nutcracker is Back Onstage at McCaw Hall! Tickets start at $27.
Join PNB for a timeless tale of holiday adventure performed by PNB’s amazing dancers and orchestra.

Being the dedicated feminist (and even more dedicated Bea Arthur fan) that I am, I spent the entirety of the last week watching every single episode of all six seasons of Maude. In case you were wondering, that's 19 DVDs and approximately seven billion hours of Bea. Not that I'm complaining. For the last week, I have lived and breathed second-wave feminism.

Here's what I learned:

Average-Looking Middle-Aged People Have Sex. With Each Other. Like Maude and her husband, Walter, almost everyone on this show is in at least their late 40s. Like, really in their late 40s—not like today's older stars, who are only allowed on camera if they promise to visibly age at one quarter the rate of us mere mortals. They have wrinkles and poochy bellies. Their hair is turning gray and they dress like my grandparents. And they have sex, with each other. Nobody thinks this is weird or gross. It's just a natural part of their intimate relationships. It's downright freaky, I tell you.

Rape Is Really Bad. Unless You Have a Good Reason. Even in the 1970s, people recognized the rape epidemic in American society. Every few episodes of Maude, a woman in the show is either running away from a rapist or confronting a former attacker. It's easy to see that the women who were assaulted were clearly traumatized by these encounters. It's no laughing matter. Unless the dude had a really good reason for trying to rape you. Then it's hilarious. Let's say when you were in college, you had to kick out a car window to escape an attacker. Decades later, when that attacker shows up at your door, you would likely be very angry and afraid. You might even yell at your attacker and finally let him know how much pain he caused you and what a despicable human being he was. But if your attacker informs you that he had a really good reason for trying to force himself on you—like the fact that you were totally hot—those years of pain would just melt away. You would blush and bask in the knowledge that you are so attractive that you force men into violating your personal boundaries. Curse your damned sex appeal! Hardy har har.

Walter's best friend, Arthur, is a rapist. He cooks dinner for Vivian (Rue McClanahan) and attacks her. She runs screaming to Maude's house with her clothes literally ripped off of her body. This is terrifying. Oh, but it's cool, because Arthur was overcome with feelings for her. This happens in season two, and we have to go four more seasons pretending that Arthur didn't violently attack a woman. Fuck you, Arthur. You are not forgiven.

Men Are Pants-Pooping Babies. Probably one of the biggest lessons I've learned from Maude is that whining about every little thing a woman does that doesn't benefit male comfort was not invented by MRAs. The complete inability to adapt to any amount of change is apparently hardwired in male DNA. Every man on Maude is constantly in the middle of a flop-on-the-ground fit over something. Don't want to wear a wedding ring? Yell like a giant 4-year-old. Was your wife at work too late to make you dinner? Demand she quit. Get cut from the community play? Have it shut down! Wife miss your awards banquet? Break all her dishes. The accomplishments of second-wave feminism seem even more amazing when you realize that it was all done while feeding, cleaning, and comforting the entire population of adult men.

Every Woman Fears Becoming Fat and Ugly More Than Death (and Definitely More Than Rape). I thought '70s feminism was all about freeing yourself from the traps of the patriarchy like conventional beauty standards. Boy was I wrong! What good is the right to work if you look like a fatty while doing it? If you aren't spending at least 20 percent of your day obsessing over your face in the mirror, 10 percent fawning over compliments on your sex appeal, 15 percent feeling sorry for women who were born ugly, and another 10 percent judging women who got fat, you're doing feminism wrong.

Everyone Totally Knew How Racist White Liberals Are. We've been patting ourselves on the back for calling out privilege and racism in progressive movements with hashtags like #SolidarityIsForWhiteWomen, but apparently this was something everyone figured out decades ago and then... forgot, I guess? In fact, it was so well-known in the '70s that even white people joked about it—and not in the shitty "hipster racism" way you see now (I'm talking to you, Tina Fey). Maude Findlay is offensively ignorant, patronizing, and bigoted when it comes to race and class. She is White Feminism incarnate. Some of the biggest laughs of the show are in watching Maude make a complete ass of herself in her attempts to "save" those she views as less fortunate while everyone else is all "White people. Amirite?" It would be really awesome if we could be as honest about racism in our modern-day progressive movements.

Abortion Isn't a Huge Deal. Maude is one of the few shows to honestly portray what so many women know: Abortion is not usually the traumatizing experience full of pain and regret that so many would lead you to believe. When Maude finds herself unexpectedly pregnant in her late 40s, she struggles with the decision of whether or not to have an abortion. While "Maude's Choice" stirred up a ton of controversy when it first aired, what really struck me about this two-part episode is the honest simplicity of it all. Yes, there is enough drama to stretch her decision over two episodes as Maude struggles to rectify memories of the dangerous, illegal, back- alley abortions of her youth with the reality of safe and legal current abortion services. But in the end, Maude decides to do what is best for her and her family—have an abortion.

Minimal tears are shed in the decision, and by the next episode, Maude and Walter are fine. This is honestly what it's like for many women who have abortions. My only caveat is that the show doesn't address the economic privilege Maude enjoys to be able to afford an abortion. Many women did not (and still don't) have the funds to even make that choice. Nobody wants to find themselves in the position to have to make such a decision, but abortion is in reality a fairly simple medical procedure that the vast majority of women completely recover from, both physically and mentally. I wish we were this honest about abortion in television today.

Support The Stranger

My last week immersed in the lives of upper-middle-class progressive liberal life in the '70s was an intense experience. While there is a lot in Maude that would cause the modern-day feminist to shudder (like its very lenient attitudes on rape and domestic violence), those scenes further highlight what Maude shows so well, that women in the '70s had to fight for everything. While sexual assault and domestic violence are still huge problems that women face every day, the fact that a show in which a rapist could excuse his actions by saying that the woman was just too gosh darn attractive was considered progressive sheds light on how far forward feminists have had to move this discussion over the decades. Watching the women on Maude battle for the right to keep their maiden names, to work outside of the home, and to handle their own finances is a good reminder of how many of our freedoms we owe to previous generations of feminists.

Come for the feminism, stay for the laughs. Maude is a show that, to this day, is very funny. Norman Lear's fearless writing combined with Bea Arthur's wry comedic delivery as Maude, Rue McClanahan's pitch-perfect portrayal of Maude's goofy airheaded best friend Vivian, and Conrad Bain's delightful portrayal of Vivian's hopelessly out-of-touch husband are unrivaled to this day. Maude is the type of comedy that has you laughing over a simple facial expression right along with one of Maude's scathing one-liners. It is a show that can respectfully tackle issues like mental illness and alcoholism, while still appreciating the simple comedy of a well-timed pie in the face. Perhaps the most lasting legacy of Maude will be to show how smart, hilarious, endearing, and thought-provoking leading women on television can be. recommended