The Genies Are Out of the Bottle

NYT piece compares and contrasts the feminist cultural issues at play in two TV series’ – Bewitched and I Dream of Jeannie

Where ‘Bewitched,’ with its tales of a housewife who doesn’t exercise her full talents, seemed attuned to Betty Friedan’s landmark 1963 book, ‘The Feminine Mystique,’ ‘Jeannie’ came straight from the orbit of Hugh Hefner. Set in the world of swinging bachelor pilots on Florida’s Cape Kennedy beaches, the show seemed like a 14-year-old male’s fantasy: a scantily clad girl-woman, played by Barbara Eden, who calls our hero ‘master’ and can be shrunk to doll size, placed in a phallic bottle and stashed next to the hi-fi.

Unlike Samantha’s brand of benignly empowered womanhood, Jeannie’s magic was capricious, often performed in fits of childish pique. Samantha cast spells with an adorable nose-twitching marimba trill, but Jeannie’s petulant arms-folded nod came with an accompanying ‘sproing’ that was only a tad less audibly priapic than the ‘schwing’ from ‘Wayne’s World.’ Jeannie represented wife as plaything, harpy and sexual menace.

Yet Samantha and Jeannie had something important in common: both came under the thumbs of not just men, but pointedly poor specimens of manhood. The implication was clear: even the most powerful woman comes in second to a marginal man, who dominates the household solely through patriarchal privilege. That genie bottle has a glass ceiling.

‘Here were women with enormous powers – zapping Major Nelson to Antarctica or turning Darrin into a parakeet,’ said Susan J. Douglas, author of ‘Where the Girls Are: Growing Up Female With the Mass Media’ and a professor of communication studies at the University of Michigan. ‘But what was important was that at the end of the episode, Samantha was standing there in her little shirtwaist dress, holding a martini for Darrin.”


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