ALICE KRAMDEN – THE FIRST TV FEMINIST
by Debi Brim
Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Susan B. Anthony, and Gloria Steinem are famous and well-known names in the suffrage and women’s movements. I offer one more that should be on the list: Alice Kramden, the first true feminist.
Alice Kramden is the fictional character who played opposite of Jackie Gleason’s character, Ralph Kramden, in the 1950s sitcom “The Honeymooners”. In an era when television women were docile housewives, looking to their husbands for advice and problem solving, Alice was an exception to the stereotype.
In a “Father Knows Best” episode (“The Mink Coat”), Jim lines the family up on the couch (including his wife) to lecture them on household expenses. In this typical 1950s sitcom, the male head of household is controlling the budget, the money, and lecturing the family on their overspending.
Compare this to “The Honeymooners” episode “Funny Money.” Ralph has to ask Alice for money because he is short “a couple of bucks” for his lodge membership dues. With hands on her hips, Alice replies, “I’m not giving you a dime, Ralph.” She reminds him that lodge dues are supposed to come out of his allowance. Ralph stomps his foot and “demands” the money. Alice still refuses. Alice not only controls the budget and the checkbook, she has the nerve to stand up to her husband and tell him “no”.
See this clip: The scene starts at marker 6:30 through 7:55.
In another Honeymooners episode (“Brother Ralph”), Ralph is laid-off from the bus company. Alice decides she will get a job. Ralph protests, “While you are my wife, you will never work!” Alice’s reply is “I’m getting a job no matter what you say!” With her face inches from her husband’s she closes the argument with “I’m getting a job and you’re doing the housework!” She gets a job in an office and Ralph is the house-husband for a few weeks.
Who is this woman? She controls the money and the budget. The husband is forced to ask her for money because he already spent all of his “allowance”. A 1950s man put on a budget? I never saw June Cleaver reminding Ward that he was only allowed so much money a month! Alice stands nose to nose with the man of the house, defying his “rules.” To top it off, this woman also has her husband do the housework, something that is strictly a woman’s job.
She was a woman who bucked the stereotypical system. She made decisions, handled the money, got a job, and had an equal (sometimes more than an equal) say in what went on in her home.
Had Alice been in charge of NASA, we probably would have gone “to the moon, Alice!” sooner than we actually did.
© D. Brim / Dec 2011