Back in the early eighties, it was okay for kids to dress in their Halloween costumes at school for the entire day. Some friends and I chose to be the main characters of M*A*S*H as a group costume in seventh or eighth grade, and I was thrilled to be Major Margaret Houlihan (aka "Hot Lips" played by Loretta Swit). A white lab coat, olive drab army pants, a stethoscope. I wore them all with pride.
Other shows were on at the time, and while Charlie's Angels was fun to watch at first, I grew underwhelmed by three women who always took orders from an invisible man's voice on a speaker phone. How did Cheryl Ladd run in those heels, anyway? It wasn't realistic. Especially since I tried so hard to curl my hair like hers, but I was forced to give in to my straighter than straight hair. So I abandoned the angels.
I loved Hot Lips for many reasons, and in my special collection of fictional female role models, she was perhaps the toughest. She had to put up with antics from Hawkeye, Trapper and BJ, she managed a large group of nurses, she had to be on all of the time with high expectations of herself and others, and yet she found time to put her hair up before diving into her job of saving lives with her colleagues. All amid the backdrop of The Korean War. She was the ultimate multi-tasker. Margaret didn't let the turkeys get her down, and her intrepid nature - at least in the television series of M*A*S*H - defined her, and it made her tender moments even more poignant.
Five other women join the ranks with Hot Lips as my top six inspiring fictional female role models. In chronological order of their television series or movie, they are: Mary Tyler Moore, Carol Burnett, Princess Leia of the first original Star Wars (played by Carrie Fischer), Murphy Brown (played by Candice Bergen) and Dana Scully of The X Files (played by Gillian Anderson).
During last night's memorial tribute at the Emmy Awards, Mary Tyler Moore's photo faded artfully into and out of the screen. Her photo made me think about when I got to watch The Mary Tyler Moore Show, which aired from 1970-77. My age toward the end of the series (seven) was when I started to ask a lot of questions of my parents as we watched the show, such as, "Why is it a big deal that she shared her ideas with her boss?" and "Why does she call her boss Mr. Grant? They work together and they're grownups."
Carol Burnett provided comic relief to me via pretty much every character she played. Eunice was constantly presented with conflicts among her family members, and Burnett's ability to hold a ridiculous face was uncanny. She still delivers comedic lines with impeccable timing.
Princess Leia had sass, smarts, honor, and resilience. She didn't let people mistreat her. Who wouldn't want to be like her? Actually, in my twenties, I was the original Princess Leia for Halloween (wig of hair buns, long-sleeved white dress). I had no idea about Carrie Fischer's drug use off-screen, so I am sticking with my initial childhood knowledge of who Princess Leia was to me.
Murphy Brown, now there's a gal with a host of issues, but she worked through them in every episode. A recovered alcoholic who later in the series endures breast cancer and pursues single motherhood while still being able to entertain is someone who faces adversity and rises above -- regardless of what the Vice President Dan Quayle said at the time about her character. She stuck to deadlines, went for the story, and held herself accountable.
Special Agent Dana Scully: definitely a heroine. She was intelligent, thoughtful, brave, educated and kind. I wouldn't want to have to walk into dark alleys with a gun, not knowing what criminal or alien might be around the corner, but Scully was brave enough to do all of those things. She, too, made it to the ranks of my Halloween costumes, again back in my twenties.
All of these women shared traits that I admire.
They all worked hard. They were not easily intimidated. They were vulnerable at times. They were strong. Their clothes did not define them. Their sense of humor was there under the tough shell, although in Carol's case, her humor was perhaps her shell. They were flawed, they were funny, they were honest, they had meaningful careers that helped other people
whether it was medicine, laughter as medicine, crusading for justice, journalism or trying to prove the unbelievable. I collected these characters and filed them away.
Despite being fictional, these ladies represented values to me although, as a child and then young adult, there was no way I could reflect about them until decades later. Now that I, too, have experienced meaningful careers, marriage and parenthood, I appreciate these six women even more than I did back then.
So when Mary Tyler Moore's photo, and Carrie Fischer's, graced the screen last night, I'm not gonna lie; I had to reach for a tissue.