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Is Petticoat Junction's Steve Elliott Prime Time's First Male Chauvinist Pig?
Granted the show was made pre-woman’s movement, so the whole women’s place is in the home was the norm, still, Petticoat Junction’s Steve Elliott was a major male chauvinist pig. You didn’t hear Ward tell June some of the stuff Steve told Betty Jo. And to think he seemed to be so liberated before he got married.
Before Betty Jo Bradley married Steve Elliott she was a tomboy who liked to do the same things men could do. She even helped Steve work on his plane engine. She was doing just that when he asked her to marry him. So you could say Steve knew what he was getting when he married Betty Jo. But when he married her he seemed to think she’d left all that behind her and would morph into the perfect stereotypical housewife.
One of the first things he gave her a hard time about was when he came home to find out she had fixed the sink. That was man’s work and he told her he didn’t want her to do that anymore. Again, did he forget who he married? She had the know how to do the job so why should she wait until he got home to fix it?
He also got on her about how she was dressed. She was wearing her old tomboy clothes to do the repair job, and he had a fit about that. His wife was to be dressed all feminine when he came home. And I’m sitting there with my mouth hanging open thinking, “Dude, you didn’t really just say that, did you?” It’s a good thing he wasn’t married to me. I would have popped him one.
Granted all the married women on shows usually were dressed perfectly without their hair out of place to greet their husband when he came home. Still, hearing a man come out and actually say that was pretty shocking. I’ve watched a lot of old classic TV and I don’t think I ever heard a male character say anything like that to his wife.
This happened right after they’d gotten married. After they’d had a baby, Steve was having money problems, but Betty Jo said Steve would never allow her to get a job out of the home. You know, it’s a man’s sacred rite to be the breadwinner even if he wasn’t bringing home enough bread. So she decided to secretly run a day care center out of the Shady Rest Motel, only Steve found out and had a fit. Betty Jo was relieved when Steve got distracted when their daughter walked for the first time and it let her off the hook.
The thing is while on one hand you could say all the TV men at that time had the same mentality in regards to women, Steve Elliott was the only one who said it loud and proud. On the other hand, nearly a decade earlier Ricky Ricardo had no problem with Lucy getting a job at a candy factory, and you’d expect Ricky to be more set in his ways in regards to male and female roles than someone like Steve Elliott.
I’d really like to believe it was just the writers trying to show men’s arcane beliefs about women. This show took place in the late sixties and in a few years time male and female roles in society would be challenged as they never had before. In a strange way Betty Jo was kind of an example of the new woman. She could fix a sink, a car engine and run a train, yet she could also get married and have kids. However, her husband wanted to slot her in a spot and not allow her to be all that she could be. In short, Steve Elliott may have been a precursor to Archie Bunker who was even more rigid in his beliefs about everything and everyone.