What do Genies, Witches and Gymnasts have in common?

Not much really, except that I’ve been feeling nostalgic today, and have been remembering the good old days when I was at primary school. We used to spend our lunchtimes were spent acting scenarios on and near the jungle gym, in which we played our heroines from TV shows and real life.

The selection of who played whom was deadly serious, often having to be resolved by a counting game (eenie meanie minie mo) or bargaining. One’s popularity in the group related to – and was directly affected by – whom you played. The most coveted roles, in order, were:

  • Samantha from Bewitched
  • Jeannie from I Dream of Jeannie
  • Nadia Komeneski, the gymnast (so I guess you can date this to around the time of the Moscow Olympic Games)
  • Serena (Samantha’s groovy black haired cousin)
  • Jeannie’s dark-haired sister, and
  • Wonder Woman

Lesser beings in our social structure were permitted play supporting roles, such as Mrs Cravitts, Endora or Jamie Somers (from The Bionic Woman), but settling for such a role was social death. “Samantha or die” was the motto we lived by. The girl who was Samantha for the day was privileged to direct the scenario, as long as she allowed her co-stars sufficient storyline. Mutiny could and would take place if Jeannie or Serena felt that Samantha was getting all the action.

Any boy foolish enough to join in our game was endlessly doomed to become a romantic interest, and not much else. Superman found himself boyfriend to Samantha one day and Nadia the next. He was quite often frustrated that he could never do any damsel rescuing or saving of the world as his damsels in distress seemed to de-distress themselves and save the world without his assistance. He sometimes even found himself rescued. I guess we bruised his Super-Ego a tad.

Ah. Those were the days. Twitching our noses, flicking our ponytails, hanging upside down and changing the world in the process. I don’t think that it is any co-incidence that we were drawn to potentially strong female characters. Sure Samantha, in the TV series, was bossed about by an insecure Darrin and Jeannie was dedicated to serving her master, but when we acted out our scenarios scripts they were strong independent women. Jeannie didn’t need a master; she wasn’t trapped in her bottle, waiting for Mr Right to “pop her cork”, she was out there flicking up a storm with her ponytail in her own right.

Were we feminists? I honestly can’t remember having a concept of what a feminist was at 9 years old. Our mothers regarded “Women’s Libbers” with distrust and I doubt The Women’s Room or The Female Eunuch made it on to their reading lists. Yet I think we were feminists, in a way. Certainly, we chose to disregard a number of the lessons that TV was teaching us (that women should obey their husbands/masters, for instance) in favour of the ones we liked (women have innate powers and talents that they can use to benefit themselves and others).

I see I Dream of Jeannie, Bewitched and similar shows (like Wonder Woman) of the late 60s and 70s as a snap shot of the times. Men wrote the narratives and , quite obviously, were not comfortable with the social changes taking place around them. The women in the shows are potentially powerful (and, hence threatening), but they are rendered ‘safe for the viewing audience’ by placing them in a domestic situation. Yet I think that, even working within the ‘rules’, Samantha, Jeannie and their counterparts manage to make the most of their talents.



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