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Mary Tyler Moore’s Legacy is More Important Than Ever

Mary Tyler Moore passed away today at the age of 80. Five days after Donald Trump took office, two days after he signed an executive order to reinstate the “global gag rule” that blocks American foreign aid for any organization that even mentions abortion as a family planning option and one day after Congress passed a bill that will make abortion even more expensive and therefore less affordable for the most vulnerable women, the death of another feminist icon — whose on-screen portrayal of a career-driven woman forced viewers to confront issues like equal pay, birth control and sexual independence — stings more than it should. It stings when someone whose life chipped away at the world’s injustices not only doesn’t live to see her business finished, but also passes away shortly after a bunch of dudes gather ‘round the Oval Office to re-apply the cement.

But enough mourning. There’s too much good stuff to celebrate. Can we talk about how Moore created a new definition for what it looked like to be a woman in America? Or how she pitched a television show about a divorced woman when the subject of divorce was still forbidden on network television? Or how she depicted something other than a wife or mom or witch or genie in an era when that image of womanhood was considered the limit?!

And we can’t not talk about the fashion. Show me a more perfect cropped pants-wearer than Mary Tyler Moore, and I will show you a quizzical eyebrow. Color-blocked dresses, bandana hair scarves, patchwork skirts, monochrome suits, mod sheaths, slinky bodysuits — she wore it all. Infinite drops in the whopping bucket of proof that women can be smart and stylish (not to mention funny) at the same time. The excellent helmet hair didn’t hurt either.

When the news of her death broke earlier today and we were talking about it in the office, Leandra said The Mary Tyler Moore Show reminds her of her mom because they used to watch it together. It reminds me of my mom, too — and also my sisters. It is the kind of show you want to watch with other women. It is a build-you-upper in a sea of tear-you-downers, an (at the time) rare depiction of female friendship as just as fulfilling as romantic relationships. But also, beyond that even, a message that you and you alone are enough to feel complete, setting the stage for similar strong female characters to come like Liz Lemon, Mindy Lahiri and Carrie Mathison. Okay and yes, even Carrie Bradshaw.

In one of the show’s first episodes, Mary’s ex-fiancé comes to Minneapolis to try to win her back. He expects it to be easy, but instead Mary asks him to leave. As he departs, he tells Mary to take care of herself. She responds: “I think I just did.”

As we enter into a new era in American womanhood wherein our rights appear to be newly jeopardized, The Mary Tyler Moore theme song rings poignant:

How will you make it on your own?
This world is awfully big, girl this time you’re all alone
But it’s time you started living
It’s time you let someone else do some giving
You can never tell, why don’t you take it
You might just make it after all
You might just make it after all

Live, do, act and take what is yours. Thank you, Mary, for greasing the wheels.

Harling Ross

Harling is a writer and was most recently the Brand Director at Man Repeller.

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