How Gidget broke the rules in ’60s TV

Updated 4:08 PM EDT, Mon August 25, 2014

Story highlights

Sally Kohn: In '50s TV, there were June Cleaver, Harriet Nelson, perfect housewives

Kohn: But '60s TV starred women you might even want to be, like adventurous Gidget

Kohn: Women in '60s shows like "Gidget," "The Avengers," "Julia" broke the rules

She says those characters paved way for the revolution to come in women's roles

Editor’s Note: Sally Kohn is a progressive activist, columnist and television commentator. Follow Sally Kohn on Twitter @sallykohn. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the writer.

CNN —  

I can’t imagine growing up in the ‘50s, certainly not as myself or any degree of myself that I am now. My strongest sense of the ‘50s comes from Betty Friedan and feminist critiques of the era. And June Cleaver.

But the 1950s TV stereotypes of women as housewives in fancy dresses and high heels gave way to a much more interesting cast of characters when the ‘60s came along.

In real life, there probably never was a family as picture perfect and problem free as the ‘50s Cleavers, but June Cleaver was certainly the archetype of her decade. As a child, I didn’t quite know what I wanted to be when I grew up, but I knew who I didn’t want to be. I didn’t want to be June Cleaver. The dress. The hair. The pearls. The sense that she never had any fun, never broke the rules, possibly never even exhaled. Her entire existence circumscribed by her white picket fence.

Sally Kohn
Sally Kohn

I couldn’t imagine being Donna Reed. Or the mom from “Father Knows Best.” Or Harriet Nelson. None of them.

But then along came Gidget.

I still hadn’t been born when the TV show “Gidget” premiered in the 1960s. In fact, my parents had just barely met. But years later, as a kid in the early 1980s, I would watch reruns of “Gidget.” Finally, a TV woman I wanted to be. Smart. Independent. Even sarcastic at times. She went to school. She hung out outside the house. She even surfed. She was everything!

Video: Name that 60s TV show

As a little girl, I didn’t realize all that had happened in the years between June Cleaver and Gidget Lawrence, everything that had changed in society to create a new era of culture that mirrored a new day in America, one in which the compulsion to be June Cleaver was eroded as a universe of Gidgets arose.

Sally Field's 1965 studio head shot for "Gidget"
Hulton Archive/Getty Images
Sally Field's 1965 studio head shot for "Gidget"