In “The Rhythms of Reception: Daytime Television and Women’s Work,” Tania Modleski examines how the “flow” of daytime television – in particular, soap operas and quiz shows – shapes the daily existence of the housewife. In her essay, Modleski unpacks the role of the housewife and how daytime programs are situated to bring the housewife pleasure, while also allowing her to complete her domestic work. As Modleski points out, although there are numerous differences between daytime and nighttime programming, one of the key distinctions for the housewife is that daytime television is participatory, in that it stresses “connection to, rather than separateness from, others,” [pg. 68]. This element of engagement and connectedness allows the housewife relief from her otherwise solitary existence. It seems that the domestic woman, as both wife and mother, is often defined by loneliness; she is literally alone throughout most of the day and spends her evenings in selfless service of her family – preparing dinner, getting the kids to bed, etc.
The work of the housewife, as Modleski explains, has a similar flow as the programming of daytime television. In order for the domestic woman to truly be productive, her schedule must have a sense of variety (as slight as it may be), and soap operas and quiz shows allow for such variability. Each style of programming is distinct (creating a sense of change/flow), but similar in ways that attract the daytime viewer. Both necessitate a sort of anticipation of what’s on a character’s or contestant’s mind (a quality which plays upon the housewife’s need to foresee the wants of others and her fear that she isn’t enough to those around her [pg. 69]) and each type of show allows for the interruption and distraction of the viewer. In her analysis of this relationship between the housewife, her television viewing habits, and her domestic work, Modleski points out that it is crucial to understand that “women’s popular culture speaks to women’s pleasure at the same time that it puts it in the service of patriarchy, (and) keeps it working for the good of the family,” [pg. 69]. This idea of television as a means of patriarchal control is also discussed in Patricia Mellencamp’s “Situation Comedy, Feminism, and Freud: Discourses of Gracie and Lucy.”
In her essay, Mellencamp addresses the roles of Gracie and Lucy in Burns and Allen and I Love Lucy. Although both roles allow the women to act out in a sort of non-traditional way, oftentimes stealing the show from their male counterparts, they are still ultimately confined by traditional gender roles. In I Love Lucy, Lucy Ricardo would like to escape domestic life and instead pursue a career in entertainment. In each episode, she attempts to make domesticity bearable by performing in her home: “Lucy endured marriage and housewifery by transforming them into vaudeville: costumed performances and rehearsals which made staying home frustrating, yet tolerable,” [pg. 87]. She never escapes domesticity, and ironically, the only way for her to perform for the audience is in her home while the audience is watching from theirs: “She can never be a ‘real’ public performer, except for us: she must narratively remain a housewife,” [pg.88]. It seems that although television allowed the housewife to escape solitude, its ultimate ambition was to keep her contained, content, efficient, and dutiful.