Some people turn to alcohol to get through life, some to religion. Some people even turn to yoga, a path I wouldn't recommend largely because it turns people into insufferable hippies who talk about macrobiotic food and how they've never found another drug quite like the simple high of deep breathing. You people make me sick.
Me, I turn to Roseanne. As matriarch of the working class Conner family, Roseanne used dry wit and uncompromising sass to keep her ribald brood in place. Over the course of eight seasons (the ninth one doesn’t count), Roseanne used whip smart humour to explore things still yet to be replicated by a traditional three camera network sitcom. Alcoholism, teen sex (and later teen pregnancy), domestic violence, real financial hardship - the suburban glamour that homogenised Roseanne’s contemporaries was nowhere to be seen in the dusty, cluttered mess of the Conner household. Almost 20 years after it finished airing, it remains as funny and relevant as ever.
Yes, Roseanne is my chosen bible for life. So what life lessons can we take from the Book Of Conner?
17 shows that will jolt you back to your youth
Roseanne Barr's TV show in the '90s taught women all over the world how to 'sass'.
1. There’s no one way to be a woman
Early in the first season, Roseanne’s wisecracking, sports loving middle child Darlene is rocked by the arrival of her first period. Roseanne finds her in her bedroom throwing away all the things she loves - her baseball mitt, her basketball, her football. The following conversation happens:
Roseanne: Oh, I get it! You think you have to leave this stuff behind you now. Like women have to give up baseball gloves and start wearing aprons and stuff.
Darlene: All I know is I’m not going to start shaving my legs or wearing pantyhose like Becky!
Roseanne: You think I make Becky put on makeup and wear perfume? No, she does it because she’s always liked that kind of stuff. That’s the kind of woman she wants to be.
Darlene: Well, that’s not the kind of woman I want to be!
Roseanne: Well then what are you throwing all your stuff away for then? These are a girl’s things, Darlene, as long as a girl uses them. You love all this stuff anyway. That’s reason enough to keep it.
Darlene: I’m probably going to start throwing like a girl now anyway.
Roseanne: Definitely. And since you’ve got your period you’re going to be throwing a lot farther.
Watch it for yourself:
Roseanne celebrated the relationships formed between all kinds of different women, knowing that there’s strength in solidarity not similarity. The world’s tools are a girl’s thing, as long as a girl uses them. Right on Roseanne.
2. Being married to a fat, brash woman isn’t a consolation prize
From the start, it’s clear that Roseanne and Dan have a bangin’ sex life with cracking chemistry, contradicting their constant jokes about how much of a disappointment to each other the other one is after 20 years of marriage. One of my favourite lines happens in season 4 when Roseanne and Jackie are trying to explain ‘transition guys’ to Dan, who’s pinned all his hopes on Becky’s rebound date following her break up with Mark (or Old Stoopid as Darlene calls him). “He’s a transition guy Dan! He’s the guy stuck between the first boyfriend and the second boyfriend.” “No, no!” Dan protests. “It doesn’t have to work like that! Roseanne, you never had a transition guy!”
“What do you think you are, Dan?” Roseanne replies.
Anyway, the point is they’re hot for each other. So when we find out in season 3 that Dan’s been having sexy dreams about a ‘cute little redhead’ who works in the hardware store, it’s a little distressing. But lo, when Roseanne ferrets around for information on her, what does she find? A redhead alright, but not the petite college grad we’ve all been imagining. Instead, Dan’s crush is a middle aged woman of Roseanne’s approximate size with a big mouth and a no-nonsense attitude.
Because - amazingly! - fat women with big mouths aren’t some kind of sexual nightmare. There’s an immense amount of power in telling that to a country that seems to take pride in belittling women over a certain size and assuming there’s a uniformity in what makes a woman attractive to other people.
Remember, there’s no one way to be a woman - or to love her.
3. Let’s talk about sex
The majority of the world seems to be terrified by the idea of teen girls having sex. Not Roseanne. Early in season 4, a 17 year old Becky approaches Roseanne to tell her she wants to go on the Pill. She’s ready to take her relationship with Old Stoopid to the next level, and she wants to be prepared. Although Roseanne’s shocked, she supports Becky’s decision - particularly when a well timed wail from Krystal’s baby punctuates the conversation. Teenage girls have sex, have always had sex and will always have sex. It isn’t going to ruin them, especially not if they’re supported to act like adults about it. When they have that support, they can cope with the emotions that go along with such decisions. Even when Becky breaks up with Mark, Darlene asks if she regrets having slept with him. “Nah,” she says with a smile. “I really did love him.”
On the other hand, sometimes sex leads to teen motherhood as it does later on with Darlene. And although no one’s saying that’s a walk in the park, it doesn’t have to ruin a girl’s life either. Roseanne never shied away from abortion, early on iterating that it’s a woman’s choice. But even though Darlene decides to have the baby, she doesn’t suddenly become a pariah or a woman with wasted potential. There’s no one way to be a woman.
These messages matter not just because teen girls have the right to explore their sexuality in an informed way, but because these things DO happen to women. It matters that they have a point of reference that isn’t fixated on their fall from grace or shame, but that remains invested in their potential no matter how their life might have changed. That it’s represented in an accessible sitcom that’s been broadcast to millions of people around the world is all the more important.
So endeth the first chapter of the Book of Conner. As far as Bibles go, it’s heavy with chicks and one liners. In other words, just my kind of spiritual point of reference.