“The Goldbergs” vs. “Betty the Engineer”

Class date: February 23, 2011

The Goldbergs was an American sitcom that aired in the early 1950s. The black and white show follows the life of a Jewish family, the Goldbergs, and their life in the Bronx. Similar to Donna Reed, Gertrude Berg was the creator, principle writer and star of her own weekly show.  Behind the scenes, Gertrude was not the passive woman she played on television, just like Donna Reed.

During the episode “The Singer,” Rosalie displays singing talent and Gertrude wants to enroll her in expensive $25/hour voice lessons.  Rosalie’s entire family, mother, father, uncle, and even neighbor, all become enthralled by her talent and are immediately invested into her future as the next big “singing icon.”

From the beginning, it is clear that Rosalie’s family is more excited about her singing talent than Rosalie is herself.  Her family begins to take excessive precautions to avoid harm to her beautiful voice. At dinner, Gertrude forbids her from eating the fish, “Not that fish, dear, that fish has bones!  For you[Rosalie], a fillet…I wouldn’t want a bone in your lung!”

Gertrude continues to coach her from the sidelines before Rosalie’s vocal “try out.”  After the lesson, Rosalie is told that she truly does not have enough singing talent to move forward.  Rosalie truly isn’t disappointed herself but rather due to her mother and family. Rosalie says, “It’s not myself I feel badly for, it’s my mother.  I just don’t want her to feel bad.”  The family continues to make financial sacrifices even after the singing teacher’s costly recommendation of $75 in voice lessons each week.  Even wealthy Uncle Simon decides to pay a visit to the Goldberg’s and offers to help pay for the voice lessons.  Gertrude’s husband and Simon ask to have a private conversation so, as you would expect all the women quickly retreat to “their natural habitat,” the kitchen.

Dad said, “When you’ve had the opportunity to help other times, you haven’t! But now when you have a chance for positive self-reflection you want it!”

Simon retorts, “You don’t deserve such a gifted child!”

In the end, Rosalie tells her family the truth about her lack of vocal talent and that she truly does not need singing lessons.  The family is only mildly disappointed and with a grin Gertrude tells Rosalie, “You’d better change your curriculum back to domestic science!”

Rosalie’s “career” as a singer is clearly an extremely important family decision, as confirmed by Gertrude’s adjustment of dinner, her coaching, the family’s funds spent on lessons and coaching, and Uncle Simon’s contribution of money.  In general, this episode points out that Rosalie’s two options in life are singing or a career in “domestic science.”  This episode also confirms that family unity is unquestionably the main importance.  “The Singer” reiterates that a woman’s place is in the home, specifically the kitchen, Gertrude and Rosalie confirm this as they flee into the kitchen when asked to leave by the men and through Gertrude’s daily conversations with Daisy through the kitchen window of the house.


"Father Knows Best": The family gathered around the father

The 1950s television show Father Knows Best follows the Anderson family’s daily life.  The Anderson family represents the 1950s ideal suburban family in a Midwestern town.  In the episode “Betty the Engineer,” Betty decides she would like to attend an engineering career day to get hands on experience for post high school opportunities.  However, Betty undergoes discrimination even before attending the job.  As she signs up for the engineering career day, a teacher warns her and says, “I suggest you sign up for secretarial work.”  Betty disregards the teacher and remains eager to start her career in engineering.  Betty informs her parents of the decision to be a part of the surveying crew.  Betty’s mother is horrified and attempts to coax her into rejecting the job by showing her a new dress that she purchased for her.  Betty’s father, Jim, is convinced that Betty will forget about the engineering “dream” and move on.  “Oh, she’ll give it up and take up something like crocheting,” said Jim.

On the morning of the job, Betty’s little sister remarks, “Hey, is that your engineering costume? Boy, there’s a mixed up kid.”  At about age 6, Betty’s younger sister already understands that engineering is a male’s job, and simply not for girls.  Betty decides to change her name to B.J. so she isn’t rejected by the surveying crew.  Dark and dreary music plays in the background the moment the surveying crew finds out “B.J.” is a female.  On her first assignment she is harassed by, Doyle Hobbs, who believes that a woman’s place is in the home. Doyle remarks, “You’re a girl and you’ve got an obligation to be one.  A woman’s place is in the home.”

After her first day on the job, Betty is discouraged but continues to read “silly engineering books” all day.  After work, Doyle arrives at the Anderson’s home with chocolates in hand and requests to speak with Betty.  Betty hurries to her room and puts on her brand new dress to greet Doyle.  Doyle explains his reasoning for being impolite to her while on the job, which turns out to be the same reason he declared earlier…she’s a girl.  Doyle defends himself by saying, “It just don’t seem right, a girl engineer.  Who are the guys going to come home to if she’s working?”

Somehow, Doyle’s speech wins over Betty and she giddily accepts his offer for a date on Saturday night and ultimately gives up on her dreams of an engineering career.

Both episodes, “The Singer” and “Betty the Engineer” depict young girls attempting to develop their talents for careers in either singing or engineering.  Both girls give up on their dreams and eventually decide to pursue more “realistic” goals such as “domestic science” and homemaker.  Rosalie and Betty both resemble Donna Reed because they initially “rebel” to pursue more “meaningful” roles. The girls, like Donna Reed, end up returning to their previous submissive ways.  Betty’s mother embodies “sweet” Donna Reed characteristics; she is perfectly dressed with her hair fixed and has an apron on at all times and of course topped with a sugary attitude.