In the television show One Day at a Time, Ann Romano, a newly divorced mother, lives with her two young daughters Barbara and Julie in an apartment building. Ann is a single mother that works for Avon, a cosmetic supply company. She is a strong independent woman, but her job contradicts her power because she works for a stereotypically feminine company that sells trivial beauty products, so men will be attracted to the woman who use them. One Day at a Time touches on some important issues regarding second-wave feminism, such as divorce, single motherhood, women in the workplace, and sex.
Ann faces a predicament as a single parent when her eldest daughter, Julie, would like to go on a co-ed camping trip. While on the telephone with her friend, Julie remarks, “Ah, look you don’t have to worry about my mom, she’s a liberated woman.” This shows that Julie recognizes that her mother is a very strong woman and does not rely on anyone but herself. As soon as her mother arrives home from work, Julie proposes her plan to go on a backpacking trip on the weekend. Ann is skeptical to say yes because she thinks there will be three young girls alone in the wilderness. Julie quickly blurts out that “mature Senior boys” will be accompanying the girls too. Ann immediately says no and declares that her reasoning is due to unpredictable weather. Julie calls her bluff and says, “You’re worried about sex, aren’t you?!” Ann is in shock and attempts to cover up her internal distress but Julie continues to beg her to say yes. Julie concludes that the reason her mother won’t let her go on the trip is because of sex and states, “I’m surprised you don’t want me to wear a chastity belt!” Ann retorts, “If there’s a sale on them, we’ll get one!
Suddenly, Barb barges into the home and exclaims, “I made the basketball team and I’m the only girl that made the team!” This shows that Barb is growing up in an era where girls are progressively being allowed on athletic teams other than cheerleading.
Meanwhile, Schneider sneaks into the apartment and claims he “came by to fix the stuck window.” Ann sarcastically remarks, “I fixed it myself two weeks ago;” this confirms Ann’s physical strength and general independence from men. She does not need men to support her financially, emotionally, or even to open a tough jar. Ann totally rejects Schneider’s sexual advances, reminds him that he has a wife, tells him to stop flirting with her, and forces him to leave her apartment.
Moments later, David enters the family’s apartment. David, Ann’s divorce attorney, confesses his love and begs her to marry him. Unlike Schneider, David seems to be kind, respectful, and moderately feminine in his communication style. David comes off as feminine because he actually expresses his true emotions for Ann instead of simply physical desires and constantly pleads Ann to marry him. David is not opposed to a pursuing a non-traditional relationship with Ann, she is 34 and he is 26. In this particular scene, David seems to take on a more feminine role and Ann is moderately masculine. Ann shouts, “get off this marriage kick!” and “stand back and stay out of the way!” as David straightens pictures around the house and continues to declare his love for Ann. Ann also drinks alcohol, unlike Donna Reed.
Julie demands that her mother make her final decision about the camping trip. She threatens her mother by saying she will move out and go live with her father if she doesn’t let her go on the trip. Similar to the characters Flo and Alice, Ann has no trouble “leaving the sugar in the sugar bowl” and proves her strength as an authority figure as she stands up to her daughter. Instead of simply giving in to her daughter’s request she hands her the bus fair to travel to her father’s house. However, after Julie storms out of their apartment, Ann regrets her stern disciplinary action and says, “For the first 17 years of my life, my father made all my decisions. For the next 17 years of my life my husband made all my decisions. The first time I try to make a decision on my own and I screw it up.” These statements illustrate Ann’s past experiences with living in a controlling patriarchal society and having relatively few privileges or human rights. Clearly, men have continuously controlled her and told her that her opinion doesn’t count, simply because she is a woman. Ann calls her ex-husband and warns him that Julie will be arriving shortly and Ann powerfully states, “I can make it on my own.” This statement is a direct reference to the theme song lyrics, “you’re gonna make it after all” from the Mary Tyler Moore show. Like Mary, this is also Ann’s first time living in freedom without the supervision of men or their “male gaze.”
In the end, Ann admits that she was uncertain and scared too when Ed and her got divorced. She tells Barb and Julie to stick with her and they’ll all learn together. Ann ultimately allows Julie to go on the backpacking trip even though it makes her feel uncomfortable. Ann grants her daughter independence by allowing her to do something on her own, just like she did when she divorced her husband. Ann passes on her feeling of new liberation to Julie. Julie decides not to go on the trip because realizes she respects her mother’s decision and appreciates her new freedom.
Ann’s relationship with her children is very similar to Alice’s from the television show Alice. Just like Alice and her son Tommy, Ann has a personal connection with her children instead of simply ruling by fear or authority. Ann recognizes that she doesn’t have all the answers and isn’t right all the time; she is willing to work through issues with her children. This is also one of the first television shows where it’s been obvious that men are attracted to the lead female but she doesn’t use her sexuality to her benefit. Ann could have easily asked Schneider or David to do anything she wanted, but instead she rejected their sexual advances and did things on her own. Just like Julie said, “She’s a rock.”