In the first overtly and literally political episode women’s liberation comes to Mayberry. The town’s path to gender equality is a bumpy one, to say the least. It begins when Ellie suddenly realizes that there are no women on the city council and decides to do something about it. By entering the race she starts an unseemly battle of the sexes. The men are so appalled by the very thought of a woman running for office that when Barney is seduced by his girlfriend Hilda Mae into signing Ellie’s petition for candidacy he is berated and belittled. Even wise, genteel Andy is inches away from calling him a “cuck,” all because a woman has the gall to consider herself equal to a man.
Nevertheless, there are enough women in town for Ellie to get all the signatures she needs and make it on the ballot. The men decide to push back by cutting the womenfolk, mostly housewives and other homemakers like Aunt Bee, off from the flow of cash (in effect proving the need for gender equality). The women respond in kind, forcing the men to perform their own household chores.
With the women unable to shop and the men left to iron their own shirts and prepare their own meals the conflict has gotten too strained for Ellie. She drops out of the race, prompting young Opie to boast about male superiority and rant about the need to keep women in their place. Finally, Andy sees the poor example he’s set for his son, so he goes to a protest for Ellie to announce his support. It would seem, based on his statement, that gender isn’t a good enough reason to oppose someone’s candidacy. Go figure. In the episode’s tag Andy sings a made up song that seems to confirm that Ellie won the election.
- Ellie and Barney both return after a two episode absence. This is also the triumphant return of Otis, the town drunk, who last appeared in the premier.
- Otis is imprisoned for trying to hit his wife with a leg of lamb but hitting his mother-in-law instead. This episode’s casual attitude towards domestic abuse is quite unsettling.
- We are introduced to Otis’ wife Rita and Barney’s girlfriend Hilda Mae, neither of whom stick around for very long.
The Moral of the Story
While certainly problematic, this episode may have been somewhat progressive for its time, but it’s hard to be sure. It’s worth noting that when it aired in 1960 second wave feminism was in its very early stages. It’s hard to look past all the light hearted jokes about domestic abuse, but Ellie on her own is an impressive figure. She’s educated, comfortably employed, and now an elected official in a town she can’t have lived in for longer than a few months. In Andy’s speech supporting Ellie he explains that he and his fellow men opposed her candidacy because she’s a woman and “when you try to think of another reason, you kind of draw a bland.” That, along with Opie’s learned misogyny, is why he comes around to back Ellie’s campaign.
Obviously, there is a famous example of a woman running for office in recent memory. Few people would say that they voted against Hillary Clinton in the 2016 presidential election specifically because she’s a woman but it’s hard to believe her gender didn’t play a role. Many are still trying to understand how a candidate with a handful of scandals in her long political career lost to a novice who lapped her scandal-wise several times over in his first complete campaign. It certainly seems like gender may have been one possible factor but it’s hard to quantify just how much effect it had.
The existence of a “glass ceiling” in a broader sense is a little easier to prove. First, let’s state an obvious truth for perspective: women make up roughly half of the population. Meanwhile, there are currently 21 women in the U.S. Senate out of 100 seats. 83 of the 435 seats in the House of Representatives are filled by women. In total, women make up 19.4 percent of congress. You see similar proportions in most state legislatures. North Carolina, for example, has 39 female legislators out of 170 seats (22.9%).
The private sector is even worse somehow. Only 6.4% of the CEOs on the Fortune 500 are female. 32 of the 500 leading companies in the U.S. are run by women. A more encouraging statistic is that 31% of all privately held companies are owned by women, but the question remains “why is it so hard for women to make it to the top of the top?” All of these numbers are higher than they’ve ever been before but there is clearly a lot of room for improvement.
What would Andy do?
Now that Andy has learned the error of his sexist ways, and with the benefit of over a half-century of progress since 1960, I imagine a modern Andy would be more than happy to support a qualified female candidate. He might be reluctant at first but Andy Taylor is a man who values equality and progress. On a related note, Andy Griffith supported a woman, Bev Perdue, for Governor of North Carolina in 2008.