An Open Letter to Roseanne Barr
I need to say something.
The new season of The Conners has spurred me to write to you. I've been so upset with you ever since the reboot of your self-titled show. You see, I grew up with you as a secondary mother. Your television family was a reflection of my family, and your parenting lessons echoed my mother's. You were the first feminist woman I saw blazing a path with no regard to those she upset. You were revolutionary to girls of my age.
When I caught wind that the flagship show of my childhood, adolescence, and adulthood (via reruns) was being rebooted with all the original cast, I was ecstatic. I counted the days and avoided all potential spoilers. I held my hopes high despite the rumors of your political leanings. I knew the woman that inspired millennial feminists like me would never let me down or betray me. Then the first episode came. After a year of waiting, it was finally here. And there you were, mocking feminists, defending Trump, and in the wake of spewing your rhetoric, you crushed my hopes. It felt like a stab in the back. It rocked me into a hard denial. I held out. I kept watching, waiting for it to be a character angle, waiting for Roseanne to learn her lesson or change her stance. It didn't happen. I'll give you this much, there was a beautiful episode that felt like the old show where you defended a Muslim neighbor at the grocery store, and I grabbed onto a ray of hope again. However, the whole thing was just not the same. The spark of the original show was gone.
Fast forward to after the season had ended and your twitter incident, where you claimed your sleep aid made you racist and which we all know is ridiculous. Another knife in the back. This is not the Roseanne I grew up with. This is not the groundbreaking, forward thinking mother character I knew and loved. Now, I know you are not your character, but so much of your personal beliefs were tied into that show. That show tackled tough issues about racism, homophobia, gay marriage, child abuse, teen marriage, divorce, teenage drinking, and so many other issues without so much as batting an eye. It was blunt and raw and in your face, much like you. And then, after all these years, there you were spouting this awful rhetoric that was the complete opposite of what you stood for throughout the 90s.
I felt betrayed and stopped watching reruns altogether. I couldn't bring myself to watch you anymore. Then, I saw the news that you had been removed from the show and that it was going to go forward without you. I'll be honest, I had conflicting feelings about that. I wasn't sure if it would be the same without you. I honestly felt that the show needed to be canceled entirely if you weren't going to be in it. But I had to see that first episode. I had to know how it was going to go on without you. Honestly? It went great.
You see, Roseanne, the direction the show went ended up being amazing. I wasn't sure it could be, but it was. The reboot had ended on a set up for Roseanne Conner to have an opioid addiction. The writers just jumped the gun and killed your character off, and showed the family struggling—their pain, and, beautifully, Dan's pain. (John Goodman, you are a gift.) Since your departure, Sarah Gilbert's Darlene has stepped into that matriarch position and a whole new picture of a struggling parent has been brought to the forefront. It turns out, that is exactly what the show needed.
Because of the success of the new show, sans Roseanne, I became nostalgic for the old episodes. I couldn't hold out on my favorite sitcom family anymore. So, I delved back into it, cautiously. I didn't know how I was going to feel after all these recent events. Now? I'm sitting here writing this while watching the Halloween episode of the second season. I fell right back into this show and I can't leave it.
Right off the bat, there are the encouraging words said to Darlene when she gets her first period, a traumatic time for any girl, and you tell her she doesn't have to change because she got her period; that she can be any kind of woman she wants to be. Then, when Darlene and Becky go to a party and discuss kissing boys and you tell Darlene "Kissing boys is fun as long as it's your idea and you're okay with it [sic]." These were things I needed to hear when I was that age. These were things I did hear because of you. I have to thank you for that. Pushing aside recent events, you were the first feminist I saw. You inspired so many girls to take ownership of their bodies. You blazed a trail during a time when being a feminist wasn't popular. Your lessons stuck with us all this time.
I write this because I want to forgive you. I know you aren't who you used to be, and I don't know what caused you to change, but I forgive you. I do, however, have to voice one question that so many of us are still asking.
How can you throw support to someone who unabashedly boasts about sexually assaulting women after you spent years empowering women and girls with these messages?
I really can't guess why you changed so drastically, but I've learned I can hold onto those early messages. You inspired a generation of feminists in a way you never would have expected, and we can't forget that. So, now, we have to see that it is our time to lead the charge. You lead a charge of your own when it wasn't easy. Now we have to keep that charge going. I also realize the changes in you are likely from some deep, unacknowledged issues, and I hope you find your way back to the feminist fight. In the meantime, I'll honor the early lessons and keep pushing forward.
A feminist you birthed without realizing