06/07/2012 10:06 am ET

Beyond 'Mad Men's' Joan: How TV Has Tackled Taboo Female Topics

Divorce, abortion, single motherhood: Shows from Mary Tyler Moore to Murphy Brown changed the conversation.

The 1970s were a watershed moment for American women. Congress passed Title IX, a law that forbade schools receiving federal money from discriminating based on sex. The Supreme Court legalized abortion. And the Equal Rights Amendment, courting ratification by the states,still had a hope in hell.

Not only did TV prepare viewers for these milestones, some shows paved the way - beaming an alternative to June Cleaver's chirpy self-abnegation into households still wedded to the Cleaver model. This is not to undercut the real-life accomplishment of feminists Betty Friedan, Gloria Steinem or Bella Abzug. But to suggest that Mary Richards, Mary Tyler Moore’s reluctant TV icon of female independence, belongs among these groundbreakers - along with other important TV characters, such as Edith Bunker, and her cousin Maude.

Read more on The Hollywood Reporter