Katey Sagal says ‘Married With Children’ was misogynistic

Do you remember Married… With Children? I vaguely do, mostly because I watched it in reruns after its ten year run, from 1987 to 1997. The defining feature of that show was the fact that the women were awful. They were either nags like Katey Sagal’s lazy character, Peggy, and their preppy neighbor, Marcy with her emasculated husband, or clueless idiots like their daughter, Kelly, played by Christina Applegate. The show was told from lead Al Bundy’s (Ed O’Neill’s) perspective and involved a revolving door of stereotypical women who all managed to inconvenience the men in various ways, often by being sexually unavailable. So when Katey Sagal calls that show misogynistic it’s kind of a no-brainer, I think. She said this in an interview with AOL’s Build Series. Katey is promoting her new memoir, Grace Notes: My Recollections. She previously disclosed with the release of her book that she had battled a drug and alcohol addiction in young adulthood that lasted for 15 years. Here’s what she said about Married… With Children:

“It was a very misogynistic show,” Sagal, 63, said of the comedy, which ran for 10 seasons before signing off in June 1997. “It was when I really, clearly understood that my job as an actor was to interpret the material. It’s not necessarily my belief system. My belief system has nothing to do with being an actor. You know, I was hired to play a part … The women were portrayed completely exploited on that show. That was part of Al Bundy’s thing — he liked hot women, and they showed them all the time.”

She continued, “And so, people would ask me questions like, ‘Is this what you think? I mean, how can you be on a show like this?’ And I was really clear that I don’t believe in censorship, and I also believe that it’s my job as an actor to interpret the material — it’s not my belief. If you’re asking me, do I think women should be portrayed in a misogynistic way, in an exploited way, of course I don’t think that. But playing Peg Bundy had nothing to do with what I thought. That was my job.”

Sagal — who moved on to roles on 8 Simple Rules, Lost and Sons of Anarchy — said that she saw Married as a satire, but that not all viewers interpreted it that way. “Suddenly, it dawned on us that this is not just a satire to everybody,” the actress said. “Some people are really, truly relating to this, and that’s when I would get these very serious questions about a show that was really only meant to be funny. It was meant to be funny and to entertain and to laugh at ourselves. And I always got it as that, but some people took it really seriously.”

[From US Magazine]

The fact that Sagal even gets this question is patently unfair. She didn’t write or produce the show. This reminds me of how Amy Adams responded during the Actress Roundtable when asked about the wage gap. She said “Who you should be asking is the Producer Roundtable. We are always put on the chopping block to put our opinion out there.” So yes Married… With Children portrayed women terribly but that’s not on Katey Sagal. I don’t know if I cosign everything she said about how it’s just satire though. Thinking back, so many of the shows in the 80s and 90s were total sexist garbage. Do you remember Three’s Company?! There’s still a lot of that on TV, it’s just not as blatant.


Photos credit: Getty and WENN

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73 Responses to “Katey Sagal says ‘Married With Children’ was misogynistic”

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  1. jinni says:

    Yes it was misogynist, but it’s not like Al was portrayed well. He was pathetic, depressing, and looked slovenly. Kelly was a ditz but Bud (the son) didn’t come off any better. Sure, he was considered the smartest in the whole family but that was only because the rest of them were so stupid. No one one that show was better than the others they were all a mess and overblown caricatures ( which was the point), so I can see why she sees the show as satire because it was a satire of working class life.

    • ichsi says:

      Completely agreed. But unfortunately she’s also right when she says that quite a lot of people didn’t understand that aspect.

      • KB says:

        I don’t think the show’s core audience was picking up on anything even remotely nuanced.

      • a reader says:

        Don’t make that assumption about all of us KB. I was in that core audience during it’s original run and I loved the show. It made me laugh hard every week and it was clear to me that it was over the top satire.

      • Petee says:

        I remember when that show started and Fox too.I was living in L.A. at the time.I also had a roommate that was a musian so there was a lot of Kelly Bundy’s around.It was the norm back then.That all us woman had to look that way.It made me feel insecure as hell.I still laugh at the show,because it is funny.But I can see where she is coming from and what she is saying.

    • Bettyrose says:

      ITA, and if you remember tv culture at that time it was all upper middle class white families in suburbia with supermoms who had great careers and perfect children. This was as close to satire as bland 80s television allowed.

      • Jaded says:

        I thought Roseanne was on TV around the same time? Hadd to remember those it was so long ago

    • Cherise says:

      I remember only two things from this show. 1) the opening sequence during which Al sits on the couch as the master of all he sees and every one of his “subjects” comes over hand out asking for money. Also the wife has her ass out in some weird tights and titters about on stilettos like Marilyn Monroe on meth. Its a comedic “wa-wa-waa” moment during which we are invited to sympathise with him as his children and WIFE milk him dry. 2) an episode during which Al works at a shoe store and balks at assisting an “ugly” woman find shoes but brightens up at a woman in spandex walking in.

      I’m not sure that this show intended for Al to be a flawed protagonist anymore than Jackie Gleeson in the Honeymooners was presented as flawed. If that was their intention, they failed because the audience laughed with Al Bundy and not at him. Katy is 100% correct about that part.

    • trillian says:

      Plus it was Al being sexually unavailable. He would always make excuses and wear stinky socks.

    • perplexed says:

      I was really young when this show aired so I don’t know if I had the critical thinking skills to pick up on the fact that the show was satire, but I do remember thinking Al Bundy was very unappealing — so much so, that it carried over into how I perceived the actor.

      It’s only as an adult after seeing him on Modern Family that I’ve been able to separate the actor from the character.

      • yvrjanice says:

        Yes, I agree on that. I resisted for the longest time watching Modern Family because I didn’t think there was any way I could tolerate watching Ed O’Neill as I found him so incredibly unlikable. Much to my amazement, I love him in Modern Family. Just shows how a role can affect people’s perception of you.

      • Tata says:

        Same, perplexed! I was way too young to understand what was going on. I mostly remember boobs being on the screen a lot and weird dream sequences from Al.

    • DystopianDance says:

      Now that I recall, her character was sexually thwarted by a rude and indifferent man, yet there was never talk of separation, because this was their normal. Christina Applegate’s character focused on her ability to attract men, “I’m everyone’s type”- white, blonde, blue eyed, not an academic atall. Okay. “everyone’s type”. So in retrospect…these messages are just horrific.

    • Tiffany :) says:

      I was a little kid and probably shouldn’t have watched this show, but I did. It made me afraid to be a woman who was fat or had small breasts, because then I would be useless. It told me that women with opinions like Marcy were irritating nags. The ideal was to be a Kelly: all body, no brain. My family always taught me to be a strong woman, but they can’t keep out the messages society is also sending us.

      It was just for entertainment, and I was too young to understand it, but I do feel it had a very negative impact on me at the time.

      • tmot says:

        I was older and could not stand this show. There was a lot of sexist crap everywhere in movies and tv back then. Worse than now, even. So I guess there’s that.

      • jwoolman says:

        The show Married with Children was never for children. I don’t know why so many parents make that mistake. As long as there is no graphic sex or blood, they assume it’s ok for kids. Especially if it’s animated. No, people, The Simpsons is not and never was a children’s show and I would never let kids anywhere near it unless I was right with them to counteract the very kid-unfriendly stuff…. It’s outrageous satire for adults. I remember when it was just an animated short during the Tracy Uhlman (sp.?) show.

        Even as a teenager, Applegate was appalled when she realized she was getting fan letters from young girls who admired her MwC character Kelly. She understood the satire and that Kelly was a terrible role model, but youngsters allowed to watch the show didn’t understand that at all. Too many parents were clueless or else they really did admire the characters themselves.

        As far as Al is concerned – hey, he could have bought food and cooked it himself instead of letting his kids scrounge for toaster leavin’s. He also could have done laundry or run a vacuum once in a while. He made all his own problems.

        What’s interesting is that the show wasn’t originally so extreme. Peg even cooked – with a ciggie in her mouth and ashes falling into things, but she actually cooked. Al was interested in sex with his wife. It got more and more extreme and cartoonish as time went on. Funnier and funnier as well. The Kelly character evolved brilliantly, there were quite a few classic storylines with her once she was out of high school. Also Al was never physically violent with his wife or kids, which was nice. He engaged in some clever nonviolent resistance periodically to get what he wanted.

      • Petee says:

        Tiffany I felt the same way.I just posted above how I felt too.Just like you did.

    • MaybeTomorrow says:

      It portrayed caricature stereotypes at their worst and spared no one. And yet they also managed to find something loveable in all their characters. It was funny and I agree it was satire. I’m annoyed at criticism launched at 20+ year old shows based on today’s standards of correctness. For gods sake, most humor is generated at ultimately laughing at human foilibes…..

  2. Chelly says:

    Um, duh! Lol. It was incredibly misogynist, chauvinistic, sexist & crude and THAT – was a huge part of the appeal at that time. Al & his “No MA’Am” crew, & horny little Bud always tryna score

    • Louise says:

      Oh god I had forgotten about the No MA’Am crew!!!!!! sorry but I loved this show. I thought it was very funny and outrageous. Please don’t diss Married with Children. Is nothing sacred anymore?? I laugh just thinking about it!

    • Beth says:

      No MA’AM,going to the nudie bar and Big’uns magazine. They were all jerks, but will always be my favorite I especially loved when Steve was still around

  3. Lucytunes says:

    What’s so interesting about this is back then MwC got a lot of credit for its diversity. Black and female directors (including the woman who played Marcy, also openly gay at the time), diverse writers. She is right when she said it was SUPPOSED to be satire. But I will never get with the argument, “I knew it was wrong, but I had to do anyway”. She had a choice.

    Why say all this now….oh yeah…book sales.

    • jinni says:

      Because feminism is in trend in the media.

    • MeeMow says:

      I agree that she had a choice. I don’t understand why this site is giving her a pass for playing Peggy Bundy when they went after Scar Jo just last week for playing a racist character. Both actresses had a choice about who they agreed to portray on screen.

      • KatieBo says:

        I agree that it seems to be very pick-and-choose around here. Like Kendall Jenner and the Pepsi commercial. Either all actors/models have a choice to say no, or they do a job for the money. Equal opportunity offenders.

      • Meredith says:

        But there’s also a huge difference in where Katey Sagal was in her career when she accepted this job and where Scarlett Johansson was in her career when she accepted Ghost in the Shell. There’s a difference in accepting a job when you’re a struggling/up and coming actress and accepting a job when you’re already successful and financially well off. That’s the difference, I would say, between Katey Sagal in this situation and Scar Jo and Kendall Jenner.

      • Tiffany :) says:

        To be fair, the show started in one place and went more extreme. In the first episodes, Peg cooked food! It got much nastier as time went on. Plus, they were on Fox when it just started out. This wasn’t expected to be seen by very many people at all.

  4. mkyarwood says:

    Weird comments here, so far. The only person speaking up for themselves at this time might be, say, Ellen, and she was essentially blacklisted. Roseanne’s show was ‘progressive’ in a lot of ways, but she’s a loud Trump supporter. I think it’s odd to ask this particular actor why she didn’t decide just to not have a job, rather than take the part that would keep her in the public eye.

    • Amy Tennant says:

      I know! Bills got to be paid. I’m not looking askance at anyone trying to make an honest living. I wouldn’t have expected her to risk her career at that time. Thank God she has paid her dues and has some security now and the cachet to be able to speak out.
      I hated that show. I can believe it was intended to be satire. Al was a buffoon. But I remember how it was widely received.
      I can give Katey credit for her acting. Maybe Peg was intended to be a two-dimensional harridan, but she managed to give her some heart. That wasn’t easy given the material.

  5. Lafawnda says:

    And in other news, water is wet.

    She’s out promoting a new memoir. She knows what talking points to discuss to sell books. Feminism is a hot topic right now. She’s working the PR train. Smart move, Katey.

    • Lisa says:

      Being that cynical can’t be good for your health. Dang, Lafawnda.

      • Lafawnda says:

        Not cynical, just being realistic. She knows what she’s doing and there is nothing wrong with that at all. That’s showbiz.

  6. detritus says:

    The show is entirely based on how Al is a failure. He has/had everything handed to him and he blew it.
    I’m not positive it’s misogynistic unless you miss its point?

    It was clearly anti gay though, there’s moments you flinch with the joke instead of laughing.

    • Chelly says:

      He has/had everything handed to him & he blew it?? Not sure what that means bc he never had anything, the highlight of his life was ONE story, the same story, relived in his mind over & over again…scoring 4 touchdowns in a single game, in HS! Lol. That was his greatest accomplishment, his only accomplishment

      • detritus says:

        Lol, that’s all he needed to feel that way. It seems to me, he felt he had all the promise in the world, he was going to suceeed even without effort. And from a cultural point (heterosexual white dude) he had markers of success too.

        the shell was ready, the person inside was a stunted self interested moron.

        You could argue Als always been a loser like the librarian does though?

  7. Char says:

    I couldn’t stand this show, Al was so annoying to me! But I love Ed O’Neil on Modern Fsmily, even though I think there is sometimes a little bit of his Al Bundy character in him on MF? The good part is, he usually sees the error of his ways. & I just love Ed anyways; that story where he met Britany Spears in the airport, she was excited to meet him & took a picture with him & he had no clue who she was until someone told him (after she put the picture on social media). But he was so funny because Ellen asked him about it & he said he felt like such an idiot, not recognizing her.

    The only people I know who just loved MwC were men. I worked with a guy who, even 10 years ago still practically idolized Al Bundy, thought he was hilarious. 🙄

  8. shane says:

    The women inconvenienced the men by being sexually unavailable? Did you watch that show? My guess is you did not. 🙂

    • Vesta says:

      Yup, that’s my guess too. 😉

    • M.A.F. says:

      Right? When Marcy got with Jefferson (even when she was with Steve) you knew they had a healthy sex life. Peg was always dragging Al upstairs.

    • Amy Tennant says:

      I’m guessing what was meant was “the hot sexy girls” were unavailable. Except Kelly.

      • jwoolman says:

        But when the hot&sexy did become available, Al always turned her down. He explained he was “married with children”. He actually was faithful to his wife. Of course, the joke was that Peg actually was in the hot&sexy category herself….

        The family, dysfunctional though it was, did pull together when needed (Kelly even defended little brother Bud when he was humiliated by a girl at school). I remember one show where Peg was mourning the discontinuation of her favorite bra, the only one she felt comfortable in. Al drove a long distance to a store that still had some in stock and got a dozen or two of them for her. That’s true love.

  9. Chelly says:

    @detritus ahhhhhh, gotcha. In that case you’re absolutely right, had he not impregnated & felt obligated to marry Peggy he maaaay have had success. And ha! I love that episode w the librarian “yeah, yeah, bake a pie eat a pie”

  10. the_blonde_one says:

    Does she feel the same about her husband’s show that she starred on ‘Sons of Anarchy’? I don’t disagree with her but she went on to star in one of THE most misogynistic shows I’ve ever seen- with her husband writing it.

    • littlemissnaughty says:

      Oh my god someone said it, thank you. I guess she can’t knock it for the reasons you mention but I hate that show. The characters are terrible, terrible people. I don’t care that Jax is hot, he is a vile, violent criminal. I know that’s the point of the show, more or less, but I couldn’t make it past season 2. It’s well-written and the acting is great, that’s how I made it this far. But I can’t spend my time on a show where I want all the main characters to die in a barn fire.

      As for MwC, I thought it was a reaction to sitcoms like the Cosby Show? The antithesis to the wholesome stuff that was on TV back then. I never liked it much but I think that’s because as a kid I actually didn’t get the satire part.

    • Erinn says:

      I’ve only watched here and there , but I was under the impression that that’s the point. I mean, people made it a huge hit, and you KNOW they worship the characters. But from what I’ve seen (and from the recaps I’ve read or was given by the husband) it wasn’t supposed to be showing them in a good light. I took it as “here’s a bunch of f—ed up people, and here’s all the bad stuff that happens because of their terrible decisions”. Of course the masses probably don’t really take it that way… but it seemed too on the nose for me to not think that was the intended point.

      So I don’t know. Maybe I took it the wrong way.

      • littlemissnaughty says:

        No I’m sure you’re right. I’m just saying that premise does not appeal to me whatsoever and I just hate the characters. I’d rather watch something a LITTLE less exhausting.

  11. Birdie says:

    Everyone on that show was presented in a stereotype way. Men and women were portrayed in that way. But I have a soft spot for the show, because I watched it in my childhood and even as a child I could see that those characters were not real, over the top and a bad representation of males/females. Was it some Citizen Kane stuff? Nope. Was it politically correct and would be allowed nowadays? Noo. But when I see the opening I am reminded of nice memories, so that’s that.

  12. Insomniac says:

    EVERYBODY on that show was awful! She’s right that it was misogynistic, but the men were portrayed just as badly. Al was a pig and a slob, and Marcy’s husbands were a weenie and then a shallow sleaze. Basically, everyone sucked. LOL.

    I remember thinking it was really funny back in college. I bet it hasn’t aged well, though.

  13. Bridget says:

    Am I missing something? The show was a satire, it wasn’t something to be taken literally. In an era of sappy, gooey family TV it was the worst people doing terrible things to the people around them (and each other) and living miserably ever after. And yeah, Kathy’s job is to portray and interpret the material, not write it.

  14. Fanny says:

    I knew at 10 years old that this show was misogynistic and I hated it. (And I hated everyone associated with the show for years.)

    Katey is responsible for the content of the show because she chose to be on it. “I was just doing my job” is never an excuse. She absolutely should be held accountable for what she freely chose to be a part of.

    Ed O’Neill absorbed the bulk of the criticism for decades, and he certainly deserved it, but so does Katey.

  15. Jennifer says:

    If you want to see misogynistic TV, turn on any black and white show. The Dick Van Dyke Show, The Honeymooners, etc. You can also watch the old game shows and see the same thing. I record some of these shows because I still find many of them funny and fun to watch, but there are times I find myself asking “Wth?”

  16. Veronica says:

    Oh, it definitely had its problems (I realized how bad it was as I got older), but it didn’t bother me as much as other shows did simply because the men were such awful people. Like, nobody in that show was a prize – that’s why they were stuck chasing after the pathetic memories of their past.

  17. Nameless says:

    I loved the show, I thought it was feminist! Peggy refused to do housework, which was a big feminist issue at the time. She was sexually in charge. She and Marcy went to strip clubs and did what they wanted. Peggy totally rejected the female role.

    There was on episode where Al is grossed out by a woman breastfeeding in his store, and the show made a big deal out of how he liked his issue if Big ‘Uns with sexy boobs, but got disturbed about seeing a boob feeding a baby.

    I thought it was kind of surprisingly progressive under the satire.

    • KB says:

      But it was framed as Peggy being too lazy to do housework.

    • Steph says:

      I agree! I was waiting for someone to stick up for Peggy when I was reading the comments. I thought she was awesome. She did what she wanted. She didn’t give a shit what Al wanted because he sucked. And she still loved him too, which is realistic. Sometimes people love people who are shitty. And then you deal with it in the best way you can, which is what she did. And for people saying she was portrayed as lazy- that was Al’s opinion of her. She didn’t care; she lived the way she wanted. I loved Peggy! That being said I hated the way that all the “bimbos” were portrayed on the show.

  18. Lucy says:

    Here in Argentina we had our own remake of it. There was a pretty nasty fight between the producers and the actors due to the reruns, but they’re still on and far from being pulled up. It was pretty popular here back then, still is.

  19. Ana says:

    Funny, I always thought that Married… with Children was more of a sarcastic commentary on how men like Al Bundy (who wasn’t exactly a positive portrayal of a man either) view women, mistakenly of course. You could tell because on the surface Peggy seemed shallow and dumb but she was always running the show.

  20. Kelly says:

    The women were sexually unavailable? This post was about Married with Children right? I did not the women as sexually unavailable in M w/C. i thought the show was great. The women were the ones who usually “won” and were the bosses.

  21. Kitten says:

    I LOVED that show and ITA with posters that it was satire–a show about awful people much like Always Sunny.

    That being said, I remember even at a young age feeling..yucky about what I perceived to be the sexism/misogyny at times. I think it was mostly the objectification of Kelly that got under my skin at times.

    But it wasn’t enough discomfort to get to me to stop watching the show so…eh.

  22. yep says:

    And still she starred in “Sons of Anarchy”, a show that was frequently misogynistic and referred to women as “gashes”.
    Who was the showrunner? Her husband.

  23. Neo says:

    I like Married with Children. The answer to the show’s sexism is successful, funny shows with feminist values. Roseanne was amazing for that. So was Murphy Brown.

    Some people really do live like the Bundy’s… And they deserve representation. But it has to exist within a spectrum of points of views. Unchallenged, it’s too influential.

  24. Lasagnawasgreat says:

    Gemmaaaaaa! I have a love hate relationship with her on SOA.

  25. Tony montana says:

    I love the show especially Kelly she is so gorgeous

  26. Tony montana says:

    The show was great

  27. Killy says:

    As I recall Al was the one sexually unavailable to Peggy. So I don’t get the “sexually unavailable women” comment in the article. Come to think of it, all the women on the show were pretty horny.

  28. Almost all of the commenter’s can’t remember this show. The show is not misogynistic it’s mesothropic. Everyone is terrible from cops to politician’s. Al is not just a flawed hero he is literally cursed. The Bundy curse. Smelly feet and poor luck is his lot. A high school hero made shoe store worker who once scored 4 touch downs in a single game. A fact no one cares about. Al is disgusting on so many levels as is every character but they pay for it over and over again. Original working titled “not the cosbys”. It’s true brilliance is the realization the bill Cosby was raping women. It doesn’t pretend reality is full house or growing pains or leave it to beaver. It says this is reality and while it ducks the very fact that we get out of bed every morning makes us heroes.

  29. Shark Bait says:

    Shrug… I loved Married with Children when I was younger. I thought it was supposed to be a satire on awful people (like It’s Always Sunny is).

  30. Alexis says:

    I never liked MWC. Even as a child before I knew wtf misogyny was, the show had this intense negative vibe to me like a sad day and I just…didn’t like it.

  31. Nina says:

    I remember watching the reruns of Married. It was funny. Sometimes things are just a joke. Sure, the women were unlikable stereotypes, but, as far as I remember it, so was the men. Al Bundy was a loser and a fool…

  32. k says:

    I thought it was obvious satire at the time.