When I was a thirteen-year-old freshman in high school, more than a few moons ago by now, I was assigned my first big-kid research paper in English class. The only criteria was that we write about something that had “changed the world,” a topic that obviously allowed us the freedom to be subjective in our choices, yet one that still needed to be quantifiable enough, given the requirement of our papers’ accompanying two-page bibliographies.
I wasted no time in convincing my somewhat-skeptical teacher that I would be able to make a case for I Love Lucy. Having grown up spending sick days immersed in reruns, studying Lucille Ball’s life for a class assignment felt like a dream come true. (Spoiler alert: I was not popular in high school. Shocker, right?)
There were a few things that I knew before diving into my research: that Ball’s on and off-screen husband, Desi Arnaz, developed television’s famous sitcom format, that the show’s character relationships would go on to be emulated by countless successors, and that Ball herself was regarded as a pioneer of modern comedy. What I learned along the way was that Lucille Ball was not only breaking entertainment industry barriers, but also those of gender inequality. She was 40 when I Love Lucy began airing, an age that, for women in the mega-distorted town of Hollywood, can all-too-often translate to over-the-hill. She was the first pregnant woman to portray a pregnant woman on TV. She was also the first woman to own her own studio, Desilu Productions.
In addition to her solo accomplishments, she and Desi have been credited with essentially inventing the rerun. By deciding to film I Love Lucy rather than broadcast it live, they allowed high-quality prints to be made and preserved over time. Lucy and Desi were also television’s first interracial couple, something that was incredibly groundbreaking at the time. Lucy was a trailblazer in the truest sense of the word, both on and off screen, and that’s a fairly rad legacy, at least in my opinion.
However, quite possibly the most important lesson I took away from my freshman year I Love Lucy research paper, was that of feminism. The assignment taught me about what feminism means, what the movement has accomplished over time, and why it is still so freaking necessary. Lucille Ball was a woman who didn’t take no for an answer. She defied gender norms and stereotypes. She broke glass ceilings, culturally and professionally. In other words, she got shit done, and she inspired thirteen-year-old me to believe that I could too.