What’s Sex Got to Do With… The Cosby Show?

Over the past two decades, The Cosby Show has become a staple in cultural discourse about family life and, by extension, how minorities are represented on television. One of the strongest characters to emerge from the show was Cliff Huxtable’s wife, Clair Huxtable. A lawyer, business woman, wife, and mother, Clair is characterized both as being strong and goal oriented, while at the same time, matronly and devoted.

The following clip shows Clair adhering to conventional gender roles, much to the surprise of Elvin.

Clair’s response to Elvin in this scene is a perfect demonstration of what feminism looks like in a household setting, and how questions with innocuous intent can in actuality be somewhat offensive. One of the most important aspects of feminism that can often times get overlooked is promoting women to make choices independent of social convention. At the micro-level, the action of Clair offering to make Cliff and Elvin coffee could be characterized as submissive and gender-normative. However, if the audience were to widen their scope to include all of Clair’s interactions with Cliff, they would soon realize that many of Clair’s decisions to not reflect the “housewife” persona that she allegedly put on by offering to make her husband coffee.




This quote, which also features in Beyonce’s Flawless, provides a concise, transparent definition of feminism that often times escapes most of the population. In the Cosby Show clip, Elvin is not bad. Ignorant? Yes, but not intentionally misogynistic. Elvin represents much of society in such a way that it thinks of entire schools of thought, such as feminism, in binaries. Can a feminist be married? Can a feminist have children? Can they be a stay at home parent? According to Elvin’s logic, the answer to these questions is “no”. 

Elvin, and all of the Elvin-esque people in the world are missing one of the key principles of what feminism actually looks like in practice. The Clair Huxtables of the world can make their partners coffee if they want to, or not. They could choose to follow every gender norm in the book, or not. Feminism can take on many different forms and is unique to each practitioner. Next time we think of what a feminist looks like, we can think of scholars, lawyers, politicians, and entrepreneurs, but let us also include the mothers, secretaries, nurses, and people of all genders and vocation in the conversation of people who believe in equality.

3 thoughts on “What’s Sex Got to Do With… The Cosby Show?

  1. I’ve started wondering all of these things over the past few years. Can I still call myself a feminist if I become a stay-at-home mom? Does me wanting to put my family (i.e. kids) first mean that I am reinforcing our patriarchal society? Personally, I look at it from the standpoint that I would not do it because my future husband wants me to or anybody else wants me to. It would be because it is what I want. I feel like sacrificing my personal wants and needs goes against feminist ideals. I’m supposed to be equal and capable of everything a man is. That doesn’t mean I have to want everything men want.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Great points! Why can’t a woman who wants to be a nurse and not a doctor embody everything that is feminism, the same way the female doctor does? Feminism to me, is about making decisions. It is when a woman OWN’s her “role” as a wife, or mother, or just a female living in society, and makes decisions about what SHE wants to do or be. It has nothing to do with living up to “traditional” gender roles, but whether or not she choose to display these roles because she genuinely wanted to. Sometimes feminists can be seen to become “nazi’s” (for lack of a better term) in which they impose these rules on a what a feminist looks like which in turn is reversely placing more social restraints on an already restrained population within society.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I thought this was a great clip in capturing feminism and proving what it means to be a strong and determined woman. It is interesting though that this scene is shocking for the viewer because television shows do not normally depict women in this manner, but it necessary. Would it make the viewer uncomfortable if every show’s mother-like-character acted like this and represented these qualities? It goes against the norm, but how would the viewer react, would the show thus lose their viewers?


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