On September 23, 1962, “The Jetsons” premiered, making it the first program broadcast in color for ABC. Set in the year 2063, the cartoon helped Americans define the future while also amplifying a backwards stereotype about women drivers that is still pervasive to this day.
Although the show only aired for one season and 24 episodes, “The Jetsons” remained in TV syndication on three networks through the 1980s. With the historical backdrop of the “space race” to the moon between the United States and the Soviet Union, the cartoon captured Americans’ imagination about a future world set in outer space. The Jetsons family — George and Jane with their children Judy and Elroy, along with their robot, Rosie, and pets, Astro and Orbity — lived in the futuristic Orbit City surrounded by machines and gadgets, including holograms and flying cars. Reflecting a lingering conservative era in 1962, “The Jetsons” was known for promoting a generally traditional message, including stereotypes about women.
Entitled “Jane’s Driving Lesson,” the episode plays up the sexist trope about women being inherently terrible drivers. At one point in the show, George Jetson pulled up next to a female driver on the flying car superhighway and, after getting confused by her hand signals, he shouted, “Women drivers, that’s the problem!”
George Jetson was simply echoing a long-standing myth that had existed since the 1920s in America. In the 1910s, car prices became more affordable at the same time that men left to fight in World War I. With the looming absence of men due to wartime, women were encouraged to learn to drive. When men returned home from the trenches at the end of war, they feared the growing independence that driving cars offered to women. That is when the first myths about women’s subpar road skills started to percolate.
Although the writers of “The Jetsons” were not the originators of the sexist myth, the early twentieth century stereotype lived on for decades thanks to the popularity of the show on TV networks. Luckily for kids today, there are more feminist cartoon character roles that promote an empowered message, like Lisa Simpson (“The Simpsons”) and Sandy Cheeks (“SpongeBob SquarePants”).