This guest post by Scarlett Harris appears as part of our theme week on Women and Work/Labor Issues.
Despite all the midriff tops and high heels worn while fighting supernatural beings, and despite the damaged household items, buildings and cars which seem to miraculously be fixed by the next episode, if not before, Charmed is a lesson in work/life balance.
Throughout the eight seasons, which culminated in 2006, the Halliwell sisters struggle to balance demon fighting with romance, employment, study, and family.[caption id="attachment_8950" align="aligncenter" width="600"] The Charmed Ones spellcasting[/caption]
Oldest sister Prue (Shannen Doherty) was killed off at the end of season three but not before she ditched her demon-dwelling auction house job at Buckland’s for freelance photography and bowed out of the dating game to focus on magic. As the head of a household whose mother died young, Prue was a maternal figure to her sisters, always concerned with putting family first, at the detriment to her love life and, ultimately, her actual life.
In “Which Prue Is It, Anyway?” from season one, Prue casts a spell to produce two carbon copies of herself, which carry out tasks such as dealing with her ex-boyfriend and cop on her case, Andy, while another one works on a spell with Piper and Phoebe, and yet another goes to Buckland’s to finish up some work. Talk about being a Superwoman![caption id="attachment_8952" align="aligncenter" width="400"] Prue, Prue, and more Prue[/caption]
Piper (played by Holly Marie Combs), who turns out to be the most level-headed and conventionally “normal” of the three sisters, gets fed up with being walked over in her season one job as manager of Quake restaurant and quits to open her own club, P3. She then gets seriously involved with whitelighter Leo, whom she marries in season three, and has two children with him, Wyatt and Chris. They then separate, Piper dates other people, they get back together again… Apart from the anguish of knowing their firstborn, Wyatt, grows up to be evil, Piper’s depiction as a frazzled “working mum” with a supernatural side really is the most realistic of the four Halliwell/Matthews sisters.[caption id="attachment_8953" align="aligncenter" width="600"] Piper becomes a mother[/caption]
Which brings us to Phoebe (Alyssa Milano), the youngest of the original Charmed Ones until Paige comes along in season four. She enters the show as a free-spirit with a flawed perception of the future, or so we are led to believe by Prue, who’s had her issues with Phoebe in the past. In the first season alone she works as a hotel psychic, Prue’s assistant at Buckland’s and a real estate agent. After she casts a smart spell in “The Painted World” early on in season two, Phoebe decides to expand her knowledge for good and goes back to college. After graduating in season three (I wish I graduated college that quickly!), she goes on to write a successful advice column for The Bay Mirror newspaper, which fellow independent woman Elise edits.
We can’t forget Phoebe’s tumultuous personal life–her intense connection with Cole/Balthazar turn her into the queen of the underworld and the prospective mother of his demon spawn, she moves to China with millionaire boss Jason, becoming an aunty to Wyatt and Chris and, later, a mother to her own kids and taking a sabbatical from the newspaper because she’s feeling disconnected from her work. After Prue’s death, Phoebe takes on her longing for a less magical life which becomes somewhat of a reality for her in passing on the Charmed Ones’ knowledge to rookie witch Billie (a post-8 Simple Rules but pre-Big Bang Theory Kaley Cuoco) and the next generation of Halliwell witches.[caption id="attachment_8954" align="aligncenter" width="600"] Phoebe’s column becomes famous[/caption]
Half-sister Paige Matthews, played by Rose McGowan, enters Piper and Phoebe’s life as a social worker at the beginning of season four. She is unreceptive to being magical at first, and spends most of the first season trying to maintain a “normal life,” with a job, a boyfriend, and a new family who happens to be supernatural. (She, like Prue, later leaves the paid workforce to focus on witch duties full-time.) Throughout her televised tenure as a Charmed One, Paige dabbles in temp work with a magical twist, becomes a whitelighter and the principal of magic school, then marries and has kids.
[caption id="attachment_8955" align="aligncenter" width="600"] Paige joins the family[/caption]
Phoebe and Paige’s evolution through their working lives is particularly poignant to the millennial Charmed audience; many people I know grew up watching the three (or is it four?) sisters flitting from job to job in their quest to find purpose and fulfillment. And we don’t even have daily demon attacks to contend with! The support of their family is key in allowing the Halliwell’s to shun traditional careers in favor of part-time- and self-employment and working from home, much like Gen Y is able to save for house deposits and overseas gap years while living with their long-suffering parents.[caption id="attachment_8951" align="aligncenter" width="600"] The family that brews together, stays together[/caption]
After all, that is what Charmed is all about: family—sisters who just happen to be witches, and everything that goes along with both of those roles. While the manifestation of three fully groomed and immaculately dressed sister witches each morning in the Halliwell manor, who spend their days flitting about town vanquishing demons, protecting the innocent, working their day jobs, caring for their family, going on dates, maintaining a home, studying, managing their own businesses, etc., is extremely unrealistic, the sheer magnitude of what the Charmed Ones have to go through each day is somewhat of a metaphor for what working women—especially those with an extended family who all happen to live under the one roof—go through on a day-to-day basis. And sometimes, they manage to take it in stride, just as the Charmed Ones do.