Silver Screen Artists

June Cleaver: The Deconstruction of the Housewife Stereotype!

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When looking back to the 1950s and into the 1960s we seem to put blinders on to the fact that there was, indeed, some freedoms afforded to everyday woman! We look to those decades as a time in history where the stereotypes kept the women "in the kitchen" and the man was "in the office"...whether it was true or not (back then) society certainly has a way of producing memories based on these theories! Certain iconic figures of the time helped to break that mold... and, believe it or not, our June Cleaver was one of the mold breakers! Sure, we think of June as the perfect mom... the ideal housewife... "every-woman" USA with her high heels and pearls and vacuumed rug... but June was much deeper than that poor little stereotype! So much deeper...

 

 

 

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June was not just a housewife!

True, June Cleaver was a housewife, but so were millions of women in the late 1950s and early 1960s when the show aired. While there are still some beliefs about having the "luxury" to choose to be housewives instead of working outside the home, housework is often looked down upon by others as a thing of the past that represents a time when women did not have as many freedoms as they do today. Maybe today it is nice to see that society is more open to a "choice"...This should have never been an issue... but it was the 1950s!  However, we have to remember to also view Leave It to Beaver as a thing of the past as well. It seems unfair to judge a show that is over 55 years old based on how some women might live life today.

 

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Billingsley supposedly once said, “June Cleaver didn’t keep her house in perfect order, the prop man did it,” a reminder that June is not a real person who actually made a house look the way the Cleavers’ did. But just because June is a housewife does not mean there is nothing else to her character. She was hardly one dimensional. June is actually quite funny, sarcastic, and witty. She is compassionate toward her children, even when they get in trouble while “messing around.”

 

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She frequently forms a bridge between the children and her husband, Ward, who is a strong disciplinarian. Especially when they are younger, but throughout the entire series, the Beaver and Wally are often afraid of their father and June steps in to keep the house at peace. June is also smart, got good grades at the boarding school she attended, played on the boarding school’s basketball team, and has a college degree.

 

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Billingsley herself was a working, widowed mother of two who was raised by single mother. More reflective of Billingsley herself and of modern times, in The New Leave It to Beaver, Ward is dead (Hugh Beaumont, who played him, passed away in real life before the remake began), June takes up a seat on the Mayfield City Council, and she is also taking more college classes. On the original show, her character makes a conscious decision to be a housewife, as the Cleaver’s middle class standing afforded her that opportunity. How do we know June made a conscious decision to be a homemaker, though?

 

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So, June Had this to say: In one episode, Beaver, who is worried about his upcoming IQ test at school, goes to June for moral support. He tells June, “Girls have got it lucky…They don’t have to be smart. They don’t have to get jobs or anything. Alls they gotta do is get married.” He says women who do not get married could do a bunch of “dumb stuff” like “become dressmakers or cut people’s nails in the barber shop or take care of kids.” To this, June tells her son, “Well, Beaver, today girls can be doctors and lawyers too, you know. They’re just as ambitious as boys are.” With this statement, she is acknowledging she is aware that there are multiple options out there for her and that she has simply chosen the one that works best for her.

 

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June regularly stands up to Ward... An act not often performed by her TV contemporaries. Whether it is Ward’s self boasting and June’s rejoinders along the lines of “but I still married you anyway,” or the way Ward wants to raise their children, June regularly has a say in household matters. She has opinions on money handling and other issues that impact the family. She tells Ward to leave his bad mood at the office when he comes home upset so he does not take it out on the boys. She hardly sits by and defers to her husband on every occasion

 

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. When she does defer to Ward in some cases of disciplining the children, she usually does so when it would make him seem like the meaner parent and her seem like the nicer parent. Ward and June sometimes shoot playful jabs at each other, like the “but I still married you anyway” one, and for every one Ward gets off on June, she has another for him. Throughout the course of the series, she got mad at the children and her husband, and while things worked themselves out by the end of each episode, not everything was perfect in the Cleaver household all the time.

(source: by Elissa Blattman, for nwhm.org)

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