Modern equivalent to June Cleaver

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Reader Ara asks:

Every semester the intro psych classes get asked “who is the modern-day June Cleaver?” We never have an answer– and the psych professor doesn’t have one either; he doesn’t think his students’ generation has a quick easy TV stereotype for that kind of Perfect Mother. The closest any class has come is “women in commercials” and we then discussed the implications for women-as-complex-people that that’s now considered something you can only pull off in a 30-second ad spot.

I figure if anyone knows, it’s going to be you– is there a modern-day TV equivalent to June Cleaver?

Comments

  1. Maria says

    The Barefoot Contessa, Martha Stewart, and Kate Gosselin (in the early seasons of Jon and Kate Plus 8). They all not only focus on homemaking, but on a type where you pretty much devote all your energy to making memories for your family.

    Nigella Lawson also has a “How to be a Domestic Goddess” book.

  2. says

    Sarah Palin, maybe, in her “hockey mom” persona. I haven’t seen her TV show (or her daughter’s) but during the ’08 elections they were really pushing her as an all-American mom, who effortlessly balanced a career and a family – she took the kids to hockey, defended Alaska from grizzly bears, and ~selflessly~ cared for her special-needs baby by bringing him to the office with her.

  3. Maria says

    I would say Molly Weasley too, but she’s not hot enough. Maybe Lois Griffin? She’s hot in canon, and goodhumoredly tolerates her manchild of a husband.

  4. SunlessNick says

    If I may be facetious, Aeryn Sun – baby D’Argo in one hand and gun in the other, blasting away at Scarrans – awesomest mother ever.

    More seriously, I think Debi Linton has it.

  5. says

    The motherhood stereotype has changed since June Cleaver’s time. June Cleaver always wore pearls (Marge Simpson is right on), even while vacuuming, looked immaculate and kept a perfect house. She could give the kids advice, but mainly relied on her husband to keep them disciplined and in-line.

    Today’s modern mother stereotype is supposed to do all June did PLUS the discipline – because dads are too busy being amusingly useless being buffoons like Homer Simpson – PLUS run a Fortune 500 company or a US state or, at the very very least, kick massive ass at some career.

    Something that really pisses me off about 1950s/60s sitcoms. I’ve never found a source for this other than a professor I had at UCLA, but I find it credible: he said Washington asked the TV networks to create shows that taught people how to strive to be ideal American families. Mom was at home, leaving Rosie the Riveter’s job to the menfolk, and the house and kids always sparkled, and Dad could solve any problem. While these shows could arguably give white middle classers a superficial appearance to strive for (none of these shows took in the real psychological issues that actually faced the middle class, or the rebelliousness of the 60s might never have exploded like it did), they did absolutely nothing for poor whites, people of color, families struggling with someone’s disability, etc. If you couldn’t afford pearls, you couldn’t wear them for vacuuming or anything else. If your kids were perceived as misbehaving by teachers who hated them no matter how they behaved, you couldn’t feel like you maintained discipline – and the kids learned that good behavior and hard work didn’t lead to rewards in their case. If Dad worked nights, he couldn’t come home for dinner and a family performing all those lovely rituals to welcome him home – and he probably rarely saw the kids, and therefore never had much chance to discipline them.

    And this is why I have mixed feelings about the Huxstables – on the one hand, it’s great for showing that black families can be as professional and together as any white family. OTOH, it didn’t give a clue how people without money or education were supposed to get to that point. (Correct me if I’m wrong; I don’t recall any discussion of how either parent’s family became moneyed and educated.)

    This is why the Roseanne show will always have a special place in my heart. Finally, a family that couldn’t possibly pretend to be the Cleavers. They dealt with layoffs, unemployment, starting their own businesses and kids with very distinct personalities and issues. It didn’t provide a template for getting out of poor/working class, even for whites, but finally, here was a poor family that didn’t try to get rich quick; they were trying to get some financial security slowly, and they worked for it, and even when they didn’t make a single stupid decision, it usually blew up on them eventually.

    And there was such good analysis of why they sometimes made stupid decisions (it wasn’t like making the right ones ever did the trick for long), and why they weren’t better at parenting (their own parents hadn’t been very good at it, either), etc.

    We need more shows like Rosanne, featuring more race groups, and families with various other issues that don’t fit into Perfect Family stereotypes.

    • Maria says

      Oh, yeah, that push for the ideal homelife in media came from the US gov’t because of the need for returning WWII vets to be integrated back into the social fold, and because of the need for (white, middle-class) women to return to the fold. It’s actually really interesting to compare the kind of adventures you were supposed to have when you were a young woman in the 1930s to the 1950s/60s. For example, part of the edits in the Nancy Drew series involved not just cutting down on the racism but making her more “ladylike.”

  6. MaggieCat says

    Wait, are we suggesting candidates for the Unrealistic Cleaver Ideal TV Mom or the actual Perfect TV Mom?

    Because I’m pretty sure that second title was won by Tami Taylor hands down. :-)

  7. MaggieCat says

    I was afraid of that. Because that just makes me think of Desperate Housewives (at least the early seasons, before I quit) and that just makes me sad for so many reasons.

  8. Amy McCabe says

    I’m not sure if there really is a single “Cleaver” ideal out there right now and perhaps that’s a good thing. It seems to me that moms in the 60s were a type of propaganda (and conversation above seems to affirm that). Women are housewives. They care for the home and small children while the men work and make the major decisions.

    I simply don’t think anyone expects women to do the amount of housework that was typical at that time period. I’m currently reading a book that discussed a shift in parents and particularly women’s use of time. According to it, 60% of women stayed at home in the 60s and that has shifted to only 30% now. Moreover, women actually spend MORE time with their kids, but drastically less time doing housework (and there was also a great reduction in personal time). Men do more housework than ever, though women still do the bulk. (I’d argue men also tend to help with the more fulfilling housework.)

    I think what’s resulted is a number of much lesser ideals instead of one strong central ideal. Women can be stay at home, work, be powerhouse career moms or even have a baby in one hand and gun in the other like Aeryn Sun. Of course they do all this perfectly-they’re ideals and thus divorced from the reality of trying to “balance” a career with parenthood. As a career mom, I often feel like I have five full time jobs and always just barely keeping afloat.

  9. SunlessNick says

    Amy. You know how every so often, someone makes a comment that deserves to be a post by itself? That was one of those.

  10. Maria says

    Amy McCabe,

    Amy McCabe:
    I’m not sure if there really is a single “Cleaver” ideal out there right now and perhaps that’s a good thing.It seems to me that moms in the 60s were a type of propaganda (and conversation above seems to affirm that).Women are housewives.They care for the home and small children while the men work and make the major decisions.

    I simply don’t think anyone expects women to do the amount of housework that was typical at that time period.I’m currently reading a book that discussed a shift in parents and particularly women’s use of time.According to it, 60% of women stayed at home in the 60s and that has shifted to only 30% now.Moreover, women actually spend MORE time with their kids, but drastically less time doing housework (and there was also a great reduction in personal time).Men do more housework than ever, though women still do the bulk.(I’d argue men also tend to help with the more fulfilling housework.)

    I think what’s resulted is a number of much lesser ideals instead of one strong central ideal.Women can be stay at home, work, be powerhouse career moms or even have a baby in one hand and gun in the other like Aeryn Sun.Of course they do all this perfectly-they’re ideals and thus divorced from the reality of trying to “balance” a career with parenthood.As a career mom, I often feel like I have five full time jobs and always just barely keeping afloat.

    I kinda disagree with you on the housework front; I think that when you’re talking about TV moms/wifes, like the one in Everybody loves Raymond, or King of Queens, or in the Suite Life, that the work associated with keeping the house clean is erased. At least with June, you SAW her clean, and in the Brady Bunch, you SAW cleaning be work.

    In most shows nowadays, the house just… is always clean.

  11. Maria says

    Oh, and the other thing I was thinking of is that the June Cleaver ideal is I think harder to pin down now-a-days because it’s so much about mothering your husband now instead of just your kids, as well as a general trend towards snarkier humor. So while Debra in Everyone Loves Raymond was sometimes a little mean, I think she comes closest to a present “ideal” wife — she’s hot, you never SEE her work, but the house is always clean/there’s always food ready, she works fulltime at some mystery job, she doesn’t SAY she wants sex (but you know she wants sex), and while she might get a little shrill, she doesn’t ACTUALLY demand Ray change who he is.

  12. Amy McCabe says

    SunlessNick:
    Amy.You know how every so often, someone makes a comment that deserves to be a post by itself?That was one of those.

    Wow! Thanks! That compliment made my day!

  13. Amy McCabe says

    Maria,

    Maria: I think that when you’re talking about TV moms/wifes…

    But I wasn’t. :)

    But to bring it back to how it applies to TV moms, no we don’t see them clean anymore and that may reflect that we don’t expect housework to take up as much of women’s time nowadays, yet we still expect “women’s work” to be done. You really hit the nail on the head, the houses are magically clean. Even if you don’t see it on screen, clearly labor happens in the home, and I think it would be assumed that it was the woman BUT since you don’t actually see her do the work, one can reason it can’t really be that much work…right?

  14. Amy McCabe says

    After an insane amount of reflection, I’ve decided the ideal tv mom…except she’s in film not tv: Mrs. Weasley.

  15. Amy McCabe says

    Maria,

    Maria: it’s so much about mothering your husband now instead of just your kids

    Ugh. The Man-Child. I’ve always felt this stereotype is damaging to both sexes. Not insisting that young boys strive towards responsibility and maturity means you end up with a man that doesn’t know how to act like a responsible adult. And that buys into the “men can’t help it” kind of stereotype that is so very damaging to women.

  16. Maria says

    Amy McCabe,

    But you (we?) were. I’m saying that I think women are still expected to do the bulk of the housework (as you are), but am highlighting that one of the differences between the June Cleaver ideal we’re talking about is that it’s no longer “marked” as work (involving labor, time and training) in the same way. I think that’s one of the reasons SAHM/SAHW get such disparagement, because the home is no longer marked as a site of labor. This makes it difficult to evaluate how much labor practices have changed (and how much of that change/evolution depends on the unmarked labor of women of color and poor women as domestics, underpaid kitchen workers in and out the home, child care providers, factory workers, etc) and how much survey respondents *feel like* they’ve changed, when stuff like cleaning up is no longer seen as work.

  17. Amy McCabe says

    Maria,

    You are right, I had failed to connect my point to the conversation (how women are treated on tv/ideal woman). So the misunderstanding is caused by me. At any rate, I don’t think we are in disagreement.

    The book does not but it was quoting a study on a minor point of a different theme (mothers raising sons). The actual study might have. I’d have to look back. For that matter, I just took out a book that was a study on home current moms use their time so that info could be in there. I haven’t gotten to that book yet. It’s a good question.

  18. Gabriella says

    Ara:
    MaggieCat,

    That’s the impression I got, too. It was more like these women’s lives were falling apart around them in their striving to be perfect – perhaps BECAUSE of their striving to be perfect – and that ultimately it was an unattainable ideal. (Also, that the husbands were ungrateful jerks. But that may have been my feminist reading rather than Marc Cherry’s intention.)
    I haven’t watched a whole lot of Desperate Housewives, but from what I saw it seems more like a deconstruction of that.

  19. MaggieCat says

    Ara,
    Gabriella,

    I should probably clarify that “sad” in this case is because:
    A) the fact that the show itself as a continuation of the June Cleaver stereotype — and the idea that anyone would buy into it these days — is unbelievably depressing
    B) Some truly epically shitty writing after the first season

    I am well aware that it was intended as a black comedy/deconstruction of the suburban idyll. That doesn’t make it a good show.

  20. Amy McCabe says

    In discussion with other fellow mothers, many of whom are in academia (I work for a college) it seems we all share a desire to be a little more like June Cleaver since our children were born. And these are women who are, in some cases, feminists and in all cases career focused moms. I feel that urge too. It is odd, most of us weren’t really that into keeping our houses clean pre-baby.

    After this post, I started to bring the discussion back and I think what we all came up with was the desire for control. Most of us feel like we have absolutely no control in our lives, but at least we *can* control whether or not our kitchen floor is clean.

    I don’t think this was what was meant to be reflected in June Cleaver or other ideal tv moms, but it might help explain some of the appeal to them for women with young families.

  21. Goatyea says

    What about the family from Malcom in the Middle? They weren’t a rich family and both parents work. It did have that incompetent dad trope, though. They still showed the mom cleaning and cooking from time to time. I remember the boys would do it when they were being punished. On top of that, the mom was also in charge of discipline(They did show how she developed from a nervous mother) and both parents still tried to be involved with their kids. The family still did have fights and was not projected as something overly perfect. To the point that the one of the sons was embarassed by them.

  22. says

    Goatyea,

    The characterization on Malcolm switches between Lois being the only reasonable one in a family of selfish criminals, and Lois being an abusive harridan in a family of free spirits. But even when she’s obviously trying her best to be a good mom, I don’t think she ever hits the Ideal TV Mom.

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