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June v. Margaret v. Lucy v. Donna v….

"Father Knows Best" cast

As I’ve continued to ponder the notion of the ideal 1950’s housewife and have talked to women who were, themselves, 1950’s housewives, I’ve come to the conclusion that our modern-day perception of the ideal housewife is truly based on myth rather than reality.

The truth of the matter is that there was no prototype for the ideal housewife. We are chasing after an elusive ideal and it’s effects are making us feel “less than.”

When I was studying statistics in grad school, my professor beat it into our heads that there was greater variance within groups than between groups.  My classmates and I were studying the behavioral sciences and she really wanted us to understand that just because people were in a particular group it doesn’t mean that they think and behave identically.  In other words, we may show similarities with other people but we are still individuals with (generally speaking) our own free will.

I grew up watching the reruns of 1950’s family sitcoms like “Leave it to Beaver” (June), “Father Knows Best” (Margaret), “I Love Lucy” (Lucy and Ethel), “The Donna Reed Show” (Donna), “The Dick Van Dyke Show” (Laurie), and so forth.  If we watch the shows from a research perspective, we quickly see that the women were all quite different (despite unidimensional writing for some of the characters) in their role as homemaker.

What can we learn from this?  We get to choose our own ideal 1950’s housewife prototype.  My ideal is going to be very different than someone else’s ideal.  Instead of trying to conform to a myth, we get to create our own vision of what kind of 1950’s housewife we want to be.  For me, my primary role model–my paternal grandmother–was able to successfully meld homemaking and career responsibilities.  I don’t want to have a housekeeper but I know many homemakers in the 1950’s had maids and housekeepers.  You see where I’m going with this?

We need to go deeper than the surface myth and start looking at the traits and values we want to replicate.  It is then that we can claim them as our own.

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One Comment

  1. It would be such fun to sit together and watch a sampling of June, Margaret, Lucy, and Laura. Then Dr. J. would write down our observations as we called them out . . . (And you know, there are a few others we don’t see any more, I Married Joan and The Life of Riley come to mind.)

    As a “glittering generality,” I believe we’d see that the home was woman’s domain. There were certain expectations because she was there. It was where she was supposed to work. But the “good housewife” was in control of the family issues. And because she was there and in charge, the home was a haven for the family — at least, I think, more than today, when all family members have busy schedules.

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