My Eulogy for Barbara Billingsley: June Cleaver Was a Feminist

Wearing pearls and an apron, taking pride in keeping house and living a life free from exciting and glamorous problems can not only be a valid and respectable life choice, but also an entertaining and empowering example for women. Millions of people agree evidenced by the fact that June Cleaver was “America’s Mom.”

“Keeping house” June Cleaver style meant living in a modest middle-class home that’s not of the McMansion size or scope. She didn’t own industrial quality kitchen appliances and serve five star dinners using recipes from the Food Channel while wearing name brand outfits. She wasn’t a hypersexualized object whom Eddie Haskell coveted. Yet, she was lovely, commanded respect and knew where her food came from because she cooked it herself. She lived within her means, fed her family unprocessed wholesome foods, communicated with them over dinner and maintained healthy personal limits and boundaries.  

When I choose to turn on the TV when I want to tune out, I’m all about entertainment that showcases humanity complete with sometimes shocking imperfections. But the scripted, artificially manufactured “reality” TV of today misses the mark in the endless side show of train wreck bimbos: Real, unscripted women are also full of naturally occurring “perfections.” The problem lies with a popular culture that now defines “naughty” and illicit as “real,” but anything sweet, innocent, or wholesome as fake and boring and worse, oppressive. 

Ironically, while many women are consumed by this new brand of imperfect realism, many pursue artificial approaches to looking like the latest acceptable “perfect” ageless body type. That is one of the great lies of this new billion dollar industry brand of “empowerment.” Pearls and aprons (No FDA approval needed) have been traded in for potentially dangerous invasive breast augmentations, Botox and heck, even “vagazzle.” Obesity is often marketed to women as making them more real and sexy despite real health concerns.

Women’s rebellion in the 60’s and 70’s against a fabricated version of the perfect woman and wife is something for which I am grateful. They empowered themselves by celebrating imperfection. Shame was removed by addressing real life problems and normalizing common experiences that would at one time be considered a sign of weakness or worse, lack of femininity. Open discussions became popular in consciousness-raising groups women hosted in their homes. But during the past decade things took a dark turn.

There has been a major shift with the idea that addictions, chronic improprieties, compulsiveness, a lack of personal boundaries compounded with an arsenal of artifice is the new normal. The flip side is that the media marginalizes those of us who have lines on our faces, live within our means, eat in moderation, quietly try to do the right thing and choose to take care of what we have instead of always buying the latest appliance or breast size. Personally, I like the life in the margins!

Real life is hard, and living the clean life is hard work. I would rather find my escapes in the fictional old-fashioned home of June Cleaver in Mayfield, USA where the biggest crime is striving for an ideal world. While “doing the right thing” has never been sexy, it has become a crime of being “out of touch.”  I hate to think a measure of how far we’ve come as women is measured by how low we can go and how much we can consume beyond our means. 

I will always be truly grateful to the fictional example of June Cleaver. RIP Barbara Billingsley. 

Copyright Averyl Hill

Comments

  1. this is a far better obit than in major newspapers.

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  2. i agree w/ the son of brock landers - he must be a pretty smart guy ;) seriously though, this was very well put. i agree with you 100%! - melissa

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  3. Even though she is a fictional character, June Cleaver is a person I regularly try to emulate. She helps me keep the right perspective and attitude about being a housewife. I admire her class, grace, and dedication to making a nice home for her family. I only wish I could live in a time where making a home for my family was, in and of itself, a valued, respectable, and admirable goal for women. These days, society thinks that being a homemaker instead of career woman is like "throwing in the towel". I think the family (and, therefore, all of society) has greatly suffered as a result.

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  4. I agree with anon #2 in that it is very hard to be a housewife today with people always making you feel like you're lazy or a slacker. Especially now with both of my girls in school all day - I feel like I'm constantly defending the choice to be at home. Running a household and raising kids is definitely a full time job.

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  5. This was a very well-put and inspiring entry. As a new stay-at-home-mom and homemaker, I have been met with much offense. I'm not sure why it gets under so many people's skin that I want to stay home and raise my child.

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  6. Thanks for your feedback, everyone. Sorry I am late to acknowledge you!

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  7. Sorry I am late to the party (I was struck down by illness and am now catching up...).

    I don't have anything to add but "Here! Here!"

    I spent 25 years outside the home and managed to make it to the top of my field. But then the economy crashed and even those of us at the top were downsized. I discovered what it meant to be June Cleaver and I'll have to admit that I felt gypped...that I lost all of that time being a "career woman" when the greatest career of them all is to be a homemaker.

    I cried when I read the new that my new role model had passed away.

    Thank you for a great post.

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  8. DrJulieAnn I hope you are feeling better! It's "funny" (or not so much) when we discover something that we once thought of as a consolation prize as the real gem. At the same time, thank goodness for the realization and that we have an opportunity to make changes.

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  9. Interesting piece!

    I think there has definitely been a shift from 'beautification' to 'mutilation'. Beautification we can understand as the string of pearls or the nice dress. This is within reach of most, if not, all people. Beautification is attainable and democratic.

    Mutilation, however, is embedded in the doctrine of plastic surgery, in the notion that we must somehow manipulate our bodies to match a far-fetched ideal. All of a sudden, we're not competing with the prettiest girl in high school or at the office anymore, but with the prettiest girl in the world who is a top model (and arguable, actually 'pretty' in a sense that is completely unattainable).

    I actually suspect that this unattainable beauty feeds into a negative self image which in turn feeds into unhealthy dietary patterns. Ironically, the drive to be ultra-skinny may be making us obese.

    I think I like life in the margins too :)

    Blessings,
    This Good Life

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  10. TGL, I love: "Beautification we can understand as the string of pearls or the nice dress. This is within reach of most, if not, all people. Beautification is attainable and democratic."

    Thank you for stopping by and commenting!

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