Simple, Spiritual, Outdated Living in a Vintage New England Home on the Southern Coast of Maine

Sunday, October 17, 2010

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