June Cleaver – Leave It To Beaver
June Cleaver was a product of her time for sure. The phrase “cleaning house with her heels and pearls” is an allusion to her affected performance as the Angel of the Household. She was always perfectly coiffed, perfumed, and dressed, and she would often meet Ward at the door with a martini.
The ’50s were a scary time for Americans, with the threat of nuclear war, McCarthyism, and little access to birth control. June Cleaver was more than just a TV mom. She was a symbol for security and acted as a grounding force for middle-class Americans who were practicing nuclear drills and ducking under their desks. Viewing audiences could count on June to be a stabilizing force in a time when nothing felt safe or secure.
Although June Cleaver is not a fully rounded character, she was ahead of her time. In the above clip, she schools Beaver on girls’ ability to do whatever they want, and she was sure to emphasize that marriage wasn’t the only thing available to women of the time.
While this might seem counterintuitive when we examine June’s life and choices, she held more sway than history has given her credit for. Retroactively, she’s become a symbol for the oppressive gender expectations of her time. Still, she had a real and affecting voice in the Cleaver household. Ward constantly deferred to her judgment about decisions, and she knew how to make things go her way. Even in a household in which she was outnumbered and in an era that didn’t offer her much promise, she made her voice very clear.