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TV History: Leave It To Beaver

by Christine Becker

This clip was uploaded for an assignment in Prof. Christine Becker's FTT 30461: History of Television class at the University of Notre Dame in Spring 2017. Check the commentary dropdown menu for a student's analysis of the clip.

Gender Roles with June and Ward Cleaver

by John Flannery

During the 1950s, the United States moved into a postwar culture defined by consumerism and suburbia, but our society also experienced an anxiety concerning gender roles that affected television programming. Postwar American contained a mix of men returning to the workforce, while women were encouraged to stay home (Susan Douglas). By the late 1950s, the television sitcom transitioned from portraying the middle class family, and moved into the white, suburban neighborhood. These programs, like Leave it to Beaver, Father Knows Best, and The Donna Reed Show featured the stereotypical white family structure with very strict gender roles. The women of these shows were confined to the role of the suburban housewife while being the secondary parent compared to the their husbands. This collection of clips from a Leave it to Beaver episode, entitled “Eddie’s Double Cross”, showcases June Cleaver as the formulaic housewife while pitting Ward Cleaver as the breadwinning suburban father. The couple’s clothing, activities, and dialogue are examples of the typical gender roles that defined sitcoms of the late 1950s.
June and Ward Cleaver’s daily wardrobe and leisure activities communicate their different roles within the family structure. In “Eddie’s Double Cross”, the audience sees June in three separate outfits, but her accessories of choice are her pearl necklaces with matching earrings. The seemingly expensive jewelry and wardrobe show the family’s comfortable economic state, while also showing June’s housewife status. This notion is backed up by the fact that the audience sees Ward in a suit and tie through most of the episode. His clothing communicate that he has a job outside of the home, and is the breadwinner for the family. Ward also communicates in the second clip that he’s had a very stressful day at work, and is entitled to be able to think about nothing. The couple’s gender statuses are also showcased through how they spend their free time. Ward likes to keep up with current events by reading the paper, while June chooses to do needlepoint. These actions support 1950s sitcom gender stereotypes as it portrays June as a feminine homemaker, while showing Ward as a workingman who understands what goes on outside the walls of their home.
The show seemingly offers a moment of equality between June and Ward as they both wash dishes, but the scene brings the audience back into the typical television suburban household by acknowledging June’s ditzy behavior. The dishwashing scene once again solidifies June as the homemaker. According to Susan Douglas’ article, “Mama Said”, a clean house was the main way you were judged as a wife, and, “June Cleaver made having a spotless house look so effortless…” (57). Although Leave it to Beaver offers a bit of equality by having Ward help her clean the dishes, the program solidifies gender roles by having Ward point out June’s silliness. Ward acknowledges how June has washed a plate twice just after he referenced Socrates in a conversation about their son, Wally. By recognizing June’s ditzy behavior, Ward supports his role of the wiser husband, who makes money and knows Socrates. Ward seems to always put June back in her place whenever she tries to contribute to a situation. The show doesn’t necessarily devalue women, but instead places their value in the home. Obviously not all women in television were like June Cleaver, and characters like Lucy Ricardo and Gracie Allen present how women can be the dominant member of their relationship (Douglas, 50). However, June Cleaver does not experience this aspect in her relationship, as she seems happy in her role as the loving housewife.
The country’s postwar economic prosperity employed former soldiers, while encouraging women to leave the workforce. This image of the 1950s suburban housewife is encouraged through 1950s sitcoms like Leave it to Beaver. This cultural movement encouraged programs revolving around white families in suburbia, which consist of a breadwinning father and a feminine homemaker. June and Ward Cleaver serve as our typical suburban couple, and their actions during “Eddie’s Double Cross” further support this imagery of white picket fence America. Their employment status is clearly laid out by their outfits, while their gender roles are supported by how they spend their leisure time. The final clip presents to the audience how Ward is intellectually superior to June. Leave it to Beaver depicts the encouraged imagery of the American family, as well as the proper gender roles among men and women.

"Eddie's Double Cross," Leave It To Beaver

This contains excerpts from the episode of Leave It To Beaver episode entitled "Eddie's Double Cross," Episode 4 of Season 8, which first aired on November 19, 1960, on ABC.

from Leave It To Beaver (1960)
Creator: ABC; Director: Norman Abbott; Writers: Joe Connelly, Bob Mosher
Distributor: YouTube
Posted by Christine Becker