Housewife. This term was first used in the 1950s, when America was the “cookie-cutter” country of the world. From there, the stereotypical 1950s housewife became an instant icon. This was a time when women would look perfect from head to toe each day as they catered to their loving family. They did not work: their only job was to take care of the children and have dinner ready promptly as their husbands walked through the door from work. It was their duty to attend functions and luncheons; it was not their duty to have occupations, opinions, or ever look unkempt.
The 1950s entertainment culture greatly influenced and impacted home life. During this decade, televisions were popping up in homes all over the country, which caused Americans to transition from listening to their shows to watching them on their new television screens. Some of the most popular shows of the 1950s involved the concept of a housewife, these shows included: Leave It to Beaver, I Love Lucy, and Father Knows Best. Leave It to Beaver was centered on the Cleaver family and, most importantly, followed the suburban life of the youngest Cleaver son, Beaver, and all the trouble any 1950s seven-year-old would get into. Additionally, Beaver’s mother, June Cleaver, was often described as the “perfect housewife,” as she embodies the way that every 1950s housewife was supposed to look, always wearing stylish housedresses and pearls. June Cleaver’s lines consist of motherly care and advice, but the lines rarely feature her stating her own personal opinions. And, of course, as most housewives, she is the perfect socialite, hosting small luncheons at her home and becoming greatly involved with her community. Another famous 1950s show, I Love Lucy, showed a very different type of housewife. This housewife, Lucy Ricardo, was not a model of what 1950s married women were striving to be. Lucy Ricardo is a daffy young woman who always manages to get into the strangest and most hilarious situations. Lucy, played by Lucille Ball, does everything except try to be a perfect housewife and made 1950s life seem comically frantic. Finally, in the case of Father Knows Best, the title of the show gives it all away: the father in the household knows everything and gives advice, whereas the mother is just there to look pretty, have dinner promptly made each evening, and care for the children.
However, in modern society the term housewife has a totally different meaning. Now women have occupations and opinions, dress however they please, and are not the sole overseers of their family’s homes. Women are sometimes even the breadwinners of the family, and in other cases men have taken on the role of the stay-at-home parent. And you know what? Family life is still pretty great compared to the 1950s. Of course, the reality of family life is not as “peachy keen” as 1950s television shows portrayed it, but instead today’s representation of families is more realistic.
A prime example of a modern day housewife in today’s entertainment culture can be seen on the popular comedy Modern Family. Claire Dunphy, portrayed by actress Julie Bowen, provides the perfect example of the modern mother and housewife. She juggles a pretty hectic life with three children, dealing with her husband, and keeping up a loving relationship with both her father and brother. Additionally, the show hints that Claire once had a wild past, something that a 1950s housewife would frown upon. However, there are many differences between 1950s TV housewives and Claire Dunphy. For example, Claire is not afraid to speak her mind, stand up to her husband, and become frazzled in stressful situations. She shows America that it is normal to not keep up the pristine housewife image and that it is okay to not always live up to the utopian family lifestyle that the 1950s drilled into people’s minds.
Therefore who’s to say in another fifty years what the term housewife will mean? Until then, it is amazing to see the transition American women have made over the past sixty years: they have been able to erase the idea of them being nothing more than homemakers, instead going on to leave their mark on the world.
“Father Knows Best.” IMDb. IMDb.com, n.d. Web. 31 July 2014.
“June Cleaver of ‘Leave It to Beaver’ and Claire Dunphy of ‘Modern Family’: The Evolution of the TV Sitcom Housewife.” Yahoo TV. Yahoo!, n.d. Web. 01 Aug. 2014.
“Shows.” Most Popular TV for 1950-1959. N.p., n.d. Web. 01 Aug. 2014.
Image Credit: 1950s Woman Drinking Coffee. Flickr: Creative Commons. Flickr, n.d. Web. 5 Aug. 2014. <https://flic.kr/p/9whuTR>.