The ‘Perfect’ Family

The recent death of actress Barbara Billingsley, best known as ’50s TV mom June Cleaver, has sparked new conversations about the evolution of the American mom and her role today in the family and the workplace.

These reflections come at a time when women make up more than half of the people on American payrolls for the first time in history, with moms serving as the primary breadwinners in nearly 40 percent of all families, according to a report released this week by Working Mother.

June Cleaver and the 'Perfect' Family?

The report surveyed more than 4,600 people across the country, including working mothers, stay-at-home moms, working dads and working singles, to examine the issue of mothers in the workplace. The findings reveal a number of significant shifts in attitude that have taken place in the past 25 years, since the magazine first began identifying its best companies for working mothers.

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In case you hadn’t heard, Barbara Billingsley who endeared herself to TV viewers with her gentle portrayal of the mother of Beaver and Wally, in “Leave it to Beaver”, died at 94. Billingsley, who played June Cleaver in the 1950s-1960s television series, died after a long illness at her home in Santa Monica.

In real life, fate was not as gentle to Billingsley as it had been to June and her family.

But, then again my experience, life usually isn’t as easy as the creators of ‘Leave It To Beaver’ would have you believe, so that’s not really a big surprise.

Born Barbara Lillian Combes in Los Angeles on Dec. 22, 1915, she was raised by her mother after her parents divorced. She and her first husband, Glenn Billingsley, divorced when her sons were just 2 and 4. Her second husband, director Roy Kellino, died of a heart attack after three years of marriage and just months before she landed the “Leave it to Beaver” role.

I have no desire to be cruel to Barbara or anyone in her family. All too often the roles we play, and the lives we lead fall out of wack or werem’t in synch to begin with. Life is hard. TV shows like ‘Leave it to Beaver’ did nothing to emancipate women or hold them in high esteem, except according to a set of values dictated by a patriarchy way out of step with woman-kind. At least some of woman-kind, although it’s true, no one held a gun to Barbara’s head to stay sticky sweet and she was fulfilling required expectations of a ’50’s actress looking for stardom. But, the role she portrayed and the role that was created for her, was limiting and not liberating. As far back at 500 BC men were doing their best to demean women both philosophically as well as practically.

‘The Concept Of Woman’ written by Sister Prudence Allen in 1985, traces the  Aristotelian Revolution from 750 BC to 1250 AD. Basically tracing the history of western thought and philosophy. In this quote Socrates is sited in the following dialogue as dictated through his dialogues.

“It is easy to see that the virtue of a man consists in managing the city’s affairs capably, and so that he will help his friends and injure his foes while taking care to come to no harm himself. Or, if you want a woman’s virtue, that is easily described. She must be a good housewife, careful of her stores and obedient to her husband.”

Unfortunately Plato doesn’t do a whole lot better and although I’m only a quarter way through the book, it was a huge eye-opener for me to realize, its not the June Cleaver myths we’re working to dismantle, it’s two thousand years of thinking.

So where to start? In 1997, I set about metaphorically ‘killing’ off the last of the 50’s housewives. Guess what? Rumor has it, they’re alive and thriving and so is that way of life.

In this story on 60 Minutes from 2004 Leslie Stahl reports on 15% increase  in numbers of moms who ‘stay home’, Just 40 years after women got in the front door, you’ll find women in positions of real power: a woman at the helm of the National Security Council, two Supreme Court justices, and female board members of every Fortune 100 company.

But look for the women of the next generation — the ones everyone assumed would follow in droves behind them, and you’re likely to find many of them walking right back out and staying at home. There’s a lot more to this subject. We started a conversation on Wednesday night on the MingleMediaTV Show, and we’ll keep that conversation going. It’s not just about work. It’s not just about staying home. It’s not just about choice. This conversation needs to examine the roots of western thinking with regard to women and indeed, how we think about ourselves.


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