When President Trump referred to “Suburban Housewives of America” in his most recent racist tweet, he must have had June Cleaver in mind.
For those unfamiliar with 1950s television, June Cleaver was everyman’s housewife, the mate of Ward Cleaver and mother to Wally and Beaver (Theodore) Cleaver, America’s perfect family in the show “Leave It to Beaver.”
They were white, not rich but well-off enough to afford a nice house in the suburbs, well-dressed and good neighbors.
In his tweet, Trump tried make presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden out to be a threat to the suburbs’ residents because the former vice president wants to retain a measure that makes it easier for minorities to afford housing in those traditionally white-dominated areas.
That tweet, basically, was an attack an Obama-era initiative called the Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing rule, which Trump repealed last week.
“The Suburban Housewives of America must read this article,” Trump tweeted. “Biden will destroy your neighborhood and your American Dream. I will preserve it, and make it even better!”
And he thinks that by using the now-derogatory phrase “Suburban Housewives” to scare women who live in the suburbs by inferring that they (minorities) are coming for them, he will curry favor with his base and win reelection.
And June Cleaver perfectly fits his image of that ideal white woman. In the show, June, expertly played by the late Barbara Billingsley, has no flaws.
She wakes up early enough every morning to prepare a healthy breakfast for Ward and the boys before they head off to work and school, although it’s never very clear exactly where Ward goes or what he does: He simply “goes to the office,” which is what good, white, suburban men do, after all.
June, who apparently arises perfectly made up and coifed and fully clad in a dress and high heels with her ever-present string of pearls around her neck, spends her day cleaning, shopping, sewing, knitting and dusting, you know….all the things white suburban women do.
And she always has milk and cookies waiting for her sons when they get home from school, and a hot meal always greets Ward at the end of a busy day.
She would never work outside the house. “That’s a man’s job,” she would say. And she’s not into politics, nor does she pay the bills. Making the beds, ironing, doing laundry and tidying up are her things.
And as for Black people, they are not allowed in her town, much less in her home.
So there she is: Trump’s perfect “Suburban Housewife.”
What a clown.
While June Cleaver may have represented women in the ’50s and before, and while some women today have chosen to stay home and take care of the kids, that image of a typical “suburban housewife” is nowhere near reality now.
Based on published reports, the suburban population is growing, although it’s hard to nail down by how much exactly because where people live is based, in part, on perceptions.
According to the 2017 American Housing Survey (of nearly 76,000 households nationwide), about 52 percent of people in the United States describe their neighborhood as suburban, while about 27 percent describe their neighborhood as urban, and 21 percent as rural. https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2018-11-14/u-s-is-majority-suburban-but-doesn-t-define-suburb
And the Pew Research Organization found that “since 2000, suburban counties saw a 16 percent increase in population, compared with increases of 13 percent and 3 percent, respectively, in urban and rural counties.
“The overall share of U.S. residents who live in suburban counties has also risen during this period, while holding steady in urban counties and declining in rural ones.” https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2018/05/22/key-findings-about-american-life-in-urban-suburban-and-rural-areas/
As far as jobs go, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, at the start of 2020, before the pandemic, the U.S. economy was generally strong – “especially for women, who hold the majority of jobs for the first time in almost a decade. https://time.com/5766787/women-workforce/
“Women held 50.04 percent of American jobs as of December , excluding farm workers and the self-employed,” according to the Bureau. “That’s up from 49.7 percent just one year ago.”
With more women working, one would expect to see the number of stay-at-home mothers dip. Based on Pew research, https://www.npr.org/2020/07/26/895228366/trumps-trying-to-appeal-to-real-housewives-and-white-suburbs-but-they-re-declini, “the percentage of mothers who stay at home has declined significantly from the 1960s, when they were about half of all mothers.
“Today they’re about a quarter, according to Pew.”
In an excellent article, https://www.pbs.org/wgbh/americanexperience/features/tupperware-may/ University of Minnesota historian Elaine Tyler May tries to explain why women became “suburban housewives” in the first place by answering the question:
“What was the reality of married women’s employment inside and outside the home in the 1950s?”
At the end of World War II, as men returned from the war and reclaimed the jobs that women had taken while they were gone, women’s chances to work outside the home declined.
“As women’s opportunities in the paid labor force outside the home contracted, women began to infuse the work of being a homemaker with professional virtues. The ideal was not only to be someone who cleaned the house and took care of the kids, but to be someone who became a professional, nurturing and educating her children, managing her household.
“A lot of women talked about it that way, about making a choice: ‘I had wanted to be a doctor, but given the realities, I made the choice to be a career homemaker.’ The schools promoted that too, with domestic-science courses, with the idea that women could be full-time wives and mothers — and this could be a satisfying role. And many women felt that way.”
Finally, and thankfully, though, things changed, and women have been able to put their “professional virtues” to good use, entering all sorts of fields. They now have become leaders in business, politics, the media, education, medicine and engineering, to name a few.
Trump needs to realize that it is no longer the 1950s, and “suburban housewives,” such as June Cleaver, no longer exist. They are simply “women.” Or, better yet, career women.
And he needs to stop playing on peoples’ fears, many of which simply don’t exist anymore either.