Escaping June Cleaver: the domestication of women through advertising

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June Cleaver, and the women who attempted to emulate her perfectly dressed, “happy homemaker” ideal, were considered the epitome of “womanhood” in the 1950s. However, the image of the quintessential

June Cleaver, and the women who attempted to emulate her perfectly dressed, “happy homemaker” ideal, were considered the epitome of “womanhood” in the 1950s. However, the image of the quintessential domestic diva, in pearls and floral dress is surely a tired and no longer relevant label for the modern woman, right? This research aims to examine whether the “domesticated woman” is still the prevalent social script provided by American advertisers and to determine if there has been a significant change in how often women are portrayed as having an existence not predicated on the home or domestic duties over time. To accomplish this 1,250 American television commercials, spanning from 1970 to 2016, were gathered and analyzed using critical content analysis via a specially designed test, The June Cleaver Test.

The commercials garnered were further broken down into 11 pertinent categories (Food, Household Goods, ect.) and results from each of these categories were also tracked. The overall results showed that 54.4 percent of commercials failed to show women outside of domestic or caregiving roles. When broken down by decade, not a single decade managed to pass over 50 percent of those commercials sampled using The June Cleaver Test. This means at no point over nearly 5 decades were the sampled commercials able to show women outside of domestic role more than 50 percent of the time. The implications the continued failure rate above 50 percent across the decades shows is that the trope of women as homemakers and caretakers, instead of employed or having other demands outside of the home, is still being mass produced as a cultural norm. Pertinent and prevalent trends, tropes and stereotypes about women and domestic throughout the sample were also noted and discussed. These findings have significant implications for not only the options available to women in society, but also in moving towards a place where women find economic equity and fight for equal respect in their chosen vocations. June Cleaver has not so much left the kitchen; instead she has just updated her wardrobe.