Wally Unloads A “Gopher”
During the 1950‘s suburbs such as Levitown were springing up all across the country, and the so-called American dream was easier to achieve for everyday Americans than ever before. They had just come out of two decades dominated by The Great Depression and World War Two, and finally prosperity was in sight. The need for women to work out of the home that was present during the war was no more, and women were overwhelmingly relegated to female-dominated professions like nursing, secretaries, and teachers, if they worked at all. Televisions became very popular, and quickly became part of the American cultural canon of entertainment. Leave It To Beaver is a classic American television show, encompassing values such as respect, responsibility and learning from your mistakes. But, at least in the episode used for this essay, it is also shockingly sexist to a modern viewer. This begs the question, what does the episode The Blind Date Committee1 say about the gender expectations of the 1950’s?
The gender expectations in Leave It To Beaver appear to be consistent with the time period. The Cleavers live in the prosperous suburban town of Mayfield2. Mr. Ward Cleaver works outside the home, he is fair and gives lots of advice to his sons, as well as having a very cordial relationship with his wife. Mrs. June Cleaver is a homemaker, she performs the tasks expected of her as a mother and wife very cheerfully, Wally and Beaver are respectful to their parents, but also make mistakes. Each episode follows a familiar formula, there is a conflict that is resolved by the end of the episode, usually teaching something to Wally or Beaver. The Cleavers are the quintessential model American family. They fit all the criteria, being middle-class, white, protestant, and fulfilling typical gender roles.
The first episode from season three, The Blind Date Committee (hereafter referred to as the episode) follows the standard Leave It To Beaver formula. Wally is appointed as the head of The Blind Date Committee for an upcoming high school dance. It is his job to find ‘escorts’ for the girls who don’t have one yet. The only girl left for him to find an escort for is new student Jo Bartlett. This appears to be an easy task, however when Wally begins calling up his friends to see if anyone will take Jo, he discovers that she is not thought of very highly by the other boys, and when he can’t “unload” her onto any of his friends eventually resigns himself to being her escort. In one of the most telling parts of the episode, there is a conversation in the kitchen between June and Ward, where June says she feels for the “Bartlett Girl” and she tells him that she had trouble talking to guys before she met him because she “talked steadily about music, books, history, everything that they didn’t want to hear about, men are most interested in themselves”. When Wally cannot find Jo a date, he decides to bite the bullet and take Jo himself, but he soon...