Society and Culture


Take-Aways From Trump's 

'Suburban Housewives' Myth

By Cheryl Eichar Jett
A stereotypical 1950s era housewife.
   EDWARDSVILLE - 10/29/2020 - During President Donald J. Trump's recent campaign rally at Jamestown, Pennsylvania, his supporters – and the world – heard a desperate plea from an incumbent president attempting to hang on to the battleground states he is in danger of losing: “Do me a favor, suburban women, would you please like me?” For good measure, he added, “Please, please. I saved your damn neighborhood, okay?”

    Back in August, Trump introduced his talking point of “saving the suburbs” in an attempt to appeal to what he called “suburban housewives.” It was little more than a thinly-veiled dog whistle to his base of keeping “low-income housing,” i.e. black or minority renters, out of what he sees as a 1950s stereotype of racially pristine neighborhoods looked after by attractive white housewives.

   “Suburban housewives” as a segment of the American population is as out-dated in fact as it sounds.

   But it isn't news that Trump lives in the past. From the introduction of his “Make America Great Again” campaign slogan in 2016, we've known that he has a longing for the “good old days,” which appears to mean before the Fair Housing Act of 1968, which prohibited discrimination concerning the sale, rental, or financing of housing. (In 1973, Trump was poised to take over the New York City middle-class rental empire built by his father, Fred C. Trump, when they were both named in a suit by the U.S. Department of Justice alleging discriminatory practices.)

   But besides the racial dog whistle and the implication that Trump is talking about all-white neighborhoods, the whole talking point reflects his basic misunderstanding – or ignorance – of women's history. The 1950s-60s wasn't just a time that many white men (remember Alabama Governor George Wallace and his supporters?) still believed that blacks should know their place. Women were generally expected to know theirs as well, and that place was in the home, maintaining the nuclear family while wearing a pretty housedress, in sharp contrast, of course, to the image of the unattractive Communist Russian woman toiling in a factory every day.

   Trump's 1950s highlight reel may be playing in his head, as he promotes his idea of “suburban housewives” flocking to his “save the suburbs” promise, although polls are showing that the majority of women are having none of what he's selling. But Mr. Trump, we “suburban women” would like to clear up a couple things:

Source: Pew Research Center
   First of all, we aren't Mrs. Cleaver (if we ever were), mother of the Beaver. We aren't the Stepford wives. And we aren't afraid and in need of protection from the people next door. Take another look. We female inhabitants of suburbs may be white, or black, Latina, Asian, Native American, or multi-racial. And sure, some of us are married – to men. But some of us are single, or married to women. American suburbs are growing in both population and diversity. Please don't put yourself out saving us from our neighbors.

   And, to show you who we are and how fed up we are with four years of your misogyny and racism, we're voting in droves against you, standing in lines for six or eight hours and sharing our food and our stories with those standing with us. We've shattered early voting records. We've marched, protested, put signs in our yards, written postcards to undecided voters in battleground states, texted, and phoned.

   With those points hopefully cleared up, here are my four take-aways from Trump's appeal to “suburban women”:

   First, his fundamental misunderstanding, no, ignorance, of history – basic American history, post-WWII history and culture, Mid-Century pop culture, let alone American women's history – have not served him well.

   Secondly, his deep-rooted misogyny and “playboy” persona never allows him to acknowledge that “suburban women” could ever think for themselves. Again, we're not the Stepford wives – we're intelligent, educated, thinking human beings.

   Third, he may yet underestimate the collective anger of women at his racism, misogyny, cruelty, and incompetence (which looks likely to be demonstrated in epic fashion at this year's ballot box) – the last five years has seen women organize in numbers, strength, and fervor reminiscent of the years of women's suffrage.

   And my final take-away from Trump's plea to “suburban women” – his desperation in his struggle to keep his head above water in this election, a desperation highlighted by begging for the votes of a segment of the population – “suburban” women – that he underestimates, doesn't understand, and will never respect.

   Even Mrs. Cleaver would see right through it.

For further reading

 Mrs. America: Women's Roles in the 1950s