Caught Between June and Janet: There Has To Be A Better Way

Caught Between June and Janet: There Has To Be A Better Way September 17, 2019

Well, after an initially underwhelming impression of The Good Place, I must say that I have changed my mind and am enjoying it very much. The stiff acting seems to be a feature, not a bug, and as the plot twists and turns, the actors are getting a lot more, well, human. The character I love best, though (and I’m going to try not to do spoilers, and hope that commenters won’t either, because I’m only in the middle of season 2 and I don’t want to know what happens) is, of course, Janet.

While everything and everyone falls apart, Janet, of course, never does. Indeed—”of course”—for me, defines who Janet is.

Just one word of explanation about Janet, for people who don’t know what I’m talking about, and then on to my main point, of which, I assure you, there is at least one. The Good Place is about a person who ends up in “the good place,” what we might call “heaven,” by a glitch in the system. By the kindness of a philosophy professor who is also in “the good place,” she begins to consider what a bad person she was while on earth, and what a bad person she still is.

Janet is the computer/all-knowing/creature-thingy who is both neutral and always available. She is not human, though, “of course,” she looks as human as everybody else, which is to say, very human. Every time anyone calls her a robot she explains that she is not. “Not a robot,” she says over and over. She is pretty, approachable, friendly, and knows everything there is to know in the universe. She is also not going to tell anyone else anything, so everyone tells her everything, which is a great comfort to them all in their discomfort.

As the episodes have gone by me, I have had a dawning thought, which has thence produced a measure, crushed down and shaken together, of bitterness. I can’t help comparing The Good Place to the many many seasons I endured with my children of Leave it to Beaver. (Not that Leave it to Beaver is not great TV–it is– but, you know, my children watched it on a loop and after a while I started to feel inadequate as a person.)

June Cleaver, I don’t need to tell you, is yesteryear’s haunting ghost of the psyche of American women—beautiful, pearls, perfect hair, tiny waist, clean house, great cook, upstanding community member, mother of properly clothed children. Nevertheless, you can watch a lot of June Cleaver and after a while think, ‘Ugh, in no way do I regret my college education and after the house is clean, could I go get a job or something? Maybe the work/life balance is so awful after all.”

But here’s the thing about June Cleaver, and where we are now, and why everyone is so miserable…and, I know, I’m not allowed to say this, because of feminism and the patriarchy and all, but I’m going to anyway…

June Cleaver Was Not Everyone’s Brain.

For all that June and Ward Cleaver represented traditional values and what some people might call the Oppression of Women, the kind of life they portray is a lot more, how shall I say this, equal in practice. June didn’t have to be all things to all people, and more importantly, she didn’t have to be everyone’s brain. Everyone had their own brain.

Ward had his, she had hers, and Beaver and Wally had theirs. June occupied herself with the house and dinner and looking beautiful. In the evening she literally had time to, get this, sit down with Ward for an elegant cup of coffee. The children came in and out and sometimes got help with their problems. But–and I feel like this could be life-altering–the person who often helped them was…Ward…because he had a brain.

I mean, I get that the price of him having a brain was him getting to be the patriarch, but something radical shifted when we all decided he would no longer occupy that position. And that radical shift affects every single modern woman in a psychically exhausting way.

When Ward stopped knowing best (just to mix two iconic American television programs together), June had to become Janet.

And who is Janet? First of all, she is not human. Rather, dare I say it, she is inhuman in strength and knowledge. Every time she is rebooted, she comes out better and more knowledgeable than before. Second of all, she is pretty, put together, and approachable in a flight attendant sort of way. She is non-threatening. Everyone is happy when she is there. Third of all, and here is the kicker, she is Everybody’s Brain. She knows absolutely everything about everybody in such a way that they need not know those things for themselves.

In short, she is the Ideal Woman of our time.

I mean, for real, google Executive Function and read long long comment threads of women who have to be the brain of the whole family. Schedules, allergies, health issues, school stuff, friend issues, finances, house-work, I could go on but I won’t. More and more families orbit around The Janet, or The Mom if you prefer.

And my gosh is she competent. I mean, all the women I know are so competent. They work at least part-time (or full-time with half pay) and if they don’t do that they homeschool. They function as that long lost estate/house-keeper/manager from somewhere like Downton Abby in terms of the logistics of everybody’s life. They know everything about every member of the household. They keep the finances going on a sophisticated level. They have several side gigs. They are technologically and emotionally savvy. They look great doing it (for the most part). AND THEY ARE EXHAUSTED.

You might be thinking, at this point, well, that’s totes biblical, PROVERBS 31. But I’m gonna suggest not really, because the husband of that woman probably wasn’t asking his wife where he had to be next, he seems to have already known, what with being an elder at the gate. Sure, she ran the household and did tons of interesting work, but nowhere in the text does it suggest that she was everybody’s brain.

What I’m saying is that being a good mother and anticipating familial needs and comforts, and being an interesting, accomplished, educated person, has swung way too far in the direction of Janet. Janet may look fun, because she’s so cheerful and everything, but I don’t really think so. If you’re not a computer, you shouldn’t have to be Janet. And yet, we all kind of are (except me—I don’t have to be Janet all the time, just some of the time).

And that’s not really fair. That’s what I’m saying. There has to be some intermediate ground between Janet and June where I’m allowed to do more than vacuum and work on my 17 inch waist but don’t then have to hold all the knowledge in the universe at my fingertips.

And now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go shout at my children to get up and get dressed because in the modern age, we don’t have alarm clocks, we have ipods and phones which shouldn’t be in the hand of the child during the night, and so that’s just one more thing that has to be managed, and oh my word, someone reboot me.

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