The Way We Never Were: American Families And The Nostalgia Trap

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The Way We Never Were examines two centuries of American family life and shatters a series of myths and half-truths that burden modern families. Placing current family dilemmas in the context of far-reaching economic, political, and demographic changes, Coontz sheds new light on such contemporary concerns as parenting, privacy, love, the division of labor along gender lines, the black family, feminism, and sexual practice.

From "a man's home was his castle" to "traditional families never asked for a handout, " this provocative book explodes cherished illusions about the last two centuries of American family life to expose the falseness, sentimentality, and self-righteousness of our accepted familial morays.

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Editorial Reviews

New York Times Book Review
Often brilliant and invariably provocative...Pick a favorite presumption about American families during better times...and Ms. Coontz proceeds to unravel the mythical conceit.
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
The golden age of the American family never existed, asserts Coontz ( The Social Origns of Private Life ) in a wonderfully perceptive, myth-debunking report. The ``Leave It to Beaver'' ideal of breadwinner father, full-time homemaker mother and dependent children was a fiction of the 1950s, she shows. Real families of that period were rife with conflict, repression and anxiety, frequently poor and much less idyllic than many assume; teen pregnancy rates in the '50s were higher than today. Further, Coontz contends, the nuclear family was elevated to a central source of personal satisfaction only in the late 19th century, thereby weakening people's community ties and sense of civic obligation. Coontz disputes the idea that children can be raised properly only in traditional families. Viewing modern domestic problems as symptoms of a much larger socioeconomic crisis, she demonstrates that no single type of household has ever protected Americans from social disruption or poverty. An important contribution to the current debate on family values. (Oct.)
Library Journal
Arguing that ``Americans have tended to discover a crisis in family structure and standards whenever they are in the midst of major changes in socioeconomic structure and standards,'' Coontz puts contemporary challenges facing the family into accessible historical perspective. The author of The Social Origins of Private Life: A History of American Families, 1600-1900 ( LJ 2/1/89) persuasively dispels the myths and stereotypes of ``traditional'' family values as the product of the postwar era (including 1950s sitcoms). Focusing on gender roles, parenting, self-reliance, privacy, and sexual relations, the historian provocatively explores the effects of changes made by women, blacks, and homosexuals on the institution of the family. For academic and larger public library social science collections.--James E. Van Buskirk, San Francisco P.L.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780465090976
  • Publisher: Basic Books
  • Publication date: 10/6/1993
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 432
  • Sales rank: 225,762
  • Lexile: 1550L (what's this?)
  • Product dimensions: 7.98 (w) x 10.92 (h) x 1.20 (d)

Meet the Author

Stephanie Coontz is a member of the faculty of Evergreen State College in Olympia, WA, where she is a historian and an expert on American culture.
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Table of Contents

Introduction 1
1 The Way We Wish We Were: Defining the Family Crisis 8
2 "Leave It to Beaver" and "Ozzie and Harriet": American Families in the 1950s 23
3 "My Mother Was a Saint": Individualism, Gender Myths, and the Problem of Love 42
4 We Always Stood on Our Own Two Feet: Self-reliance and the American Family 68
5 Strong Families, the Foundation of a Virtuous Society: The Family and Civic Responsibility 93
6 A Man's Home Is His Castle: The Family and Outside Intervention 122
7 Bra-Burners and Family Bashers: Feminism, Working Women, Consumerism, and the Family 149
8 "First Comes Love, Then Comes Marriage, Then Comes Mary with a Baby Carriage": Marriage, Sex, and Reproduction 180
9 Toxic Parents, Supermoms, and Absent Fathers: Putting Parenting in Perspective 207
10 Pregnant Girls, Wilding Boys, Crack Babies, and the Underclass: The Myth of Black Family Collapse 232
11 The Crisis Reconsidered 255
Epilogue: Inventing a New Tradition 283
Notes 289
Select Bibliography 377
Index 381
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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 13, 2000

    'Happy Days' Duped Me

    My mom always told me that the 50's were no where near as fun as my generation thought they were. This book exploded a lot of my beliefs about they way things used to be. In Coontz' view, there really never was a 'good old days'. In my opinion, we've been going to hell in a handbasket for so long now we should have already arrived.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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    Posted January 26, 2011

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    Posted July 21, 2010

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