The way we never were: American families and the nostalgia trap

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BasicBooks, 1992 - Social Science - 391 pages
5 Reviews
This myth-shattering examination of two centuries of American family life banishes the misconceptions about the past that cloud current debate about "family values." "Leave It to Beaver" was not a documentary, Stephanie Coontz points out; neither the 1950s nor any other moment from our past presents workable models of how to conduct our personal lives today. Without minimizing the serious new problems in American families, Coontz warns that a consoling nostalgia for a largely mythical past of "traditional values" is a trap that can only cripple our capacity to solve today's problems. From "a man's home was his castle" to "traditional families never asked for a handout," this provocative book explodes cherished illusions about the past. Organized around a series of myths and half-truths that burden modern families, the book 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. Fascinating facts abound: In the nineteenth century, the age of sexual consent in some states was nine or ten, and alcoholism and drug abuse were more rampant than today . . . Teenage childbearing peaked in the fabulous family-oriented 1950s . . . Marriages in pioneer days lasted a shorter time than they do now. Placing current family dilemmas in the context of far-reaching economic, political, and demographic changes, The Way We Never Were shows that people have not suddenly and inexplicably "gone bad" and points to ways that we can help families do better. Seeing our own family pains as part of a larger social predicament means that we can stop the cycle of guilt or blame and face the real issues constructively, Coontz writes. The historical evidence reveals that families have always been in flux and often in crisis, and that families have been most successful wherever they have built meaningful networks beyond their own boundaries.

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LibraryThing Review

User Review  - wealhtheowwylfing - LibraryThing

Coontz presents the historical facts of American family life and political and economic movements in hopes of demonstrating that the families of the past were not so idyllic and the families of the ... Read full review

THE WAY WE NEVER WERE: American Families and the Nostalgia Trap

User Review  - Jane Doe - Kirkus

Placing the American family in its historical, cultural, economic, and philosophic context, Coontz (co-ed., Women's Work, Men's Property, 1986) identifies the myths—and their sources, functions, and ... Read full review


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About the author (1992)

Stephanie Coontz is a social analyst, family historian, writer, and a professor. She teaches at Evergreen State College in Olympia, Washington. Her research interests include the historical accuracy, myths, and facts that surround our present concept of traditional family values. In her book, The Way We Never Were: American Families and the Nostalgia Trap, Coontz disputes many of the myths about the decade of the 1950s. Her book, The Way We Really Are: Coming to Terms with America's Changing Families explores new economic and social pressure put on families. Coontz is a frequent commentator on CNN and NBC news programs and has appeared on the Oprah Winfrey Show. She was the keynote speaker at the Thirteenth Annual Maine Women's Studies Conference in 1998.

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