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

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Main Author: Coontz, Stephanie.
Format: Book
Published:New York, NY : BasicBooks, c1992.
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Review by Publisher's Weekly Review

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.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved
Review by Library Journal Review

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. (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

(c) Copyright Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
Review by Kirkus Book Review

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 fallacies--that Americans generate around family life, as well as the terrible burden these illusions create. Violence, abuse, poverty, ignorance, alcoholism, dependence on government support--in brief, all the social ills attributed to the breakdown of the family--have in fact been a part of American social life since Colonial times, Coontz says. She further argues that our ideal of family life is primarily an invention of the 50's, projected in TV sitcoms such as Leave It to Beaver, and is an ideal as pernicious as are the social problems it supposedly prevents. Families always have been diverse and fragile, shaped by a community of interdependencies and reciprocities easily lost. Even the division of labor between the nurturing, altruistic female and the aggressive, competitive male--to whom she is supposedly connected by a bond of love--is an illusion and a source of great unhappiness. Indeed, many of the problems in family life, Coontz says, are caused by the unfounded belief that the family should be a symbol of strength, a model of self-sufficiency, a center of values in which people find refuge and raise children who will be good citizens. Today, the survival of the family depends on realistically assessing its diversity and what it can and can't do; on its overcoming the fantasies of what it is supposed to be and how it is supposed to function; and on its recovering its civic commitments. Clear, incisive, and distinguished by Coontz's personal conviction and by its vast range of cogent examples, including capsule histories of women in the labor force and of black families. Fascinating, persuasive, politically relevant.

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