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The Way We Never Were: American Families and the Nostalgia Trap
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About The Way We Never Were

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. --The Publisher.

Reviews of The Way We Never Were

Review of: The Way We Never Were

Kirkus Reviews, 8/15/92

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. More...

Ozzie and Hariet Lied

The New York Times Book Review, November 4, 1992, By Donald Katz

Two models of the American family have been on view in this political season. The family Clinton has presented itself as an up-to-date survivormodel, replete with storytelling about family trouble - the beaming young couple who have worked past their problems, the working mother of the candidate, the once drug-addicted and imprisoned brother. The family Bush has appeared as a more traditional survivor family with a similar persistence of love and loyalty in the face of loss and pain, and yet, being "traditional," accoutered with all sorts of Little-League and car-pool nostalgia. More...

Whole Truth Behind Dream '50s

Newsday, by Vickie Erv

Oh, we families had a jolly time in the '50s, living and breathing, family values, whatever those are. Such happy, moral days: babies booming, divorce and illegitimacy half of what they are today, home ownership skyrocketing, daddy venturing out to win bread, and mommy staying home to express her femininity through intricate housework maneuvers. This was not just Leave It To Beaver. This was the real thing. Of course, in order to play this American Family Dream Game, you really did have to be white and middle class. More...

Facts of Life for a Whole Nation

The News Tribune, Wednesday May 28, 1997. By Kathleen Merryman

Stephanie Coontz can't thank Dan Quayle enough. She had just published The Way We Never Were: American Families and the Nostalgia Trap when Quayle blasted television character Murphy Brown for choosing to become a single mother. There was Quayle, conjuring up a nostalgic vision of "traditional" American values sustained by "traditional" families that looked very much like 1950s sitcom icons. And there was Coontz, the Evergreen State College professor of history and family studies, using history to demonstrate that Quayle's vision was a seductive myth. More...

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