Wednesday, July 19, 2006

The Way we Weren't

Just popping in to recommend an absolutely fascinating book -- The Way We Never Were

Turn on the television or read a newspaper and you see people yammering on about how we have to "reclaim marriage" or go back to "traditional families" or somesuch nonesense. Arguments about same-sex marriage, stay-at-home moms vs working mothers, and this bizarre rose-colored-glasses idea of what marriage and family life are supposed to be.

The Waltons, Ozzie and Harriet, Leave it to Beaver - people hold these up as the "American Ideal" for marriage and decry the "moral lapses" of modern life. They want to go back to this idealized version of television families, in the belief that this will solve all of the modern world's ills. If only wives were submissive and obedient, if only children were discplined, if only husbands were providers and protectors....just like they used to be.

The Way We Never Were punctures those pretty dreams and shows that the "perfect family" of the past (whether it's the Victorian nuclear family or the Cleavers) is a myth. Most everything we believe about "family" in the past decades is based on false impressions and carefully created images of what family life "ought to be", certainly not the realities of actual life.

Sure, the divorce rate was lower in 1950, but satisfaction with marriage was also lower. The nuclear family was pretty much invented in the Victorian period; they also created idea that women must be helpless and domestic and a combination of perfect mother yet perfect sexual wife. Drug use and alcohol abuse were more than double what they are now. Sure, some of the facts might make any particular era attractive, but when you take the whole package, the "perfect model" of marriage is seriously flawed. Frankly, things aren't so bad nowadays, despite what you hear on TV, and following the history of marriage and family life in the last few centuries is quite enlightening.

Fascinating book, well annotated with sources. While you might not agree with every conclusion, you can see the data behind it. It reads a bit like a thesis, but I'm definitely enjoying it.

1 comment:

Laura said...

And - the author is a SOCIOLOGIST!! See, we can contribute useful things! No cures for cancer, but still!