According to some Christian outlooks we were made for another world. Perhaps, rather, we were made for this world to recreate, reclaim, redeem, and renew unto God's future aspiration by the power of His Spirit. - R.E. Slater
Secularization theory has been massively falsified. We don't live in an age of secularity. We live in an age of explosive, pervasive religiosity... an age of religious pluralism. - Peter L. Berger
Exploring the edge of life and faith in a post-everything world. - Todd Littleton
I don't need another reason to believe, your love is all around for me to see. – anon
Thou art our need; and in giving us more of thyself thou givest us all. - Khalil Gibran, Prayer XXIII
Be careful what you pretend to be. You become what you pretend to be. - Kurt Vonnegut
Religious beliefs, far from being primary, are often shaped and adjusted by our social goals. - Jim Forest
People, even more than things, need to be restored, renewed, revived, reclaimed, and redeemed; never throw out anyone. – anon
Certainly God's love has made fools of us all. - R.E. Slater
An apocalyptic Christian faith doesn't wait for Jesus to come, but for Jesus to become in our midst. - R.E. Slater
Christian belief in God begins with the cross and resurrection of Jesus, not with rational apologetics. - Eberhard Jüngel, Jürgen Moltmann
Our knowledge of God is through the 'I-Thou' encounter, not in finding God at the end of a syllogism or argument. There is a grave danger in any Christian treatment of God as an object. The God of Jesus Christ and Scripture is irreducibly subject and never made as an object, a force, a power, or a principle that can be manipulated. - Emil Brunner
Ehyeh Asher Ehyeh means "I will be that who I have yet to become." - God (Ex 3.14)
Our job is to love others without stopping to inquire whether or not they are worthy. - Thomas Merton
The church is God's world-changing social experiment of bringing unlikes and differents to the Eucharist/Communion table to share life with one another as a new kind of family. When this happens we show to the world what love, justice, peace, reconciliation, and life together is designed by God to be. The church is God's show-and-tell for the world to see how God wants us to live as a blended, global, polypluralistic family united with one will, by one Lord, and baptized by one Spirit. – anon
The cross that is planted at the heart of the history of the world cannot be uprooted. - Jacques Ellul
The Unity in whose loving presence the universe unfolds is inside each person as a call to welcome the stranger, protect animals and the earth, respect the dignity of each person, think new thoughts, and help bring about ecological civilizations. - John Cobb & Farhan A. Shah
If you board the wrong train it is of no use running along the corridors of the train in the other direction. - Dietrich Bonhoeffer
God's justice is restorative rather than punitive; His discipline is merciful rather than punishing; His power is made perfect in weakness; and His grace is sufficient for all. – anon
Our little [biblical] systems have their day; they have their day and cease to be. They are but broken lights of Thee, and Thou, O God art more than they. - Alfred Lord Tennyson

Thursday, November 6, 2014

American Mythology - The Way We Never Were: Family Life in America

Amazon link, October 1993

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

"I'm increasingly thinking of the need for quality child care and limits on the work week as the new health and safety regulations we need in this society." - Stephanie Coontz

"Providing children with good care, and families with decent health insurance,
are in the public interest." - Stephanie Coontz

About The Way We Never Were
October 1993

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.

Family Studies historian, author, and speaker Stephanie Coontz

Wikipedia Bio

Stephanie Coontz (born August 31, 1944) is an author, historian,[1][2] and faculty member at Evergreen State College. She teaches history and family studies and is Director of Research and Public Education for the Council on Contemporary Families, which she chaired from 2001-2004. Coontz has authored and co-edited several books about the history of the family and marriage.

* * * * * * * * * * * *

Official Stephanie Coontz Blog Site - Archieve Articles

* * * * * * * * * * * *

Reviews 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.

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 recovering its civic commitments.

Clear, incisive, and distinguished by Coontz¹s 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.

* * * * * * * * * * * *

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 survivor model, 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.

The purpose of the nostalgia, of course, has been to create a morally superior memento of a better family part. And it is what remains of this idealized, once-upon-a-time American family that the historian Stephanie Coontz shreds into tiny pieces in the first half of her often brilliant and invariably provocative new book, The Way We Never Were: American Families and the Nostalgia Trap.

Pick a favorite presumption about American families during better times -- the "notion that traditional families fostered intense intimacy between husbands and wives while creating mothers who were totally available to their children," for instance -- and Ms. Coontz proceeds to unravel the mythical conceit. She says it is a 1950's vintage amalgam of the mid-19th century, middle-class obsession with the "mother-child axis" and the contradictory view of married life prevalent during the 1920's, which eroticized the adult relationship and called on mothers to curb their "over-investment" in their children.

No wonder that the pressure to abide by the hydraheaded, myth, as Ms. Coontz documents, drove so many women to therapy and substance abuse in the 1950's. Pick an era when you think a more decent American family was in ascendancy, and, Ms. Coontz, who teaches at the Evergreen State College in Olympia, Wash., offers dozens of facts in support of her contention that pain has always been a part of family life. The fabled colonial household was fragmented by early death, and children frequently heard explicit talk of sex. The idealized Victorian home hid a rate of marital dissolution, albeit without divorce, that would easily rival current divorce rates.

Contrary to popular opinion, Ms. Coontz writes, "Leave It to Beaver was not a documentary." In the Beaver's 1950's; before food stamps and public housing programs, one in four Americans was poor. There were Federal programs - G.I. benefits, housing loans, highway construction and job-creating research and development. But she argues that such programs rendered the 1950's suburban family "far more dependent on government handouts than any so-called 'underclass' in recent U. S. history." Incidents of family violence and abuse remained buried under the idealized images of the times, "Wife battering was not even considered a 'real' crime by most people," and "by 1960 ... experts described, incest as a 'one-in-a-million occurrence.'" Following a fascinating recapitulation of the development of modern gender roles, Ms. Coontz addresses contemporary myths about the American family. Here she begins to break less interesting historical news and clutters her effort to clear away the mist of myth. Her analysis is almost exclusively centered, on the economic and political genesis of domestic problems and the economic and political solution to them. Her discussions of heavily freighted cultural issues such as childbearing and maternal employment, latchkey children and the impact of day care on infants are terse; each subject is dealt with in a bit over a page, the boomers' penchant for "nesting" is written off as manufactured, romanticization.

But a change in focus has occurred, and Americans are leaving behind the habits of an era in which money-getting and what some commentators have called expressive individualism -- a phrase applied, depending on your point of view, to privileged self-involvement or Promethean liberation -- were idealized in a way that marked and even injured innumerable Americans. The current "turn toward home" that Ms. Coontz says is historically unproductive is precisely the cultural change that has allowed the warts-and-all family storytelling of the Clintons to appear just as all-American, value-laden and "pro-family" as the "nostalgia traps" laid out by the Bushes.

The last half of The Way We Never Were nevertheless complements the historical research contained in the first. Ms. Coontz tries to turn the focus of a tedious public debate away from an idealized image of individual roles and domestic life by using economic and social data to describe an America in which people are struggling every day to make ends meet, and raise their children.

Once we have shed all the unhelpful myths, our understanding of the American family must come to include the schools in which family members learn, the houses and communities in which families live, the medical system upon which families depend, and the economy that ultimately dictates the relative ability of each family to thrive. Perhaps at that point, somewhere in the future, we will finally create the Golden Age of the, American family.

Donald Katz is the author of "Home Fires: An Intimate Portrait of One Middle-Class Family in Postwar America."

* * * * * * * * * * * *

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.

On the other side of the tracks, according to family historian Stephanie Coontz, 25 percent of Americans were poor in the mid-'50s, a time before food stamps and housing programs. Forty percent of black women with small children worked outside their homes. African-Americans, whose labor sustained the economic expansion of the time, were restricted from living in white neighborhoods.

To tell the whole truth, postwar middle-class happiness was achieved through an enormous public investment. If there was indeed a brief moment of prosperity for the many working-class people who entered the middle class, it wasn't because individuals suddenly became more ambitious and self-reliant.

Fifties-style upward mobility arrived courtesy of the federal government, which subsidized college education through GI benefits, boosted house buying and home building through federal housing loans and built highways out to the suburbs through publicly financed projects.

And while we're telling the truth, middle-class life could be psychologically harrowing. According to a study of San Francisco Bay area women hospitalized as "schizophrenic" in the 1950s, some wives, unhappy with enforced domesticity, were labeled schizophrenic, institutionalized and sometimes given shock treatments "to accept their domestic roles and their husbands' dictates." For some women who sought abortion, shock treatments were also recommended, because the failure to want a baby was considered to signify dangerous emotional disturbance. And as for the myth of '50s-style deferred sexual gratification, in 1957, more than 97 out of every 1,000 girls aged 15 to 19 gave birth. (By the by, sexual morality wasn't so pristine at other times in American history either. In the 20 years prior to the revolution, one-third of all children born were conceived out of wedlock.)

If the '50s weren't picture perfect, surely we could hitch our nostalgic yearning for family values to some other eras in American history! Perhaps the gentle Victorian family. Not so gentle for Victorian families who weren't middle class. In The Way We Never Were, Coontz presents fascinating facts and figures that explode the cherished myths about self-sufficient, happy, moral families. This book will convince you that the good old days for families can -- and should -- never be ours once again. You may come to doubt political candidates who promise to return us to a golden age.

Coontz successfully proves that we are not going to solve any current social crises by trying to recreate models of family bliss that were realized only in the haze of nostalgia.

* * * * * * * * * * * *

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

Those who say "Here's what's wrong with families" in front of Stephanie Coontz had better be able to pull out the numbers.

Stephanie Coontz can't thank Dan Quayle enough. She had just published The Way We Never Were: American Families and the Nostalgia Trap when [Vice-President] 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.

Radio and television producers from I-5 to the Washington Beltway booked her.

Pat Buchanan debated her.

The National Enquirer misquoted her.

And thousands of ordinary people - precisely the kinds of ordinary people that college professors rarely get to meet - called her on talk shows and wrote to her.

Over and over they told her they were sure they were failing as families. Money was tight. Jobs were insecure. They were stressed and isolated. They blamed themselves, and they got lots of help. The airwaves and opinion columns are stuffed with pundits, politicians and preachers blaming the nation's problems on the collapse of family values. If only Americans would return to the traditions of the past - when men brought home the bacon and women cooked it and the kids washed their hands and said please before they ate it - everything would be fine again.

Politicos from the left offered no comfort to folks who aren't as affluent or educated as policy makers and futurecasters, she said. Society is changing, deal with it or get left behind, they said - and did nothing to help.

The people Coontz heard from had been buying the blame argument - it was so simple when everything else in their life was so complex - and blaming themselves.

Coontz stopped them right there.

Families aren't failing and pulling America down with them, she told them. The situation is far more complex, and the solution does not lie in imaginary visions of the past or predictions of -an affluent techno-future.

She believes it lies in accepting change and enlisting government and business and individuals to deal with it creatively. When Coontz didn't hear creative, practical solutions from the left or the right, she stepped in with a sequel to The Way We Never Were.

The Way We Really Are: Corning to Terms with America's Changing Families, ($23, Basic Books, HarperCollins) musters the tools of social science to explain what's going on in real homes and communities. For starters, what's going on right now is not the Apocalypse of American Society. It is intense economic and social change, and - with the possible exception of winning Lotto - change is always tough. For most people things are changing in very complicated ways.

They experience their anxiety as a loss," Coontz said on a sunny afternoon in the cozy bungalow she shares with her son and husband in Olympia. Outside, lilacs planted 40 years ago scented the air. Inside, the phone rang with more talk show producers and the graduation ceremony coordinator at the high school where her son is a sophomore. She married two years ago, but for much of her son's life, Coontz; has been a single mom with a full-time job.

Coontz's home life was the American situation in miniature - Everything looked the same on the surface, but there has been a huge shift in how people are supporting and living within it. All the time, when she debates proponents, of the family values argument, she explains that it's not enough to point to the past and lead the troops backward toward a cozy memory.

For starters, the realities of the past and the way it is being remembered are very different things, she said. Coontz reminds readers of The Way We Really Are that in the 1950s government supported families to a much greater extent than it does today, with low-interest home loans, college educations for veterans and massive public works projects. Business re-invested its profits and unions negotiated living wages. A dependable worker could expect employment security. The minimum wage of $1.48 in 1968 was enough to keep a full-time worker's family of three above the poverty line, she wrote in the fact-stuffed book bolstered by 46 pages of footnotes.

Life for some people - especially white people - was full of hope. But segregation was still the law in large chunks of the nation, and violence against minorities is part of almost every major city's history. "At the end of the 1950s, despite 10 years of economic growth, 27.3 percent of the nation's children were poor, including those in white 'underclass' communities such as Appalachia," Coontz wrote. "Almost 50 percent of married-couple African American families were impoverished - a figure far higher than today."

Even if families could choose to return to the shape they held in the 1950s, it's unlikely that business and government would follow, Coontz said. Government has shifted its economic benefits away from workers and toward businesses and the wealthy, she argued, and she can produce figures to back it up. "Corporate subsidies and tax breaks cost the Treasury $1,388 per person per year - more than three times what we spend on all child nutrition, food stamp and welfare programs," she wrote.

As the people who called and wrote kept telling her, jobs are a gamble. Layoffs are a constant threat. They see benefits eroding. They can't take care of their families with one salary. More than a third of all two-parent families with children would be poor unless both parents worked, Coontz said.

It's absurd and pointless to blame mothers for working, she said. Many are working to keep their children out of poverty. Sometimes, that one salary is all that protects a family from economic and emotional disaster. She cited studies that show that when a breadwinner loses a job, the stress manifests itself in the family. There are arguments, poor parenting decisions, and a disproportionately high number of divorces. While some family-values proponents want to make divorce more difficult - and to penalize single mothers socially and economically - Coontz argued that punishments or a mandated return to past roles won't save or encourage marriages - especially in the face of overwhelming economic pressures. She suggested that government and business should try a little tenderness.

"Employers aren't catching up. Schools aren't catching up. Government isn't making any of the policy changes that are needed, though there's certainly public support for them. People want quality child care, parental leave and insurance," she said. "There is absolutely no evidence that working parents - or decent child care - are bad for kids," she said, anticipating the argument she's often heard: that if mothers stayed home, their children wouldn't need child care.

"I'm increasingly thinking of the need for quality child care and limits on the work week as the new health and safety regulations we need in this society," she said. She's debated conservatives who say that's not government's role, and it would be intrusive for government to require business to meet those needs for its workers. She disagrees.

Providing children with good care, and families with decent health insurance, are in the public interest - as are the federal health and safety regulations the meat-packing industry fought as intrusive earlier in the century, she maintained. Already, she said, businesses that don't recognize that employees have lives are paying. Employers who are demanding more are getting less as employees who can't settle family issues at home are increasingly getting it done on work time. "The more employers make family life harder, the more they get the worst of both worlds. Employees who are not renewed in the family make up that renewal on work time," Coontz said.

She suggested measuring the work day in some businesses by what's Produced and not by time spent. That would cut down on time wasted on the phone, on e-mail or in pointless meetings. Flextime could help some employees who want to be home for their children - especially their teens.

"Kids get in trouble between 3 and 6 p.m.," she said, pulling out studies that document the times of day when kids have sex, get hit by cars and commit crimes. Moms or dads who could go to work early and get off in time to monitor their kids could have a stabilizing influence on whole neighborhoods.

Schools could rework schedules to match kids' needs. Research has shown that teens especially have a tough time waking up early. High schools that begin at 9:30 a.m. and let out at 4:30 p.m. would fit kids' body clocks - as well as the schedules of parents who could be home around 5 p.m. "Let's kick the notion around," Coontz said. If parents had more free-time, Coontz predicted, the community would benefit. Parents would find it easier to volunteer -especially in activities that benefit children.

"The track records for certain programs are exemplary," she said. Young people who volunteer can benefit from the experience, too, provided they're doing meaningful work. Her own son volunteered several years at Camp Easter Seal, she said. This summer, that experience helped him earn a meaningful summer job at the camp. And that, she said, will help set him on a straight course into the future.

Stephanie Coontz -
Families Studies of America

Couples Study of Sleeping Apart

On Divorced and Single Families

On Marital Roles

Family Studies historian, author, and speaker Stephanie Coontz

No comments:

Post a Comment