Book Review: The Way We Never Were

The Way We Never Were: American Families and the Nostalgia Trap, is a 1992 sociology book by Stephanie Coontz.  In it, Ms. Coontz dismantles the idyllic conception many people have of American marriages and families in the 19th and 20th centuries.  Very real sexism, violence, and poverty were more commonplace, but they have since been glossed over to fit a narrative of midcentury supremacy that “should” be looked at as a model for contemporary society.  This model is used to reached desired outcomes today, regardless of clear cause and effect.  For example, violence was not much less prevalent back then–it just went unreported more often, especially domestic violence.  So this is not a good excuse for, say, making legal divorces harder to obtain, as it was in the 1950s, even though many conservatives would like to do so and it sounds plausible that a society that makes divorce so easy has more violence.

Conservatives are especially guilty of over-romanticizing the post WWII era.  Conveniently, most of the middle-aged people now in charge of our country were either not born or were children at that time–protected from the harsh realities.  The truth is, many of that era’s policies are unfit for today’s demands, and while we were without some of today’s problems, there was a whole other set to take their place, because we live on an imperfect Earth.

LIR recommends this book if you want to challenge your perceptions.

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