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The Way We Never Were: American Families And The Nostalgia Trap - Article Example

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In Stephanie Coontz’s, The way we never were: American families and the nostalgia trap, the idealization of families in the past is revealed to be only a dream. The traditional family values portrayed by Leave it to Beaver and other shows were pure fiction according to Coontz…
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The Way We Never Were: American Families And The Nostalgia Trap

Download file to see previous pages... In order to solve the problems facing American families today have to be dealt with in the present, not by looking at the past. American families are in a crisis. Single parents, working parents, teen pregnancy, drugs, divorce, and poverty have created this crisis. Many people wish things were like the traditional nuclear family of the 1950’s. However, the traditional family values portrayed by Leave it to Beaver and Ozziet and Harriet of the 1950’s were not accurate according to Coontz. Families described by Coontz’s students were of generations working together for a common goal, the nuclear mother protecting children from adult worries, fathers making sure their children had education, and married couples that form their own families (1993:8). Coontz’s response to her students is “Such visions of past family life exert a powerful emotional pull on most Americans, and with good reason, given the fragility of many modern commitments” (1993:8). Although there was an economic boom after WWII, poverty was still present in American families. Some fathers never came home from the war. Mothers could not protect their children from financial worries when there was little or no food to put on the table. Fathers could not afford to encourage children to stay in school. These facts support Coontz’s argument that the concept of traditional families is only wishful thinking. Gender, marriage, and sexuality are issues that face families today in America. These topics were also issues in America’s history. Gender, marriage, and sexuality changed due to laws granting women equality. Women gained more equality and independence through the years. That is the difference between the issues of gender, marriage, and sexuality. In the 19th century Coontz (1993:47) explains: Within this family, women and men faced no contradictory messages about their roles. Mothers were considered the moral guardians of civilization itself. Men had no doubt that they themselves were both the protectors and the representatives of their families in relation to the outside world as well as the ultimate source of authority in the household. Gender roles were defined, but both men and women were not happy with the situation. Like today, marriage was hard. Women could not leave during the 19th century due to monetary concerns. This is the reason divorce were less prevalent. High mortality rates were another reason for low divorce rates. Coontz (1993:3) reports “that the average length of marriage was less than a dozen years.” Women wanted equality, but men did as well. Coontz (1993:61) suggests “The tendency of liberal states to justify war on the basis of ‘protecting our women’ has often led men to wonder whether those women were worth the sacrifice.” Men were tired of supporting women financially and women were tired of being treated as inferiors. If the men and women had the laws, mortality rates, and equality of today, their situation would be similar. I agree with Coontz’s point of view. The perfect traditional family does not exist. Each family is different. This was true in the 19th century, the 1950’s, and today. Culturally families are different. Coontz (1993:2) writes: The notion that traditional families fostered intense intimacy between husbands and wives while creating mothers who were totally available to their children, for example, is an idea that combines some characteristics of the white, middle-class family in the mid-nineteenth century and some of a ...Download file to see next pagesRead More
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