- Paperback: 256 pages
- Publisher: IUniverse (August 28, 2002)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 059522959X
- ISBN-13: 978-0595229598
- Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.6 x 8.5 inches
- Shipping Weight: 13.9 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 7 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,967,522 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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The Fifties: A Women's Oral History
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From Publishers Weekly
The women, aged 58 to 68 today, who reached maturity in the 1950s were more conflicted about becoming housewives than they let on, according to this colorful oral history. Harvey, a freelance journalist and children's book author, has organized the recollections of several very lively, articulate women into an exploration of sex, courtship, out-of-wedlock pregnancy, motherhood, "pocket-money" work, careers and lesbianism during the '50s. The evocative and illuminating material will jog many memories, tickle a few funny bones--remember "technical virgins"?--and perhaps even prompt a tear or two. There are wonderful descriptions of the training of a stewardess (over the hill at 35) and the fury of a New York City radical, kept at home by her husband after their baby was born. Harvey also, intriguingly, shows some women choosing marriage so they would not have to deal with the new possibilities that--albeit in a limited fashion--were beginning to open up for them.
Copyright 1993 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
From Kirkus Reviews
Freelance journalist Harvey (The Village Voice, etc.) half- successfully orchestrates a number of women's ``coming of age'' memories of the 50's, highlighting the restrictions and penalties these mostly middle-class, bright, urban, East Coast women endured. Drawing on interviews with 92 women aged 58-68, Harvey reconstructs the sexual values that shaped women's lives--the bizarre contradiction between their seductive appearance (red lipstick, pointy bras) and the repressive morality that made marriage the condition for sex, and the bearing of children and living in isolating, child-oriented suburban developments the norm. She discusses the brutality of childbirth dominated by male physicians; the naivet of young mothers (one was advised to nurse while listening to Beethoven and smoking a cigarette); birth control; and the priority placed on ``perfect'' children through whom mothers acquired their value. Lamenting that no man ever had to choose between having a family and a career, she examines the working lives of those who successfully entered male-dominated professions; those who cultivated low-level jobs ``to fall back on''; the experience of lesbians (especially the freedom they enjoyed in the military); the deterrent effect of the civil-rights movement and anti-Communist activities on women's liberation; and the displacement of women in radical politics. With the election of JFK in 1960, the introduction of the Pill, and the Redbook survey examining ``Why Young Mothers Feel Trapped''--to which 24,000 women replied--the women's movement, Harvey points out, gained direction: Women like those interviewed by Harvey went to school and to work, divorced their husbands, and protested against the war in Vietnam. Harvey is a talented writer with an eye for detail and anecdote, but her study is narrow, often stereotyped, and lacks the diversity, surprise, and range of oral history at its best. -- Copyright ©1993, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
Top customer reviews
This is one of the most personally influential books I have ever read; it changed a lot of my historical views as well as my current political ones. I recommend this book to anyone interested in feminism, women's history, or midcentury history.
The women interviewed for this book spoke about many different subjects which most women of the decade had to deal with, often in isolation because they had no one to talk to or because they had been taught not to speak up and be "unladylike" by disturbing the status quo and rocking the boat. Among these subjects include radical politics, military wives, life in Levittowns, the sexual double standard of the era (girls who went all the way were punished for enjoying sex or getting pregnant, while the boys didn't even get so much as a slap on the wrist), what it was like for unwed mothers (the story about Doris, who got pregnant for the first time as the result of a rape, was particularly heartbreaking), how know-it-all male physicians treated their patients like stupid children and totally took over their birth experiences, making it more about the doctor being a god over womens' bodies than the woman going through one of the most powerful experiences possible, what it was like in the days before the Pill, when premarital chastity was accomplished more through fear than personal beliefs and when "technical virgins" abounded just as much as they do today, lesbian women, divorce, higher education (many women were urged to drop out of college if they had academic difficulties, or were bullied out of fields of study dominating by men, such as business and architecture), and what women experiencing crisis pregnancies had to go through in the days of back alley abortions. This was also the era when impressionable young women were taught that their highest aspiration should be to be a wife, mother, and homemaker, with the only respectable professions open to women being that of nurse, teacher, and secretary. Married women who wanted to work were seen as odd, and many people would not hire married women. Married women who had no children were thought to be insane, and if they didn't have "enough" children, they were looked on just as suspiciously. This was not a great decade in which to be a nonconformist. After reading a book like this, it would be hard for anyone to not realise why there were so many radical sweeping changes in the Sixties and Seventies. These women who had come of age in the Fifties had been through enough and weren't going to take being treated like second-class citizens and living under a sexual double standard anymore.
This is difficult stuff to read at times, knowing what life was like for women not that long ago, but it should also be inspiring, realising how far we've come in so many ways. It should be a real eye-opener for anyone, male or female, who refuses to believe that things were really this bad back in the Fifties.
Wonderfully written. You will breeze through it and feel fulfilled.