Saturday, February 17, 2018

Review: Homeward Bound: American Families in the Cold War Era

Homeward Bound: American Families in the Cold War Era Homeward Bound: American Families in the Cold War Era by Elaine Tyler May
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This is a very interesting topic with very interesting information that some people might find dry but left me wanting to read more. Homeward Bound looks at the relationships of husbands and wives during the Cold War years. Elaine Tyler May uses data from the Kelly Longitudinal Study, which was conducted from 1935 - 1955. The KLS surveyed hundreds of married couples to get their thoughts on family dynamics including home life, work life, sex, and children. Attitudes obviously changed from the 30s to the 50s. The author put the data in context with the state of the nation throughout the Cold War showing how families changed and evolved. Attitudes on personal safety (the A-bomb / duck and cover drills / personal fallout shelters), dating, contraception, family roles (a woman's place is in the home....or is it?), and children were also discussed.

There's no humor here but I thought the book was somewhat engaging but at times repetitive or just too much data being thrown at the reader. What was most interesting to me was to see how attitudes changed over time. What I came away with is that many people were unhappy in their marriages and often married due to social norms and pressures to "have the ideal family life." Women hated being stuck at home to run the house when they had ambitions in life. They were expected to go to college to find a husband, then bail on school or any other thoughts on a career to have children, wait on their husbands, and run the house. Men simply treated women as lesser beings that were there to be at their beck and call. They were unequal partners who needed to stay at home and make sure the kids were taken care of and sent off to school. By the time the 50s and 60s rolled around, women began to find their voice and feminist attitudes began to challenge the old norms. Many of the survey respondent's comments were eye-opening and entertaining. This book will certainly make you understand how far we have come and how family life has changed since the Cold War.

What I didn't get a feel for, was the diversity of the surveyed couples. That is, were they all from a certain part of the country? Were they all urban, suburban, or rural couples? Financial and educational status was lightly discussed, but I didn't get a feel for whether the respondents were representative of the whole country or a specific area. It may have mentioned it in the Appendix, but I missed it if it did. I did like that the Appendix included the survey that was given.

Recommended for anyone interested in family dynamics post World War II.

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