CHESTERTOWN, MD—Would Don and Betty Draper’s marriage have had a better chance today than in the decidedly unliberated 1960s depicted in the hit TV series Mad Men? The nation’s preeminent expert on the state of marital bliss in America, social historian Stephanie Coontz, will be on the Washington College campus Tuesday, September 13 to argue an emphatic “Yes.” A fan of Mad Men, Coontz recommends it as “a much-needed lesson on the devastating costs of a way of life that still evokes misplaced nostalgia.”
In a talk titled “Mad Men, Working Girls, and Desperate Housewives: Women, Men, and Marriage in the Early 1960s,” Coontz will discuss why social changes since the 60s have been good for families and good for the institution of marriage. Her presentation will begin at 5:30 p.m. in Hynson Lounge, inside Hodson Hall on the College campus, 300 Washington Avenue. A book signing will follow.
Coontz’s recently published A Strange Stirring: The Feminine Mystique and American Women at the Dawn of the 1960s (Basic Books, 2011) pulls author Betty Friedan “down from heaven and up from hell,” in the words of the New York Times, challenging both conservative and liberal myths about the impact of her controversial book The Feminine Mystique. Described as “an inventive biography of a book,” A Strange Stirring is based on interviews with some 200 men and women (mostly women) who read Friedan's book when it was first published in 1963, and found their lives changed in response. Dubbed “better than the original” by the Huffington Post, Coontz’s book reveals how a generation of women came to realize their dissatisfaction with domestic life reflected not a personal inadequacy but rather a social and political injustice.
In addition, Coontz examines women’s changing status from the 1920s through the 1950s, compares the dilemmas of working-class and middle-class women, white and black, in the early 1960s, and illuminates the new mystiques and new possibilities facing men and women today. “We still haven’t fully figured out how to combine a loving family life with a rewarding work life,” Coontz writes in A Strange Stirring. “But The Feminine Mystique reminds us of the price women pay when we retreat from trying to resolve these dilemmas or fail to involve men in our attempts.”
Coontz, who teaches history and family studies at Evergreen State College in Olympia, Wa., has devoted her career to the study of gender relations, families, and child development. She is Co-Chair and Director of Public Education at the nonpartisan Council on Contemporary Families, which is based at the University of Illinois, Chicago, and has testified about her research before the House Select Committee on Children, Youth and Families. Her previous book, Marriage: A History (Viking), was named one of the best books of 2005 by the Washington Post.
A former “marriage consultant” to Ladies Home Journal, she also has written for countless other publications, including the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, Salon, the Washington Post, and Newsweek. Recent national TV and radio appearances include interviews on NPR’s “Fresh Air”, C-SPAN, Oprah, the Today Show, and The Colbert Report.
Coontz’s talk is cosponsored by the Department of Sociology and Anthropology, Department of History, Gender Studies Program, C.V. Starr Center for the Study of the American Experience, and the William James Forum. For more information, visit www.washcoll.edu.