THE FIFTIES by Brett Harvey


A Women's Oral History
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 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 naivetÇ 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.

Pub Date: April 17th, 1993
ISBN: 0-06-016279-1
Page count: 256pp
Publisher: HarperCollins
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15th, 1993


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