Elaine Mays Homeward Bound May,

However, although the 1950s may have prohibited sexual deviance outside of conventional sexual norms, in the form of out-of-wedlock births and homosexuality, it was highly approving of sexuality within the bounds it defined as acceptable — the age of newlyweds plummeted according to the natural average, and the birthrate skyrocketed. Marrying young and having children enabled “Americans to thumb their noses at doomsday predictions” and also signified the end to an era when Americans were afraid to get married, for fear of providing for a new family (May 23). Containment is the other key word of Mays text, containment of communism and sexuality — experts advised that it was better for teens to marry young than to relieve their urges in other ways. Sexual looseness outside of marriage and political deviance were also lined in the popular imagination.

Interestingly, May does not see the 1950s as traditional but as futuristic in its obsession with the threat of war and what she sees as the new emphasis on personal life. As reflected in the Kelly surveys from this period, the popular use of psychoanalysis began to rise. “It was not, as common wisdom tells us, the last gasp of traditional family life…it was the first wholehearted effort to create a home that would fulfill virtually all its members personal needs through an energized and expressive personal life” in American history (May 11). This intense personalization of American life also temporarily stultified political activism. “It offered private and personal solutions to social problems…. domestic containment and its therapeutic corollary undermined the potential for political activism and reinforced the chilling effects of anticommunism and the cold war consensus” (May 14). Even the increased effectiveness of contraception brought it under expert and professional control, thus containing it as well: like “labor saving” devices around the home, birth control mechanized the process of keeping home childbirth, enabling families to plan and space out their children (May 135). This was the age of the tyranny of the expert who gave comforting advice how to build a bomb shelter, how to give birth and to raise children, and even how to efficiently cook the family meal according to the correct procedure.

May paints the 1950s culture in relatively broad-brush strokes, which makes it difficult to see any deviant information that might conflict with her thesis. Her focus on a relatively narrow part of the population ignores the working life of African-American and lower class women during the period. It also does not really explain why the 1960s reaction to the 1950s was so severe and seismic — she tends to downplay any evidence resistance was bubbling beneath the surface. Also, she takes women at their word that they were content living lives revolving around home and children. She does not entertain he prospect that perhaps women might have experienced life differently than how they reported it on surveys and to experts. The Kelly survey and cultural iconic representations of the period, like Life Magazine, seems to support Mays thesis, but before accepting the premise of the work, a true historian would need to delve deeper — as perhaps May.


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