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The Hearts of Men: American Dreams and the Flight from Commitment [Paperback]

Barbara Ehrenreich
3.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)

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Product details

  • Paperback: 206 pages
  • Publisher: Anchor Books; Reprint edition (May 1984)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0385176155
  • ISBN-13: 978-0385176156
  • Product Dimensions: 21 x 14 x 1 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,346,956 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description

The Hearts of Men An analysis of recent cultural evolution argues that the abandonment by men of the traditional male commitment to the "breadwinner ethic" has had the greatest impact on changing sex roles Full description

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars An interesting introduction, if little else... 26 May 2010
By Heather
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Ehrenreich's aim in this book is quite a noble but controversial one: to examine masculinity in relation to marriage/"settling down"/to a lesser extent following a career and the unrealistic pressures ideologically imposed on these things in the US without simply resorting to accusing all men of having a fear of commitment or any other reductive and condescending generalisation along the same lines.

Anyone looking for a detailed sociological study on that subject should probably look elsewhere, though. Ehrenreich examines several 'trends' in the construction of American masculinity from the 50s through to the early 80s (e.g. the rise of Playboy, Beat, hippies) according to some of the ideas, media and dominant schools of thought of the time. Any study inevitably has to impose its own limitations, especially when spanning several decades: whilst examining certain fiction books, pop-psychology and health advice, magazines, films, etc. is hardly an inappropriate approach, on several occasions the author assumes that this 'evidence' corresponds to their historical context and what men and women were really thinking and experiencing in a far more direct way than is probably the case. Moreover, the book doesn't really provide a particularly wide or representative survey of the media - for instance, the author doesn't entirely justify discussing individual books like Revolutionary Road or On the Road at length, when she could have given a more inclusive overview of the literature of the time.
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Amazon.com: 3.5 out of 5 stars  8 reviews
74 of 77 people found the following review helpful
By Steven Menzer - Published on Amazon.com
For men who think that feminism is a threat to the male sex, this book will open eyes and minds in the same way abolition liberated white slave-owners from their barbaric addiction to controlling other human beings against their will. And for women who see feminism as a threat to families, this book will either help relieve them of their ignorance of history, or only further convince them that a woman can have no other meaningful purpose than to bear and rear children.

This book addresses the disconnect between traditional gender roles and reality that has been building up steadily since the industrial revolution. The trend toward industrialization came to a head during WWI and especially WWII when many women worked in factories to produce munitions used by their husbands to kill. As the sudden return of men from great carnage sparked the baby boom, the notion of the "housewife" came to describe women's return to domesticity aided with a new arsenal of household gadgets and appliances. Betty Friedan wrote "The Feminine Mystique", in response to the vacuousness of this newly created paradigm of the suburban housewife paradise. Her book pointed out the absurdity of the domestic female role when modern conveniences had rendered them obsolete. Even childrearing was becoming usurped from the domain of women by the increasing institutionalization of public schools as day care centers.

A quarter century after Betty Friedan's landmark book, Barbara Ehrenreich finally gave men the same insight into how their roles have become outmoded in response to historical changes. If the feminist protest was against viewing females as mere baby-factories, this book critiques the socialization of men into being either breadwinners, or soldiers willing to sacrifice their lives in war. In a purely economic sense - with the vanishing of agriculture, women had ceased to contribute to the finances of the family as men competed in an increasingly specialized labor force. For the first time in history, in 1950's America, women had become purely concerned with reproduction thus forcing men to be even more focused on production, at the expense of leisure time. The blandness of this female domestic tranquility was matched by the sense of "pseudo" power men had over their wives as "kept" women. This books shows that the other side of the coin of feminist rage over female oppression was no picnic for men either.

Men were oppressed in an opposite but equally intolerable way. Taken to its logical extreme, the male gender role had become equivalent to greed. No other instinct could better serve a man in a world where male success was defined purely in financial terms. More so than ever, men were encouraged to be workaholic machines, denying their emotions. In this context, any sensitivity or weakness in a man was tantamount to a betrayal of his family in his role as provider. But in "The Hearts of Men", there was a longing for something deeper than the accumulation of wealth as expressed by the beat writers and 1960's counterculture. As long as a woman's place remained at home, marriage and family increasingly appeared to be a death sentence of hard labor. They rejected this heart attack-inducing life of the breadwinner. The elevation of sex and free love for its own sake in the 1960's was in part a reaction against this prostitution-like relation between the sexes whereby the husband had to pay for the privilege of having a "housewife".

This book rightly takes some of the blame for the breakdown of the family off the shoulders of feminism, and perhaps suggests that some of the blame should go to the insensitivity of American wage labor capitalism toward the personal lives of employees, in the relentless pursuit of profit over people. This book is essential reading for anyone interested in gender, history, and yes - family values.
18 of 18 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Cultural history from Playboy to Phyllis Schafly 5 Jun 2009
By Aaron Swartz - Published on Amazon.com
Barbara Ehrenreich was a prominent feminist author, who'd written books chronicling the way the culture has mistreated women, like For Her Own Good: Two Centuries of the Experts Advice to Women (with Deirdre English). But then she got interested in the notion that the culture was also mistreating men. At first, she says, she was skeptical. She intended to write a book mocking the idea. But the more she researched it, the more she realized the men had a point: patriarchy hurts them too.

The result is a book that's not only a brilliant chronicle of how the sexual revolution has changed men's lives, but an honest attempt to grapple with what it all means for women. It's a fascinating read -- her reinterpretation of Playboy alone is worth the work.
39 of 66 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The economy changed, and the culture had to adjust. 14 Aug 2001
By Lawrence Krubner - Published on Amazon.com
Ehrenreich emphasizes that the economy changed dramatically during the post war boom, and the changes in the economy eventually demanded changes in the culture. Women have always worked, but they use to work at home on a farm. Even as late as the 30s and 40s America was still heavily agricutural. But during the 50s and 60s farm life died out in America, not totally of course, but to a large extent, replaced by big industry and then computers. On a farm a woman could do valuable work, in the new world of the 50s there was nothing for a woman to do but sit around and look pretty. You had millions of women of intelligence and strength and a desire for meaningful labor, and they no longer had an outlet, because they no longer lived on a farm. On a farm the could help their man and their family everyday, in a meaninful way. In the 50s, they were mere parasites, living at home in ease while the men worked. And eventualy, of course, the men got tired of that arrangement. To put it another way, on a farm, a man needs a wife. In the modern world, a man doesn't need a woman as much, or at least not in the same way. At some point, the culture had to adjust to the changes in the economy, and that adjustment was feminism. Women had to work so they could still contribute something meaninful to a marriage.
2 of 11 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Made me ponder 21 Jun 2010
By BinYong - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Required for a class I had to take. It was a decent book but not good enough for me to finish. Most likely because it was required.
0 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Great buy! 18 Sep 2013
By CT - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
The book came quickly and in great condition. The pages were just slightly yellowed from age, but that was expected with the low cost.
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