Please visit the new home of Majikthise at

« Antidepressant lengthens worm lifespan | Main | Feds drop "no match" rule that threatened 12.7 million legal jobs »

November 26, 2007

Children no longer obey their parents, and everyone is writing a book...

"Times are bad. Children no longer obey their parents, and everyone is writing a book."--Cicero

Jill links to an essay from the November 1957 issue of the Atlantic Monthly, entitled "Sex and the College Girl." It could have been written yesterday.

Try substituting "Boomers" for "Jazz Age" in this paragraph...

Or parents kicked over so many traces that there are practically none left for us. That is not to say, of course, that all of our parents were behaving like the Fitzgeralds. Undoubtedly most of them weren't. But the twenties have come down to us as the Jazz Age, the era described by Time as having "one abiding faith—that something would happen in the next twenty minutes that would utterly change one's life," and this is what will go on the record. The people living more quietly didn't make themselves so eloquent. And this gay irresponsibility is our heritage. There is very little that is positive beneath it, and there is one clearly negative result—so many of our parents are divorced.

And again, here:

These are all the things that a liberally educated girl must do, and there has been in her background a curious lack of definition of the things she must not do. Parents who have lived in the Jazz Age can not very well forbid adventurousness, nor can they take a very stalwart attitude about sex. Even if they do, their daughters rarely listen. What or what not to do about sex is, these days, relative. It all depends. This is not to say that there are no longer any moral standards; certainly there are—the fact that sex still causes guilt and worry proves it. But moral generalizations seem remote and unreal, something our grandparents believed in.

The piece also touches on the wanton promiscuity of young women, the vexing double standards, the competing desires "have it all" or give up and have babies, the moral relativism of youth today, the decline of Christian values, the alleged burdens that personal freedom and education impose on women, the malaise of modern life...

It seems like every "trend" piece for the last fifty years has been a direct or indirect ripoff of this essay. Except, I have a hard time believing that these points were fresh in 1957.


TrackBack URL for this entry:

Listed below are links to weblogs that reference Children no longer obey their parents, and everyone is writing a book...:


Maybe a little before 1957:

The quotes are a little shaky, but even if they were made up I'd think it was before then.

plus ca change, plus ca meme chose

dat's FRENCH, bitches!

dat's FRENCH, bitches!

Is the Cosmo Girl coming back into fashion?

Well, the utter dreariness of the piece seems very '50s to me. Being bad is so wrong ... but being good is so arid and empty ... oh, let's all just get shitfaced drunk or hang ourselves. The written equivalent of Despair comix.

plus ça change, le plus ça reste le même.

That is french. The more things change, the more they stay the same.

So I'm semi-literate in two languages. That makes me presidential material, ness pass?

Non, ça dit que tu ne sais pas "google" et "cut and paste", mon ami.

I'll NEVER try to be clever in a foreign language again. I'm so ashamed

HEY. just cause you have fancy Frenchy diacritical marks on your typewriter is no reason to make me feel bad. Damn your eyes.

kess kew say "google" eat "cut and paste" mon nucleosis?

robertgnome: I'll NEVER try to be clever in a foreign language again. I'm so ashamed

I suppose that means you'll never be a cunning linguist.

Sorry, should have resisted. The frenchy diacritical marks came with the cut and pasting. Mind you, I actually do speak french but my writing is no so good.

plus ça change, le plus ça reste le même

Hawise, I think the more common formulation is Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose.

Not in Quebec, but usage differs as does milage ;)

Worth noting that Nora Johnson is still best known for her dated novel The World of Henry Orient and, to a much lesser extent, her memoir of showbiz privilege, Coast to Coast: A Family Romance. Why do these sort of folks keep getting appointed spokespeople? (Wait, wait, don't tell me.)

Hmmmm. Seems like her signature novel was made into a pretty zippy film that I should check out some time. The book certainly snored me -- 30 years ago.

Not in Quebec, but usage differs as does milage ;)

Ahhh...hadn't even thought of that. Pardon my francocentrism!

Lindsey, did you actually read the article? Are young men today falling over themselves in their eagerness to go steady? Does this sound anything remotely like the life of a modern woman college student? You would know better than I would, but to me, the life described sounds as remote as crinolines:

'The average college girl, then, is trapped by the male wish for dating security. If she balks at this at first, she soon accepts—a couple of Saturday nights playing bridge with the girls quickly teach her what's good for her. She can't really manage to keep up a butterfly life for long, unless she is an exception. Even if she wants to, the boys she goes out with are all too willing to make an honest woman of her. Their fraternity pins are burning holes in their lapels. Avoiding going steady with old Joe requires an extraordinary measure of tact and delicacy, because curious situations arise very early in the game. If Susie has gone out with a boy three or four times and then is asked out by a friend of his she met at the fraternity house, she is already in a predicament. She would like to go, because she likes Boy Number Two, and why not? But Boy Number One would be terribly hurt. It just isn't cricket. If she does go, she runs the risk of being thought lightheaded and lighthearted by the rest of the fraternity, besides having done dirt to one of the brothers (an unpardonable offense), which practically extinguishes any other dating possibilities at that particular house.'

Man, HBO was right. Cicero was kind of a prick.

Idealization of the past is nothing new. Apparently, to read the contemporary commentators of each age, civilization peaked at some undefined time 10,000 years ago and has been "in decline" ever since as "the youth" get worse and worse.

Civiization has been in decline since Man learned how to draw pictograms. Sure you can transport more since you got that fancy new wheel but I had to carry it all on my back in a sling... You had a sling?!?!

Bloix, "go steady" in context means "not date anyone else".

Right, Ajay. 'Going steady' was a formal relationship, in imitation (or parody) of marriage, in which a boy would solemnly ask a girl to go steady with him. If she accepted, she allowed herself to be 'pinned,' that is, he would place his fraternity pin on her sweater or blouse, and she would wear it in public to show that she was not available for dates with other boys. It was expected that the couple would go out either alone with another couple, on a date every Saturday night, and would engage in other somewhat formally ritualized meetings over the course of the week. (Boys were not permitted in girls' rooms and vice versa, so most courtship took place primarily in public spaces.) The girl would certainly allow her steady to kiss her, would probably permit more intimate touching, but would typically not permit intercourse, or would not unless she had an expectation of a marriage proposal. It was understood that the boy would want as much sexual contact as possible and the girl's role was to resist, conceding more contact over time in accordance with her judgment of the depth of the boy's commitment to the relationship. (As birth control was illegal or difficult to purchase in most places, and everywhere freighted with overtones of sin and promiscuity, intercourse often meant risk of pregnancy. And in any event, intercourse required more privacy than most couples could muster very frequently, unless the boy owned a car - a prerogative of the rich.) Breaking up required a formal return of the pin.

Does this sound anything remotely like present-day relationships between the sexes on college campuses?

The comments to this entry are closed.