Chronicling astonishing shifts in public attitudes toward reproduction, from the association of barrenness with sin in colonial times, to the creation of laws for compulsory sterilization in the early twentieth century, from the baby craze of the 1950s, to the rise in voluntary childlessness in the 1990s, to the increasing reliance on startling reproductive technologies today, Elaine Tyler May reveals the intersection between public life and the most private part of our lives—sexuality, procreation, and family.
May documents a continuing American obsession with reproduction and shows how this public embrace of childbearing has inflicted anguish on childless women across the centuries.
Through rich anecdotes from the past and the testimonies of more than 500 contemporary Americans who do not have children, [May] creates a compelling portrait of the growing isolation of the childless.
The first major historical study of childlessness in the United States...[Barren in the Promised Land] provides an intriguing analysis of shifts in public attitudes and values toward parenthood, while surveying developments in reproductive interventions. Most important, this engaging book establishes the importance of the changing practices and meanings of childbearing and fertility for American history.
[I]t is in her analysis of the new cultural divide between the child-seekers and the child-free that May is most interesting...Having carried out extensive archive research when describing childlessness in past centuries, May based her study of the 1990s on correspondence from 500 men and women who answered her request for personal testimony...[which] lend[s] an otherwise fact-laden tome the vivid colours of oral history.
Everyone who thinks about childbearing--in the personal sense of whether or when to have children, or in the context of social policy choices, including legislation to support parenting or encourage birth control--will soon be talking about this book.
A powerful and sensitive chronicle of America's struggle to deal with the issue of childlessness, giving us new insight into how race, economic status, and changing cultural norms have shaped the way we feel about women bearing children.
- 336 pages
- 6-1/8 x 9-1/4 inches
- Harvard University Press
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