Observations On Cultural Shifts/Values In The U.S.
From what I’ve seen, heard, read, and experienced over the course of forty years of adult life; it seems to me that our whole culture has become “mental-illness crazy”. Worse than that may be the fact that around the late 1960′s and through the 1970′s our culture (which had up until then seemed to making great strides in gaining more and more understanding of, and respect for, individual human beings) very much seemed to take a turn in what was respect and valued. And, with that turn (“detour”, if you will) away from the progress that had, until then, been being made; a cultural change was ushered in that would contribute to the damage/destruction of individuals and families more and more as time went on.
That turn involved two major shifts in what was valued; and although I’ve always been as big a feminist as “the next guy”, one element that was non constructive for individuals and families was the fact that The Women’s Movement didn’t truly “honor” women. Instead, it told women that in order to be equal they had to become like men. Now, if you think I’m one of those people who thinks we should all go back to how things used to be for women: Wrong. The biggest problem, however, may have been that
When I first started writing on the Internet I imagined being able to share some fairly unique (as opposed to “run-of-the-mill”) experiences; because, while it was too late to prevent some types of things from happening in my own life (and to my own children), I found at least a shred of consolation in the belief that I might possibly be able to create some awareness about some subjects – and maybe (MAYBE) I could say or do something that would keep what happened in my life from happening in another person’s life.
The trouble is that for as long as I’ve been writing online, I’ve kept “writing around” the heart of the matter (for a number of different reasons, including not want to embarrass people who don’t deserve to be embarrassed, and not wanting to embarrass myself, knowing from experience that if I tried to speak up for myself (in view of the fact that I had nobody, other than my own young children, to speak up for me) I would be viewed as (at best) conceited and/or arrogant, and (at worst) mentally ill. Also, I had learned a long time ago that when I’ve tried to speak up among some people who would have preferred I not speak up, I’d meet with varying degrees of verbal aggression; and by the time my story had actually become a “story” at all I didn’t – to be candid – I had actually (and in some way I didn’t quite even understand or even realize, and in spite of having plenty of confidence in myself, and one type of feeling extremely secure about myself “in my head”) I had actually been through enough to have kind of been reduced to feeling like a tiny butterfly somewhere on the inside – and butterflies, as you might imagine, don’t feel big and strong enough to stand up to and deal with too much aggression, even “only” verbal aggression.
To put it as briefly as possible, so many traits/behaviors/skills that had generally once been associated with women (and mothers and nurturing) were no longer valued and respected even less than they had been previously. Emulating some of the aggressive behavior of a lot of men was what women were told they needed to do if they expected to be treated and seen as “equals”.
Rather than emphasizing all the things traditionally (and often scientifically) associated with women, and emphasizing (and recognizing) that kind, nurturing, understanding, women who were skilled at keeping a family strong often had the very same kind of strength and intelligence that men had; the message of that time in our history was that if women didn’t become more aggressive, more nasty, less nurturing, and louder they could/would never be equal in our society. The message was that women had to learn how not to put things like keeping peace and stability in a family first. They needed to learn that other people could take as good care of their children as they could. They needed to learn, essentially, to tell people off and end relationships. In other words, the emotional aspects of life were seen as “fluffy” . Women who were nice, understanding and/or gentle were seen as “fluffy” and “weak” – and if not those, then at least “not smart” (or “smart in their own way, but not in the same way that men are smart).
Instead of women’s using their voices to send the message that maybe the way men had done things since the beginning of time hasn’t always served humanity very well, so many women jumped on the bandwagon of believing that “tough” women were equal, and “nice, little, ladies” who took care of their own children, spoke in soft voices, and held traditionally female jobs were “valued in their own way” – just not as equal a way as men and women who emulated men.
At the same time, this was a time when our society was almost blinded by the promise of ever-growing/ever-advancing technology – and, of course, the earning potential offered by careers in science and technology. School-kids who showed promise in areas such as English skills and/or social-sciences-related skills were not seen as “the smart kids who were headed for ‘Big-Bucks’ science/technology careers. Nobody seemed to realize that a lot of the “social-sciences-leaning” students didn’t like math because they were worrying about kids going hungry in third-world countries. Nobody seemed to notice that a lot of those boys (and the occasional girl) who seemed to pant as they waved their arm in order to be the first to answer some of those math questions often liked math as well as they did because they weren’t quite as naturally skilled as a lot of other students, who were more “social” inclined and skilled, were.
And so, at the time of so many dramatic jumps forward (in different ways) in our society, something that a lot of people didn’t seem to notice was that our culture was heading in a direction that would go more and more against the grain of what is natural, normal, and close to universal among human beings.
Also, in a Post WWII era which was said to be the first time in America when childhood was established as “its own thing” and “a separate stage of life”, parents weren’t just aiming (and often able) to provide a fairly comfortable and nice childhood for their kids. Many aimed either to make sure their children got the same good education that they had, or else make sure that their children received a better education, and opportunities, than they had. It was a time when light was being shed on “old wives’ tales” types of thinking, and when most people recognized that seeking answers and advice from well educated experts was the only sensible thing to do. (At least those social-sciences and/or verbal-skills people would be able to settle into careers of some sort. In fact, it may have been (if I recall correctly) the 1980′s when there was a glut not only of high-tech professionals and entrepreneurs, but also of books being written by experts in social-sciences areas. With so many well educated Baby Boomers at the ages when people are generally figuring out their own paths in life, and how to be happy and successful; there was a real market for any number of books that offered advice to those seeking it.
With competition for jobs and money what it was, people were discovering that four-year degrees weren’t worth a whole lot much of the time. That’s when graduate and post-graduate degrees became more and more common (and necessary if someone hoped to be able to compete).
And so, over a fairly brief period of between, perhaps, fifteen and twenty-five years, our culture seemed to have abandoned some values and beliefs that are really crucial when it comes not only to fostering strength, common sense, and a sense of security in individuals and/or families; but also throughout the culture in general.
Where these observations come into play with regard to our now “mental-illness-crazy” society will be addressed in a future post.