Spring 2018 catalog cover

The Penn Press list for spring 2018 includes hardcover releases, first-time paperbacks, and ebook editions intended for scholars, students, and serious general readers worldwide. Click here to explore our forthcoming books, grouped by subject area.

Strange Bedfellows
Marriage in the Age of Women's Liberation

Alison Lefkovitz

296 pages | 6 x 9 | 8 illus.
Cloth Apr 2018 | ISBN 9780812250152 | Add to cart $45.00s | Outside N. America £37.00
Ebook Apr 2018 | ISBN 9780812295054 | Add to cart $45.00s | £29.50 | About
A volume in the series Politics and Culture in Modern America
View table of contents and excerpt

"Strange Bedfellows offers an original perspective on the post-World War II 'marriage revolution.' By focusing on the interactions of feminist advocates, 'men's rights' groups, legislatures, and the courts, Alison Lefkovitz insightfully charts the emergence of new policies toward divorce, alimony, and marital property. In so doing, she reveals the disparate and harmful impact of marriage reform on the poor, racial and ethnic minorities, immigrants, and gay couples. This is an important and timely book."—Kathy Peiss, University of Pennsylvania
In the inaugural issue of Ms. Magazine, the feminist activist Judy Syfers proclaimed that she "would like a wife," offering a wry critique of the state of marriage in modern America. After all, she observed, a wife could provide Syfers with free childcare and housecleaning services as well as wages from a job. Outside the pages of Ms., divorced men's rights activist Charles Metz opened his own manifesto on marriage reform with a triumphant recognition that "noise is swelling from hundreds of thousands of divorced male victims." In the 1960s and 70s, a broad array of Americans identified marriage as a problem, and according to Alison Lefkovitz, the subsequent changes to marriage law at the state and federal levels constituted a social and legal revolution.

The law had long imposed breadwinner and homemaker roles on husbands and wives respectively. In the 1960s, state legislatures heeded the calls of divorced men and feminist activists, but their reforms, such as no-fault divorce, generally benefitted husbands more than wives. Meanwhile, radical feminists, welfare rights activists, gay liberationists, and immigrant spouses fought for a much broader agenda, such as the extension of gender-neutral financial obligations to all families or the separation of benefits from family relationships entirely. But a host of conservatives stymied this broader revolution. Therefore, even the modest victories that feminists won eluded less prosperous Americans—marriage rights were available to those who could afford them.

Examining the effects of law and politics on the intimate space of the home, Strange Bedfellows recounts how the marriage revolution at once instituted formal legal equality while also creating new forms of political and economic inequality that historians—like most Americans—have yet to fully understand.

Alison Lefkovitz teaches history in the Federated History Department at the New Jersey Institute of Technology and Rutgers University-Newark.

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