Navigating the Dos and Don’ts of Dating: A 1970-1989 Timeline

The 1970s to the 1980s was a period of much social change in American history. The rise of social tensions in the 1960s developed over concerning and controversial issues of women’s rights, authority, and human sexuality to name a few. This was identified as the Counterculture of the 1960s. The Second-wave of feminism also began in the 1960s and lasted roughly to the 1980s, significantly impacting gender roles in social practices and expectations. Thus exploration of any shifts in dating culture between the 1970s and the 1980s would highlight the changing norms and values of American society at this time, something the current historical scholarship is lacking.

What would further enhance exploration of dating culture changes during this period would be presenting it as a digital timeline. Change over time has a significant impact on many historical topics, but laying it out in an interactive setting, helps viewers better relate the changes happening to the time they are occurring. Moreover, a visual display of detailed research is often easier to take in as it includes images, links and a creative organization unique to a digital timeline. That being said, I propose using Knight Lab’s TimelineJS. This tool allows me to organize my research along a timeline, demonstrating change over time. I want to explore how dating advice changed from 1970 to 1989. While this is a short period of time, only two decades, I plan on going into detail about the different themes and messages presented to young girls that I see presented in various publications. For example some of my research questions are: Is there a shift from more traditional dating advice to a more feminist perspective? If so, when does that shift happen? Are there any significant shifts in gender roles? Is there more than one shift? Do these shifts occur at the same time or follow one after the other?

My chosen sources would be dating advice literature and various newspaper articles from 1970-1989. I would present books from multiple points in that period, ideally the beginning, middle and end chunks to explore any significant changes in thought, poplar topics and messages. I would explore the rituals and expectations of heterosexual relationships and what these findings suggest about accepted gender roles in dating situations.

After some preliminary research, some dating advice literature I would analyze would be:

  • Our Bodies, Ourselves; A Book By and For Women, Boston Women’s Health Book Collective (1973)
  • Sex Etiquette : Should I?, Can I?, May I?, Must I? : The Modern Woman’s Guide to Mating Manners, Hamel, Marilyn (1984)
  • The Teen Dating Guide, Stewart, Marjabelle Young (1984)
  • Charm; The Career Girl’s Guide to Business & Personal Success, Whitcomb, Helen and Rosalind Lang (1971)
  • “Men Play the Waiting Game in the Dating Game,” Berman, Laura (1989)

These books and article already give me a wide range of dating culture from the early 1970s, mid 1980s and late 1980s.

I would read through all the dating advice literature and newspaper articles I can find, while keeping track of various themes and changes to advice about specific dos and don’ts in dating. I would input the publication dates of each source into the digital timeline, including a quick summary and image of the source to provide a visual for viewers. After summarizes the general content, I would dive into the specific topics and advice presented in each source, ideally pointing out the same topics discussed in different sources with potentially different advice. I will also link to sources online if they can be found there. Potentially, I would also include links to various online articles about dating during the 1970s and 1980s.

Prior to diving into the primary sources, I would designate the first timeline entry to previous scholarship on the topic to give some background and reason for my focus on literature and newspaper articles. Some secondary sources I would include are:

  • From Front Porch to Back Seat : Courtship in Twentieth-Century America, Bailey, Beth L
  • Sex in the Heartland, Bailey, Beth L
  •  “Sex and the Me Decade: Sex and Dating Advice Literature of the 1970s,” Ward, Anna E
  • “Interpersonal Relationships in Women’s Magazines: Dating and Relating in the 1970s and 1980s,” Prusank, Diane T., Robert L. Duran, and Dena A. DeLillo
  •  “From Moutain Peak to Total Woman: An Evolutionary History of Pre-Feminist Dating Advice,” King, Andrew

Overall, developing a digital timeline to explore dating culture changes over time creates an interactive, visually stimulating learning environment to the benefit of the topic and learners. A journal article or book doesn’t allow for the reader to click through a timeline that clearly highlights the year with the source that demonstrates the dating norms and expectations in that moment. Moreover, a source visual image is rarely incorporated into writing pieces, but can easily and effectively be included alongside a summary and content analysis of that source in a digital timeline. In another sense, this digital timeline could be a virtual exhibit for a museum or even a presentation for classroom purposes. The possibilities are endless and must be explored.  

One Reply to “Navigating the Dos and Don’ts of Dating: A 1970-1989 Timeline”

  1. Hi Clarie, Great concept and I think it makes a lot of sense to build this out as a timeline. As you start to work through your sources and images to include, I think it will be important to think through the overarching story/argument you want to make and how you can draw that out from what parts of the texts you focus in on and how you interpret them in the timeline. In good news, it’s clear that you’ve both already got a good handle on the sources to work with, the historiography and broader questions you are interested in, and the tool you plan to work in.

    As you work on the project it will also be good to further refine the specific audience you are targeting. As you point out, your audience could be classroom teachers or more broadly as a kind of museum exhibit audience. In either event, the more you can articulate who your intended audience is the better you will be able to get feedback from stakeholders that represent that audience and the more you can think through a communication plan that would address how to get the word out about your resource to them.

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