Sociologist Stephanie Coontz, in her acclaimed, fascinating, and fact-dense book, The Way We Never Were, illustrates the way that what is considered “traditional” must be socially constructed. For example, when people say “traditional marriage,” do they mean marriage between a man and his property? Between a man and more than one woman? Is the ideal age for marriage 13, 20 or 27? Is it for love, political maneuvering, survival, babies, or kitchens?  How you answer these questions depends on when, exactly, in history you’re talking about.  (See here for some humorous takes.)

The point: Since all of history is potentially a source of tradition, identifying any given period of time as The Traditional, and therefore deserving of our nostalgia, is arbitrary.

The Daily Show did a great job of illustrating this idea this week:

Lisa Wade is a professor of sociology at Occidental College and the co-author of Gender: Ideas, Interactions, Institutions. You can follow her on Twitter and Facebook.
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