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1970s Things That Are Not Socially Acceptable Today

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Kids working 12 hour days in the 1880s. Grown men taking young teenage boys as lovers in ancient Greece. Perms and shoulder pads in the 1980s. What do these all have in common, other than being truly awful? All these things were cultural norms that were completely acceptable in their day that just would not fly today. Culture is constantly evolving, as is what we find acceptable, with things as recently as the 1970s being unthinkable today.

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Indeed, over a short time period – let’s pick 50 years or so at random – many things that were once fine become scandalous. So, today we’re going to be looking at some cultural norms from the ’70s that would never be allowed today. Without further delay, let’s boogie on down to the roller disco.

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Not wearing seatbelts

Seatbelts were one of those things that were just totally optional in the 1970s / Unsplash

There you are, driving cross country in your family’s Ford Pinto. Night approaches, and you stretch out on the back seat, unclicking your seatbelt to get more comfortable. Yeah right. You haven’t been wearing your seatbelt for the last eight hours, and neither have Mom and Dad up front. Those things stink and are super uncomfortable. Let’s be honest, people rarely wore their seatbelts in the 70s. Heck, trips of 70 miles or more were regularly taken in the bed of Dad’s pickup, and nobody batted an eye.

RELATED: Vintage Photos Show What Was “Cool” In The 1970s

That of course would not fly these days. Today seat belts are mandatory for people in the front seat of cars everywhere in the U.S., except of course New Hampshire, the only state with no seat belt law on the books. Maybe they should change their state motto to Live Free AND Die.

Smoking cigarettes… everywhere.

People smoked in some surprising locations / Unsplash

Ah, who can forget driving across town rolling, down the window, breathing deep, and getting a fresh… lungful of mom’s cigarette from the front seat? It’s enough to cough just thinking about it, but back in the 1970s things like that were completely normal because people literally smoked everywhere. Bars used to be smoke-choked nightmares, it was really hard to enjoy a meal in a restaurant when the aroma of stale cigarettes overpowers the food, and concerts? Whew. After a three-hour indoor concert, you left smelling like the Marlboro Man himself.

But the thing that really blows your mind is that smoking wasn’t banned on planes until 1990 and in hospitals till 1993. Yes, hospitals, the last place you’d want someone smoking. At least our air is clearer here in the future.

Legally drinking at 18

Some practices are simply not legal now at certain ages / Pexels

When watching a movie that portrays high school life in the ’70s – looking at you Dazed and Confused – it’s striking just how much booze these kids had at their parties. How did they get 15 kegs? Who bought it? The answer, of course, is they did. Or at least the seniors did, because until 1984, the legal drinking age in the U.S. was 18. That year a law was passed trying to protect the developing brains of our youth, and prevent drunk driving accidents. Fortunately, the law works, and now no teenagers in the U.S. ever drink!

Just kidding. The law actually served to drive teenage drinking underground, and has created a major boon for the fake ID business in college towns. In better news, it also turned 21 from a mundane, lame birthday into a momentous occasion – celebrated only with responsible drinking, because for all the jokes and smart comments, safety is the top priority.

Pregnant women drinking and smoking

It wasn’t uncommon for pregnant women to drink and smoke / Wikimedia Commons

Speaking of smoking and drinking, quick, think of the last person who should ever partake. If you’re picturing your five-year-old nephew Quinn, you’re technically right, but not who I was going for. No, I was thinking of pregnant women. But boy, things were different in the 1970s.

Soon-to-be mothers smoked and drank without a care in the world, for the most part genuinely not knowing the potential damage they were doing to their unborn children. Thankfully today, study after study has confirmed that smoking and drinking are two of the worst things for developing fetuses, and for the most part, the practice has disappeared.

Letting children roam free

Kids would leave the house and not return for hours / Unsplash

It’s a bright, sunny summer day. You race out of your house to join your friends, yelling something unintelligible back at your mom. Six hours later, you trudge back in, happy, hungry, and exhausted after a perfect afternoon. Sounds amazing, right? Well, it would never, ever happen in this day and age. The days of letting your children roam the neighborhood freely, traipsing about as if they owned the place, no adult in sight, and no cares on their minds is very over.

Parents these days are too scared of their kids being snatched off the street, or befalling any number of other nefarious ends. Plus, with the advent of smartphones, it’s become incredibly easy to track your kids nonstop – although, Stanford did a study on smartphone acquisition and health, and found that by the end of its study, nearly all participating individuals had a smartphone by age 15, so parents can probably guess where their kid will be without tracking them: in their room texting or watching TikTok. Thus, the age of blissful parental ignorance has come to an end.

Rampant sexual harassment at work

Some things common in the 1970s are better left in the past / Pexels

If you were a working woman in the 1970s, your work environment was often short of ideal, and at worst things could get flat-out dangerous. Women in the ’70s had to put up with catcalling, groping, constant comments about their looks, and men, in general, being gross little pervs – all in an environment where they were supposed to be professional and productive.

Thankfully, due to laws passed and the creation of the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, and a very public reckoning for some very powerful people during the Me Too movement, things have gradually been getting better for women in the workplace. While we all still have a lot of work to do, just go back and watch Mad Men to see how far we’ve come.

Corporal punishment in schools

Punishments could get downright violent – though not yet illegal

Thwack! School kids in the ’70s dreaded the hard hammer of justice that was a teacher’s ruler whistling down to thump them on the knuckles or scalp, all in the name of preventing supposed malfeasance. Even worse was getting sent to the principal’s office, where a friendly meeting with “Mr. Paddle” was sure to follow. All in all, kids getting beaten, kindly euphemized as “corporal punishment,” was quite common in ’70s schools.

Thankfully that practice has all but disappeared, as the US banned it in…. Oh, wait. No, we didn’t. In fact, the U.S. is one of only three developed countries in the world where the practice is still allowed, and over 180 countries have banned it in total, including even the U.K., where getting a caning from the headmaster was basically their communion.

Dangerous playgrounds

Some things in the 1970s were dangerous and painful, yet incredibly fun / Pixabay

Sadistic ruler-wielding teachers weren’t the only things 1970s kids had to be careful of. Because as soon as the bell sounded for recess, the floodgates opened and students poured forth to grapple with perhaps their number one adversary: the classic ’70s playground. Filled with metal that turned molten hot in the baking sun, floored in concrete – that classic, super soft landing spot – and soaring to heights that made any fall sure to result in broken bones, playgrounds used to be dangerous.

And fun. Oh so fun. Those metal slides that shot you out of a cannon with a fried backside, the four-story wooden mazes that made tag into the greatest game of all time, even the concrete was a perfect canvas for hopscotch and four square. But alas, with today’s safety standards, all we’re left with is a pale rubber and plastic imitation of our once glorious past.

Casual racism on TV

SOAP, Robert Guillaume, Katherine Helmond, 1977-81 / Everett Collection

Man, TV was a wild time in the ’70s. Go back and watch almost any show, and I promise you, you will be surprised by the number of things that would not fly today that are proudly shown front and center. Especially the casual racism. The Duke brothers tear around town in a car emblazoned with a massive confederate flag. Yikes. And cartoons? Even worse. Nothing but the title of Hong Kong Phooey needs to be mentioned, and you to get the idea.

Even the most popular shows weren’t immune. Sure, All In the Family is supposed to be edgy, but Archie Bunker as a character would never, ever exist today. Or at least someone with his views would never be a show’s protagonist. While everything certainly isn’t perfect today, at least we’ve cut out most of the casual racism flowing nightly into our living rooms.

There they are, some of the most common things from the 1970s that would not fly today. Do you remember clouds of smoke in bars? Not wearing a seatbelt? Which things did we miss? Let us know in the comments below, we read every one – just be sure to click it or ticket while you head on over there. That’s a law now.

For all the things that should come back, some typical 1970s norms are less savory
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