Sunday, October 25, 2009

My Review: When Everything Changed

I loved this book!

From the Publisher:
Picking up where her previous successful, and highly lauded book, America's Women, left off, Gail Collins recounts the sea change women have experienced since 1960. A comprehensive mix of oral history and Collins's keen research, this is the definitive book about five crucial decades of progress, told with the down-to-earth, amusing, and agenda-free tone this beloved New York Times columnist is known for. The interviews with women who have lived through these transformative years include an advertising executive in the 60s who was not allowed to attend board meetings that took place in the all-male dining room; and an airline stewardess who remembered being required to bend over to light her passengers' cigars on the men-only 'Executive Flight' from New York to Chicago. We, too, may have forgotten the enormous strides made by women since 1960--and the rare setbacks. "Hell yes, we have a quota [7%]" said a medical school dean in 1961. "We do keep women out, when we can." At a pre-graduation party atBarnard , "they handed corsages to the girls who were engaged and lemons to those who weren't." In 1960, two-thirds of women 18-60 surveyed by Gallupdidn't approve of the idea of a female president. Until 1972, no woman ran in the Boston Marathon, the year when Title IX passed, requiring parity for boys and girls in school athletic programs (and also the year after Nixon vetoed the childcare legislation passed by congress). What happened during the past fifty years--a period that led to the first woman's winning a Presidential Primary--and why? The cataclysmic change in the lives of American women is a story Gail Collins seems to have been born to tell.

My Review: As I said, I loved this book. I was well written, with lots of stories of individual women that gave a personal touch to what could have been a dry history book. Being at the tail end of the baby boom, I'm of an age to remember most of what she wrote about. I found it interesting that she said something I've written before--that at least part of the women's movement happened because of the recession of the 1970's. Basically, it got to the point that in order to main the lifestyle to which they had become accustomed (or wanted), American families sent Mom to work. Since it wasn't something she was going to be doing for a short time before she had kids, or part time afterwards, Mom wanted to have a meaningful job, with a good paycheck. The book also pointed out that working moms had long been important to the economy of this country; it is just that most of them had been lower-class women working low-paid jobs. In addressing current times, Collins points out that many highly-educated fast-track women are opting to cut back once they have children and that some of those who fought the battles of the '70s and '80s feel betrayed but this. This is a book I'm going to encourage my daughter to read. To paraphrase an old commercial that is discussed in the book, "We've come a long way baby"

About the author: Gail Collins was the Editorial Page Editor for the New York Times from 2001-2007--the first woman to have held that position.

Message from the Author:
Dear Readers,
I've always felt that reading history was more rewarding when you knew what kind of food the people involved in the great events ate, and whether they had comfortable shoes. If you can put human faces (and feet) on historical figures, they seem less like actors walking through a prescripted pageant. It's easier to appreciate that these folks had no idea how the story was going to work out.So when I wrote WHEN EVERYTHING CHANGED, besides interviewing the movers and shakers of women's history in America over the last 50 years, I talked to a lot of average women as well --- about how their lives, their clothes, their housework, their dating rituals and their career expectations had evolved since 1960. There were lots of surprises, down to the number of little girls who had their Barbies going all the way with Ken. Ken has been way more of a stud than I ever imagined. It's always knocked me out to think that I lived through a change in the way the world regards women that had been waiting to happen for thousands of years. But now, I'm reminded of it in new ways. On the way to work this morning, I crossed my legs in the subway and suddenly thought: pants - we got pants! And whenever I pull laundry out of the drier I remember the 80-year-old woman in Cincinnati who told me that no matter how hard she tried, when she was a young housewife she could never manage to get a shirt ironed in less than 12 minutes. I'll save the shoe discussion for another day.

Disclosure: I received a complimentary review copy from the publisher.

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