Disclosures: I purchased this as an e-book to read on my Amazon Kindle. *Purchasing links in this review go through my Amazon Associates account.
(from Chapter One): “In January 1960, Mademoiselle welcomed in a new decade for America’s young women by urging them to be…less boring. ‘Some of you dowear a cautious face,’ the editors admitted. ‘But are you really – cautious, unimaginative, determined to play it safe at any price?'”
A comprehensive mix of oral history and Gail Collins’s keen research–covering politics, fashion, popular culture, economics, sex, families, and work–When Everything Changed is the definitive book on five crucial decades of progress. The enormous strides made since 1960 include the advent of the birth control pill, the end of “Help Wanted–Male” and “Help Wanted–Female” ads, and the lifting of quotas for women in admission to medical and law schools. Gail Collins describes what has happened in every realm of women’s lives, partly through the testimonies of both those who made history and those who simply made their way.
The Civil Rights Act passed anyway, and together with Title IX, the legal framework was put in place for women’s rights and opportunities to expand dramatically. And with that framework, women’s consciousness began to expand too, and they began to question and reshape the social framework as well…ultimately, by the early 21st century, bending some of it back toward where it started.
As Jill of Fizzy Thoughts noted in her review of When Everything Changed, it’s rather difficult to review this book fully, because it includes so much material. However, it’s a relatively fast and very engaging read (if I’d had more time to spend with it, I’d have finished it sooner). There are some topics and people on which I’d have liked to spend more time, but I don’t think Collins missed or shortchanged anything that really matters. The book was enlightening about so many things: the women in the civil-rights movement (whom the men wanted to keep in the background); the early triumph and ultimate defeat of the Equal Rights Amendment, and its role in the rise of modern-day conservative politics (by the way, did you know that around the same time Congress originally passed the ERA, they also approved national child-care legislation? I didn’t know it; if that had sustained some momentum, the lives of working moms could be so different); the perception of women as portrayed in popular culture, from That Girl to Mary Tyler Moore to Clair Huxtable, and reflected back as role models. Collins’ approach embodies the “personal is political” tenet of modern feminism; much of the story here is oral history, told through women’s experiences. While she spends time on plenty of prominent women – Gloria Steinem, Sandra Day O’Connor, Hillary Clinton – the stories of little-known women who also spent time in the trenches and lived out the changes are equally important here.
Collins is a reporter and columnist for The New York Times, and brings her journalist’s approach to the writing here – it’s very straightforward and direct, with plenty of references and endnotes. I read this on my Kindle, where the endnotes are actually links – it’s a much more efficient approach, and I definitely liked it better than flipping back to the end all the time.
I’d highly recommend this for participants in the Women Unbound Reading Challenge – it’s an outstanding overview of the myriad changes American women have experienced over the last fifty years. I’d recommend it for women of my own generation – those of us who came of age in the late 1970s and 1980s – who may have grown up thinking that some things would be different by now, and are trying to figure out just what happened. I’d also recommend it for women of the generation after ours, who may not realize just how different a lot of things used to be. And I’d recommend it to enlightened men – and men who would like to be enlightened – as well, but only if they seemed interested in the first place.
Challenge Commitments: Women Unbound (1 of 5), RYOB Challenge 2010 (1 of 20)