As part of my participation in Nonfiction November, I’m digging into the blog archives and re-posting my thoughts on some of the notable nonfiction I’ve read during the last few years…and if I’m talking about it again, it’s nonfiction I think you should read, too.
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.
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 in ebook format, and the endnotes were actually links – it’s a much more efficient approach, and one that made me much more likely to read the endnotes.
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.