Sunday, March 13, 2011

A Perfect Book for Women's History Month

                       Motivation for reading:
Gail Collin's book When Everything Changed: The Amazing Journey of American Women from 1960 to the Present was on my reading list for the Women Unbound reading challenge thanks to this review from Florinda. Although I didn't get around to reading it for the challenge, it remained on my TBR list as an important read especially after reading Susan Bulkeley Butler refer to it several times in her book Women Count: A Guide to Changing the World.

What it is about:
When Everything Changed describes what has happened in every realm of women’s lives from 1960 to the present including Hillary Clinton’s historic presidential campaign. It is a well researched comprehensive book.

My Thoughts:
This book is a perfect read for women’s history month and deserves a spot on my list of non-fiction books every woman should read. Also, it is more readable than Betty Friedan’s The Feminine Mystique which I found to be difficult and repetitive. The book is packed with information that reminded me once again of how far we’ve come.

Here Collins writes about being a stewardess in the sixties which was one of the few mini-career paths available to women at the time and how improper it was to send women on a business trip:
Georgia Panter, a stewardess for United Airlines in 1960, noticed that except for the occasional family, her flights were populated only be men. One regular run, the “Executive Flight” from NY to Chicago, actually banned female passengers. The men got extra large steaks, drinks and cigars which the stewardesses were supposed to bend over and light. (Pg. 19)

After reading:
"The dreaded laundry chores were tamed by the arrival of permanent-press clothing, better steam irons, and those automatic dryers.  "Wash and wear clothing and the steam iron were the real liberation for women,” said Edna Kleimeyer. Once they were all in place, it was possible to get the basic household chores done relatively quickly. (Pg. 51)
I am adding wash and wear clothing and the steam iron to Anita Diamant's list of items (antibiotics, birth control, and the printed page) that gave women more freedom and a higher quality of life. Once women were able to get out from under the iron she had more time to pursue work outside of the home.

Collins covers the famous feminists Betty Friedan and Gloria Steinem but also covers others who are lesser known. I particularly enjoyed the Civil Rights chapter and the coverage of Ella Baker and Pauli Murray. In the early days of the Civil Rights movement women were in many cases the drivers of the movement, but were pushed out of leadership positions once the movement got off the ground. The men expected women to be subservient. Also it is interesting to note women had a different vision for civil rights than men:

Ella Baker wanted the students to challenge more than the white segregationist power structure; she also wanted them to take on the class lines within the black community itself, to bypass the black leaders who had risen by mimicking the values they saw in a white society such as snobbishness and self-promotion. She had loved the black neighborhood she had lived in as a child, where everyone knew and took care of one another. Where we lived there was no sense of hierarchy, in terms of those who have, having a right to look down upon, or to evaluate as a lesser breed, those who didn’t have. Both she and the students wanted to live that way forever. (Pg. 120)

Also, I had no idea that the Equal Rights Amendment essentially got its initiative when a legislator who was generally opposed to women’s rights tagged a sex discrimination prohibition on to the Civil Rights Act in an attempt to derail it.

Where are we today?
I had always wondered if work was easier in the 60’s when there was less global competition. My suspicions were confirmed when Collins wrote of Anne Tolstoi Wallach:

Unlike the vast majority of upper-middle-class women, Wallach kept working when her son and daughter were born. In one sense, juggling a job and children was less difficult for her than it is for professional working mothers today because the employers were less demanding. In the postwar era when the U.S. had very little international competition, profits were high and pressure for productivity was low. The whole time I worked it was pretty much 9 to 5, Wallach said. And in Thompson’s women’s group, nearly everybody had a secretary. And when you were promoted you had 2 secretaries, and if you were really important you had 3 secretaries. There was a lot of make-work. (Pg. 26)
Where we are today can be summed up in this statement by First Lady Michelle Obama:
Young women shouldn’t have to give up on either career or children, but it becomes a choice you have to make if child care isn’t available or salaries aren’t high enough to pay off your debt that it took to get the degree, to get the job you’re in. (Pg. 387)
I feel as if I did not begin to give this book its justice; I just highlighted the points I found interesting. If you have any interest in the women’s movement or are looking to read a book for Women’s History Month I highly recommend When Everything Changed: The Amazing Journey of American Women from 1960 to the Present.

1 comment:

  1. I love Gail Collins' Op Ed pieces for the NY Times and have been wanting to read that book. Think I'll load it on my eReader for my trip next week. Thanks for the reminder!