Monday, March 22, 2010

When Everything Changed by Gail Collins

"The way women look at themselves, the way other people look at women, is completely different than it was 30 years ago...Our daughters grow up with the same possibilities as our sons." Betty Friedan.

I am an academic advisor by trade. I sit at my desk and give young men and women advice about what courses to take and how to pursue a career after they graduate. In fact, one of the best parts of my job is brainstorming with students about all the different ways they can use their degree and follow their bliss. I love watching their faces light up as they think of the myriad possibilities open to them.

It only occurred to me after finishing When Everything Changed by Gail Collins that my whole career of advising men AND women as to what careers they can pursue is one of the very things that has been changed by the modern day women's movement. There was a day when my job would have been as Dean of Women, and I would have counseled young ladies to be teachers or homemakers or nurses and never dreamed of talking with them about law school or travel or government careers. I never even question that all the women that come into my office will have every opportunity that men have. It is with this thought in mind that I, and all women of my age and younger, should shout a big thank you to the women who fought the battles and opened the doors for us. Without their help, we would not have been able to be the people we are today.

Gail Collin's history of the modern day women's movement in the USA is a profound and important testament to an age that I have taken for granted. Women like Alice Paul, Betty Friedan and Gloria Steinem and thousands of others who are not so well known, organized, marched, brought lawsuits against companies (even when it cost them their jobs),and fought all the battles that allow me to sit in my office and wear pants, talk to men and women about what jobs that can apply for when they graduate, and not have to worry a bit that taking off to care for a new child in my family will cost me my job.

The story is an epic story and filled with details and interesting observations about work, child care, fashion, television role models, sports (go Title IX), politics and the actual events and players that changed laws and made history. Here's a few of the stories that surprised me:
  • There used to be male only flights with female stewardesses. Men were given extra large steaks, booze and cigars. The women were expected to bend over and light them.
  • Women couldn't get credit cards unless their husbands co-signed.
  • Ruth Bader Ginsburg was invited to the Dean's house along with all the other females in her first year law class at Yale. The Dean jokingly admonished them for taking spots away from men.
  • There were no black women invited to speak at the occasion of King's famous I have a dream speech in 1963 even thought they did most of the organizing.
  • Women just couldn't wear pants anywhere except around the house.
These are simple anecdotes of the way the world treated and saw women from 1960 to the present day. The whole story involves getting all doors open: law school, medical school, the military and even the US Presidency. The story tells about equal pay for equal work, quality affordable childcare and simply put--choices. How did we become a society that allows women more choices than they have ever had to pursue whatever dreams and lifestyles they would want to pursue?

I don't for a minute think all the battles are won, but it is important to see how far we have come and who we have to thank for it. This should required reading for everyone aged 50 and under and a perfect story to read your daughter or your niece at bedtime. Please ask me to borrow my copy. I would love to lend it.


Steph said...

I'm next in line! I can't wait to read this.

Anonymous said...

I asked for this book for Christmas, and am a huge fan of Gail Collins. Thanks for bringing this wonderful book to wider attention! MKP