Tuesday, October 18, 2011

2011 (cbriii) #7 "When Everything Changed: The Amazing Journey of American Women from 1960 to the Present" by Gail Collins

I knew that fire academy was going to last five months, and I knew that I would have almost no time to read while I was trying to work full time and become a certified firefighter. So, I went to my local bookstore and bought a couple of long books. I was looking specifically for books that would take me awhile to read. I ended up with David Copperfield (which, indeed, took me a long time to read) and When Everything Changed (2009) by Gail Collins. I finished When Everything Changed within a week.

"So there you are. American women had shattered the ancient traditions that deprived them of independence and the right to have adventures of their own, and done it so thoroughly that few women under 30 had any real concept that things had ever been different."

Gail Collins, a New York Times columnist, does a fantastic job of giving both an overview as well as personal details of women's lives and limitations from the 1960's through the present. It is both interesting and readable as well as detailed and well researched. Although it is obvious that Collins prefers gender equality, the text does not come across as political, angry, or pedantic.

I think issues of women's equality, differences between the sexes, and where we want to end up are fascinating subjects. I remember being shocked when I first saw the famous picture of Kathrine Switzer being pushed out of the Boston marathon in 1967. It was then that I realized women's lives had changed rather drastically and not that long ago.

Collins starts out at the beginning of the 1960's when a woman was kicked out of court (she was trying to pay a traffic ticket for her husband) because she was wearing slacks instead of a dress or skirt. At the time, the woman who was kicked out thought the judge was being perfectly reasonable. In addition, women couldn't hold their own credit cards or qualify for loans without the signature of a husband or father. Collins also discusses the Civil Rights movement and how women were often left behind. She also goes into equality in the workplace and the struggle for women today to balance motherhood and work. Every subject was eye opening and fascinating. Collins balanced the general views of the time periods with more personal stories of specific women. This is not a slog through dense history but a page turner that never gets boring.

Right now I am an attorney where law schools are at least 50% women, and women often make up the majority of the top students. Yet there is still a huge discrepancy in women partners, women CEO's, etc. I'm sure that many women choose to raise children rather than focusing more on their career. But there is also a good old boys' club that the guys I work with don't even recognize. On the other hand, I am trying to become a firefighter, a job that is both incredibly physical and known for its macho guys. Even though I am fit, I cannot compete with the guys purely on strength--something they value highly. But in some ways I am treated much more equally on the fire grounds: they expect you to suck it up and be strong or leave.

I'm not sure where I'm going with all of this except to say that women's and men's roles in societies are very complex and very dependent on the accepted culture of the day. Collins manages to give us a glimpse of what occurred to give me the rights and choices I have today. It was fascinating and I would recommend this book to anyone--whether you already know a lot about the subject or not.

No comments: