When Everything Changed by Gail Collins

Subtitled “The Amazing Journey of American Women from 1960 to the Present”, Collins’ book picks up when her first book on American women left off and left me stunned, amazed, and angered. American women have come a long way since the 1950s! So many women – both those who have made the history books and those who have not – threw open doors for me that my great-grandmothers, grandmothers, and other female relatives never could have dreamed of being an option.

In the 1950s and 60s, higher education and job opportunities were largely denied for women and those who did decide to move out of their gendered roles as wives and mothers were met with massive resistance. One woman recalled how her professors repeatedly told her she had no right to take away a spot for a man in medical school. By the 1970s and 80s, women were forced out of their homes both of their own volition and because of economic forces that made it impossible to support a family on a single income. A large backlash to this movement was championed by the likes of Phyllis Schlafly, a women who championed being stay-at-home mothers and homemakers despite the fact that she was a women who benefited from the women’s rights movement.

And now you have the conundrum women of the 1990s to the present face: If we are stay-at-home mothers without a career, we are viewed as lazy, stupid, “settling”, and/or a failure. If we focus on careers and do not have children, we are cold, “unnatural”, and/or a failure. If we have children and a career, we are “mommy tracked” and seen as a failure when we struggle, when we cannot devote 100 percent to being a mom and 100 percent to a career. And this is where the book ends – a big problem without answers.

One of my biggest complaints with Collins’ previous book was how white-centric her focus was. She did cover African-Americans fairly in-depth but there was a distinct lack of accounts about Latina, Asian, Native American, and other minority women. This book is still fairly white-centric although one particular Native American woman was profiled for her crusade to become the first female chief of a tribe. What I do applaud, though, was the large amount of attention she gives to African-American (and white) women during the Civil Rights. I learned so much about the Civil Rights movement and the women’s liberation movement and how combining the two was met with resistance on both sides.

Book Mentioned:

  • Collins, Gail. America’s Women: Four Hundred Years of Dolls, Drudges, Helpmates, and Heroines. Grand Rapids: William Morrow, 2003. Print. 556 pgs. ISBN: 0060185104. Source: PaperBackSwap.
  • Collins, Gail. When Everything Changed: The Amazing Journey of American Women from 1960 to the Present. New York: Little Brown and Co, 2009. Print. 471 pgs. ISBN: 9780316059541. Source: Library.
Book Cover © Little Brown and Co. Retrieved: January 5, 2012.

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