When Everything Changed, by Gail Collins
The Amazing Journey of American Women from 1960 to the Present
Publisher: Little, Brown and Company; 1 edition (2009)
Reading Sara Review: In honor of Women’s Equality Day this past Wednesday, August 26th*, I wanted to review a favorite book of mine. I read this book about four years ago and I recall feeling all emotions during the reading of it, but most especially: I want every woman in my family to read this. I wanted to discuss this with my grandmother, I wanted all of my female (and male too) friends to read it right away – and I wanted to have deep discussions with everyone about it. I have calmed down a bit on my absolute raving of this book, but it has stayed with me, and felt absolutely appropriate this week to make it my review.
The book starts in the 1960s, with a story of Lois Rabinowitz, who was chastised by a judge in New York City for wearing slacks to pay her boss’s speeding ticket. The 1960s. Not that long ago, ladies (and men!). Times have changed in so many ways since then for women – including the regular wearing of pants in all professions – but we still have a long way to go.
The most defining section of the book for me was on housework, and how the invention of new appliances changed the opportunity landscape for women dramatically. Women were traditionally in charge of all housework and cooking at home, while the men worked. Before the invention of a washer and dryer, chores would literally take all day. Before the oven and the microwave, cooking would be time-consuming.
Once appliances were more readily available, women simply had more time in the day, especially once their children were at school. This allowed them to seek opportunities outside of the home. The sociological impact of the invention of the washer and dryer absolutely amazes me.
Collins talks about the suburban flight – and that the suburbs were “singularly unfriendly to the concept of a two-income family. Day care was virtually non-existent, and relatives who might have been available for babysitting had been left behind in the cities or on the farm.” In some ways in the 60s, having a stay-at-home wife and a house in the suburbs signified prosper and wealth. Unfortunately, this did not leave many options for work for the women living at home, if they wished to venture outside the home.
Fun Side note: I always wondered why relatives of an older generation referred to the refrigerator as an “icebox.” Well, that is what they grew up with – literally boxes chilled with ice that had their food in it. An “iceman” came to refill the ice, just as a postman delivers mail. Old habits, right?
The book goes on through the next few decades, discussing the Civil Rights movement and the impact that had on women of all races. The book was originally published in 2009, and ends talking about some pretty important women, Hillary and Sarah. I will not go into politics in this post, but the impact that these two women had in the 2008 presidential election is remarkable. Sarah Palin was repeatedly questioned on how she could handle the responsibility of children and the Vice Presidency. I do not recall any interviews with President Obama asking that same question. Hillary’s pantsuit colors were a hot topic during the election as well, but clothes were not a topic on the male side (though hair and haircuts for men certainly have been). I agree with Collins that these two women changed the political conversation forever and it seemed fitting to end the book with them.
A lot of amazing women have come before us and live among us now. After reading this book, I went on a spree of learning more about Betty Friedan, Sandra Day O’Connor, Alice Paul, and Gloria Steinem among many others. Learning about these women is important, they paved our way to be doctors, lawyers, writers, senators – or whatever else we chose. That is what they paved the way for: choice for women. I believe it is critical to continue their legacy by fighting for equal pay, pay while on maternity leave and continued opportunity for choice – these are things that matter for our generation. And I believe that we owe it to these woman and the daughters of future generations to continue this fight. I don’t care if you consider yourself a feminist (male or female), this is about equality and humanitarianism.
I bought a second copy of this book recently (my first copy was forced among many friends, and was never returned, unfortunately, so I have to hope that it is continually being read and shared among others interested in reading it). The new copy is a “Keepsake” Copy with space to write notes, interview relatives and share memories. How I wish that I had this copy when my grandmother was alive. Her memory was impeccable until her last day, and hearing her stories always transplanted me to another place. I would give a lot to know her thoughts, memories and have them written down. So, call your grandmother, call your mother, call other important women in your life and share this book with them! Start the conversation and learn! And happy reading!
*Wednesday, August 26 is Women’s Equality Day because it commemorates the day women were granted the right to vote in 1920. For further reading on why we still need a Women’s Equality Day, I recommend this Time article.