This week I had someone on Tumblr ask me what my recommendations for documentaries about women/feminism were. I have a few. I really love Makers: Women Who Made America for instance, but I am primarily a reader, not a watcher.
And When Everything Changed by Gail Collins is one of the best books I’ve read in a while on recent Women’s History in America. My boyfriend picked this book up for my birthday. (You have to love a computer nerd who will go into a book store…into the women’s studies section…to try to find me a gift). Now I just completed my Master’s in History so I’m used to reading some really dull and heavy tomes about women and feminism but this one is far from that.
One of things that makes this book so great is its readability. It is not a textbook. It is the story of American women from the late 1950s on and is told in such a way that it reads like a diary at some parts. It is chock full of personal anecdotes from women which just make it come alive. For instance…
In her memoirs, the publisher Katharine Graham recounted how [JFK] had once demanded to know why Adlai Stevenson, the balding, chubby United Nations ambassador, was regarded as so attractive by his many female friends. Told that it was because Stevenson actually listened with interest to what women had to say, the president responded, according to Graham, “Well, I don’t say you’re wrong, but I’m not sure I can go to those lengths.”
And quotes from women
The history we learned, the political sophistication we discovered, the insights into our own lives that dawned on us!” wrote Robin Morgan. “I couldn’t believe – still can’t – how angry I could become from deep down and way back, something like a five-thousand-year buried anger. It makes you very sensitive- raw even- this consciousness. Everything from verbal assault on the street, to a ‘well-meant’ sexist joke your husband tells, to the lower pay you get at work (for doing the same job a man would be paid more for), to television commercials, to rock song lyrics, to pink or blue blanket they put on you infant in the hospital nursery…everything seems to barrage your aching brain, which has fewer and fewer protective defenses to screen such things out
Little stories that make you think. There’s a difference between reading that in the 1960s most women were still expected to wear dresses/skirts in public and reading a story about a woman who tried to pay her boss’s parking ticket for him in her work pant suit and was told she was inappropriately dressed for the courthouse and could not proceed. She had her husband go back in and pay.
Many of the women in the narrative are mothers and daughters, allowing the reader to clearly see the changes between generations.
My one complaint about the book, and its only a semi-complaint, is that there is so much focus on the 1960s and very little on more recent history but in a way that is to be expected. I just wish to have heard more about say the impact of Monica Lewinsky but history is sometimes best left to simmer for a few decades.
I highly suggest picking up this book!