There really was a time when everything changed. Things seemed to speed up and the changes for women in America came in quick succession. Gail Collins presents all of those moments in When Everything Changed. Aside from not wanting to put it down, and the several aha moments I had while reading it, I was desperate to discuss it with someone. Anyone!
Each chapter, I found I was learning something new, or connecting the story to something happening today. While the battles women are facing today can seem like a giant step backward – and yes if we lose them that may be – there has not been a push forward in the last 20 or so years. I was curious to see what Collins would write about the 1980s and 1990s.
Childcare continued to be a battle – as it still is today, with more women in the workforce every year. Women were finally allowed to attend military academies and serve in the military but there were still many barriers to equality – something that is still an issue in every branch of the military.
Jumping back 50 years, Collins runs through civil rights and roles women played, the battle between being the perfect housewife, and wanting something more. The Civil Rights movement let women get a taste of something more than what was expected of them. Through volunteer roles many women became active partipants in the movement, and a taste of work outside the home. For some, returning to their daily lives of home and family was easy and a welcome change. For others, it was just not enough anymore.
With the modern conveniences of washing machines and dryers, dishwashers, etc. a theory came about that being a housewife and mother was easier than ever. The result was women trying to fill their time by hand sewing all the clothes, making their own diapers, making elaborate meals – upping the ante to prove their worth. What Collins reveals is the women who did this did so reluctantly, these women were crying while doing the laundry because they couldn’t believe that was all there was in life.
While for many women, taking care of the home and family is enough, even today, trying to break out of it 40 and 50 years ago was nearly unheard of. Collins brings up several issues women dealt with that were routinely kept secret, even from one’s closest friends. I found it interesting the need to keep to yourself your desire for a career, more out of your relationship with your husband, not wanting more children. All topics you wouldn’t dare share with others!
Collins takes you on a whirlwind ride of recent history. Trying to pinpoint that moment everything began to quickly change can be hard, but adding up all the different pieces, from more women going to and finishing college to more women working in order to help support their family, to the lessons learned from the Civil Rights movements, it all fights together.
Reading this was not just a review of the history I learned in college, but also a reminder of what my generation had that others before us had to earn. I am a history nerd, and I believe in knowing where you came from, and how you got to this point. Collins shows us exactly how women got to where we are, yet I found several issues were the ball was dropped, and women accepted what they had to that point in time. There is still work to do, and if you feel a need to be inspired right now, this book will light a fire under you!
Originally appeared on Fem2.0