Title: When Everything Changed: The Amazing Journey of American Women From 1960 to the Present
Author: Gail Collins
I was looking for a book for March to reflect Women’s History Month. Skipping all the usual suspects, books by the Brontës, Jane Austen, and slightly more contemporary fiction choices like A Room of One’s Own by Virginia Woolf, I decided to go outside the box and read a nonfiction look at the last 50 years of women’s history in the U.S.
Okay, it is nonfiction, so no real characters, plot, and certainly no suspense. But, the author is a journalist, so the writing is good. Although I didn’t always pay attention to the cultural and political news growing up, I did live through the last half-century, so I was interested to see how we got to where we are today. Personal admission: I did skim-read parts of it, and you might want to do the same. But I would recommend this book for anyone younger than 50 and anyone who did not spend most of the last 50 years in this country. Younger readers – I’m talking about college and even high school students – probably have no idea about older dating, social and fashion rules (some I’m sure they won’t believe). And for the rest of us who did live through it all, oh, the memories!
The book is broken down into three parts entitled “1960,” “When Everything Changed,” and “Following Through.” Some entries go back further in time to reflect the social changes resulting from inventions like the radio and eventually TV. The book also covers demographic changes like the post-war baby boom, the gradual shift to a two-income family with fewer children … there is a chapter on gender issues in the civil rights struggle, and toward the end of the book, there is a chapter about women in politics.
Throughout the book, individual stories flesh out the topics and make the events more real. Some of those highlighted are more well known, like Gloria Steinem, Lucille Ball, and Roseanne Barr. Others are the average, everyday wives, moms and daughters who experienced what so typified this particular era of social change.
In the last part of the book, “Following Through,” we are reminded that the Equal Rights Amendment (to the Constitution of the U.S.) that would give equal rights to women, was never ratified. And when the economic downturn in the 1970s caused more women to join the workforce, and child care became more of an issue, a national child care bill that was proposed ultimately failed. Women’s fashions for a while required shoulder pads – really. Women were seen more and more in co-starring and even lead roles in TV dramas, which brought a different way of thinking about women’s roles in society to a whole new crop of youngsters.
The stories in this book are the same ones we might hear from our mothers, grandmothers and great grandmothers; they’re just presented in a linear fashion and with a cultural overview. If you are lucky enough to have someone close to you to talk to about this time in our history, some of the topics in this book will make for interesting conversations. And if you lived through any or all of this recent 50-year period, I’m sure you will have stories to share yourself. Either way, When Everything Changed should provide an eye-opening read during Women’s History Month.