Review: When Everything Changed, by Gail Collins

This book is a modern history of women in the United States from 1960 through the 2008 US Presidential campaign.  Gail Collins, the first woman to serve as editor of the New York Times editorial page, begins with a detailed review of the role of women, and societal attitudes towards women, in 1960.  There were virtually no women doctors or lawyers.  Television had taken the nation by storm, with 90% of American families owning a TV, and most programs portrayed the men in lead roles and women as subservient.   Housework was very time-consuming, with labor-saving devices only just beginning to enter homes.  Most women did not feel poorly treated; it was just the way things were.  Surprisingly (at least to me), the civil rights movement was a trigger event that set waves of change in motion.  Collins takes the reader decade by decade up to the present time, showing how women gradually earned rights, both legally and informally, and celebrated the early pioneers who made it all possible.

The book effectively covers my entire life (I was born in 1962).  And while I had some idea that we’d “come a long way baby,” (as the ad used to say), I didn’t realize how much radical change had occurred until reading this book.  I also found it very interesting to reflect on my personal experience during each decade.  In that regard, the most meaningful chapters were those covering the 1980s and early 1990s: the time in which I came of age, went to university, got married, started a career, and had a family.  But the chapters covering the 1960s and 1970s were compelling, because they put into perspective events that were somewhat of a mystery when seen through a child’s eyes (Roe vs. Wade is one notable example).

I recommend this book for all American women who would like to better understand the key people and events that shaped the society in which we live today.

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9 thoughts on “Review: When Everything Changed, by Gail Collins

  1. I really should read this since I was born in 1960 and it essentially covers my entire life too! Thanks for adding yet another one to my wish list, Laura 🙂

  2. I was born in 1964, and my reaction to the book was very similar to yours – it really did give me a lot of perspective and context. (And I’m glad to know that my review inspired you to read this – especially since you liked it!)

  3. @Wendy, I think you’d really enjoy it. You should also check out Florinda’s review, because she’s the one who initially turned me on to this book. I ended up changing my “Women Unbound” reading list because of her!

    @Florinda, I agree about the perspective & context. History isn’t history when you’re living it, and sometimes you don’t see the context or patterns until you can really step back. Collins helped me to do that.

  4. I’m so glad you linked to your review! I’m going to the library today, and my branch has a copy of this on my shelves. It shall be coming home with me. 🙂

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