When Everything Changed: The Amazing Journey of American Women from 1960 to the Present

Gail Collins follows up her previous book, America’s Women, a history dating back to the Victorian Era, with a more particular focus on the last 50 years in this book. The author has a tremendous eye for telling anecdotes that mark just how far we’ve come. She opens with… a vignette from 1960 about a secretary who appeared in court to pay her boss’ speeding ticket, only to be rebuked by the judge for wearing slacks and sent home to change into something more suitable. Stories like this, and the Congressional testimony of airline stewardesses about the endless measurements to check for weight gain, might be risible were they not so unsettling.

Collins is sensitive to shades of gray, as when Rosa Parks attends a community meeting in Montgomery where male ministers “monopolized the podium and told her she wouldn’t be required to speak.” This measured tone continues in her portrayal of Phyllis Schlafly as a strong woman whose success owed much to the women’s movement, and her even-handed assessment of the roles of Hillary Clinton and Sarah Palin in the 2008 Presidential election. When Everything Changed does a nice job as popular history, and closes with moving follow-up visits to some of the key women activists of the past decades.

A notable observation: Collins does not mention anything about the growing numbers women who are not having children by choice during the time period covered in the book.  This omission reflects how pronatalism is at work even with the best of nonfiction writers of women.

For more on pronatalism and why this is the case, see Conceiving the Future,  which is in the LiveTrue collection, and Pronatalism, edited by Ellen Peck.  The latter work was published in the 70s, harder to find, and of course data are less than current, but it remains a definitive work on the perils of pronatalism.

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