The impressive sequel to America’s Women: 400 Years of Dolls, Drudges, Helpmates, and Heroines (2003).
Collins—the first-ever female editor of the New York Times, and currently an op-ed contributor—offers an enormously entertaining cultural and social history. Her extensive research weaves the compelling stories of more than 100 women, ranging in age from 20 to 80, into a larger narrative of politics, economics and sexual mores. The author chronicles the story of the National Organization for Women (NOW), the women’s-liberation movement and its forerunner, the civil-rights movement, the failed struggle for the Equal Rights Amendment and the impact of Roe v. Wade and Title IX. She populates her account with dozens of well- and lesser-known female leaders, including Sherri Finkbine, Betty Friedan, Gloria Steinem, Alice Paul, Margaret Chase Smith, Phyllis Schlafly, Helen Gurley Brown and Billy Jean King. Collins paints a vivid picture of the world as it was, and as it has so radically altered life for American girls and women. Fashions, hairstyles, dating, birth control—all are grist for her mill. Without preaching, she shows the sexism that women (and men) once accepted as the norm, and she backs up her often eye-opening stories with hard facts and solid statistics. From the opening anecdote of a woman expelled from traffic court in 1960 for appearing in slacks, to the closing one of a woman fired from her job as a bus driver in 2007 for refusing to wear slacks, this an engrossing account of how not just the daily lives, but the assumptions and expectations of women have changed so much in so short a time. Collins can be deadly serious and great fun to read at the same time.
A revelatory book for readers of both sexes, and sure to become required reading for any American women’s-studies course.