The one thing I regret is that I will never have time to read all the books I want to read.
--Francoise Sagan

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Finally Finished

It took weeks...and some serious determination...but I finally finished When Everything Changed: The Amazing Journey of American Women from 1960 to the Present by Gail Collins. It was an epic but eye-opening journey.

It's amazing how rapidly things changed for women in this country. It was only 50 years ago that the Physical Education Department Chair at Indiana University said "girls are psychologically unfit" to participate in athletic contests because "they would cry all the time if they lost." It was only 36 years ago that the female MAYOR of Davenport, Iowa was told she couldn't have a BankAmerica card unless she got her husband's signature. And it was only about 30 years ago that Congresswoman Pat Schroeder and Representative Ron Dellums, the only black member of the Armed Services Committee, were forced to share a chair because, according to the committee chairman, they were each worth "only half a regular member."

Given the prevalence of that kind of attitude, it's crazy that a mere 30 years later, I haven't felt any after-effects. I think, here in the South especially, racial discrimination is still an issue. Unfortunately. The tension between blacks and whites, still palpable. But I don't think sexism persists in the same way. I grew up playing sports, studying advanced math and physics, believing I could be anything I wanted to be; and until I read this book, I didn't realize how relatively modern that kind of experience is.

I also never fully realized before, that whether consciously or subconsciously, I am a product of the culture created by the feminist movement. My sense of self has been shaped by it...the choices I've made have been influenced by it. No one directly indoctrinated me, but the spirit of feminism is alive inside me. I want to have it all. The only difference between me and the women of my mother's generation is that perhaps I realize how difficult managing it all can be. I've seen others who have gone before me, and I don't know how they did it. I don't know if I'm cut out for it...or if I even want to set off down a path that is inevitably chaotic and stressful. I want to have it all, but I don't want all the craziness that comes with it...and that desire coupled with that fear can be pretty paralyzing.

At the end of the book, I was left wondering if the pendulum isn't beginning to swing back the other direction. So many women from the last chapters of the book (and so many of the women I know) are tired of trying to balance career and family. More and more are opting for one over the other...or pursuing one for so long the other becomes an impossibility.

There's an interesting little section near the end of the book where Collins points out that in 2006 more than 56% of undergraduate college students were female, and their graduation rates were better than the boys. Newsweek did a cover story on "The Boy Crisis," and George W. Bush's secretary of education said the dominance of women in higher education has "profound implications for the economy, society, families, and democracy."

So...I wonder where we're headed? More stay at home dads...more female politicians, CEO's, doctors, and lawyers...government funded daycare? Or fewer women who choose to work outside the home...fewer who are involved in making the big decisions...fewer role models for little girls? Are we going to see a backlash against the feminist movement and the notion that women should be able to have it all? What will the next 30 years bring?

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