Book reviews: 'When Everything Changed' by Gail Collins; 'You've Come a Long Way, Maybe' by Leslie Sanchez

By Liza Mundy
Sunday, November 29, 2009


The Amazing Journey of American Women from 1960 to the Present

By Gail Collins

Little, Brown. 471 pp. $27.99


Sarah, Michelle, Hillary, And the Shaping of the New American Woman

By Leslie Sanchez

Palgrave. 214 pp. $25

In the early 1970s, I agitated along with two other girls to join our elementary school's all-boy patrol squad. We prevailed, sort of. The bureaucracy would not go so far as to permit girls to usher schoolchildren across the street, but it did let us hold the front doors open. It still felt like a victory, even on freezing mornings when we stood at our posts watching our breath.

The 1970s were enormously formative years for me personally: In junior high school, my friends and I engaged in debates over "women's lib" with a panel of boys who enjoyed baiting us. We argued our position with such vehemence that one day our social studies teacher kept us after class and asked, indulgently, "What am I going to do with you?"

Where had we gotten our motivation? I have no idea. I did not grow up in an intellectual culture and certainly was not reading Simone de Beauvoir. Rather, I think, our activism was absorbed from a pastiche of sources, high culture but definitely, also, low. Newscaster Nancy Dickerson, Congresswomen Shirley Chisholm and Barbara Jordan, even comedians Lily Tomlin and Goldie Hawn -- all these had a collective and equal impact.

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