Sunday, April 7, 2013

Girl Power

Have you ever read a book that felt good for you?  Just like eating an apple improves one's nutritional state, this book improved my knowledge and appreciation for women's history.  This book was good for me.  It was enlightening to say the least.  Its complete education of the trials of the modern American woman made me think.

Really think.  

As Gail Collins led me through the recent female journey, I found myself swimming through a mix of different emotions and feelings: pride, sadness, anger, shock, reflection, wonder, and much unsettling.  I truly love this book for making me learn and feel and think so much about a topic that is ... me. Since finishing this book I have been trying to organize all those emotions and thoughts into a single space but it's difficult.  The best way I can encompass the heart and soul of this book is through the beautiful song, Woman In Chains by Tears For Fears.     

Collins begins the journey post WWII when the majority of women were found living their lives solely for their families and playing the role of the perfectly happy housewife.  This was a time when it was absurd to wear "slacks" in public and snagging a husband was the first priority of college rather than earning an education.  However, change was bubbling at the surface.

Collins crosses us over the threshold of change with the invention of The Pill and the onslaught of the Civil Rights Movement. This was the most interesting and educational part of the book for me.  I had no idea how closely women's rights and civil rights mirrored each other at that time.  Both groups were fighting to be seen, heard, and treated as an equal.  

The book then moves into the next chapter of female history when women's liberation almost became trendy and the feminist was as powerful (and stereotyped) as ever.  This may have been most evident with the poster child for women's rights, Gloria Steinem.  Despite the fact that Steinem was one of the most powerful and respected spokeswomen for the movement, she was often identified by her attractive looks.  She did not fit the stereotypical mold of the homely, frumpy feminist and unfortunately that often times overshadowed her hard work and contributions to the cause.

Then the 1980's and 1990's slammed the door on old-fashioned women roles and found females dominating the work force in areas like business, science, and engineering - all previously male driven.  It was at this time that the female race was confidently shouting, "Women can do ANYTHING!" (Damn straight!) Yet that affirmation quickly turned into, "Women can DO IT ALL!" (Ugh. No thanks.)  This is the part where my unsettled feelings began to sink in.    

It was around this time that the idea of the "Power Mom" took hold and I think women in America began to feel the pressure of living up to an ideal that was just plain impractical and in my opinion, unhealthy.  It was (and still is) common to find women constantly trying to find the balance between motherhood, career, and themselves.  I think women often ask, "Who am I?"  It seems attention is mostly given to two categories: the career woman OR the stay-at-home woman.  There is so much more to a woman than just that and juggling the two is not easily decided, nor should it be.

Collins closes her book with the fact that despite the enormous strides women have made over the last 40 years, they have yet to find the answers to all female suppressing issues.  We live in a country where females run for president but they cannot feel at peace with their attempts to simultaneously raise a family and maintain a career. This is both fascinating and sad to me.  Perhaps when this country catches up and supports the importance of motherhood on our society as a whole, women will feel more confident about their roles and the decisions they make.  Things like paid maternity leave, which the U.S. is one of four countries in the world that does not mandate this (sick and wrong) and mandatory childcare support would lessen the on-going burden women face when trying to balance a family and a job. 

I finished this book a week ago and I'm still thinking about it.  It was similar to taking a great history class in college. I want to learn more about the amazing path of the American woman.  Therefore, I've decided to add another Collins book to my to-read list: America's Women: 400 Years of Dolls, Drudges, Helpmates, and Heroines. I'm completely engrossed in this topic and Collins is an engaging professor.  I can't wait to read more and get fired up once again.

Have you read this book or any other books by Gail Collins?  Have you read anything recently that felt good for you, your brain, and your emotions?  What was it and why did it hit a chord with you?  I'd love to hear what literary gems are leaving you thinking long and hard after the last word.  

As always, do share!