Wednesday, August 25, 2010

America's Women by Gail Collins

I recently completed a book called America's Women: Four Hundred Years of Dolls, Drudges, Helpmates, and Heroines by Gail Collins.

I decided to read this book after greatly enjoying That's Not in My American History Book by Thomas Ayres, to my very great surprise. I was unaware that there existed writers talented enough to make history interesting (without turning it into fiction or course). I mostly expected to be disappointed, or insulted, or something negative. I have spent a significant amount of time considering the role of women, particularly in American society.

I was pleasantly surprised when the history didn't bore me and the authors personal views didn't alienate me. The historical stories are interesting and in depth, starting with the first settlers to the New World, to the 'bra burners', to, well, basically me. While I didn't do any fact checking myself, it seems to be a very well researched and well written novel. I will fault the author, although only a little, for seeming to whisk past, with only passing mention, some of the less honorable moments of the feminist movement as I understand it and have to wonder if this bias exists for periods with which I am less familiar.

I really enjoyed placing my female relatives in the context of the woman's right movement. My great grandmother was born in 1919 and I enjoyed traveling through the era's and contextualizing what I know of her life, as told by her (although to a very small child), with what was going on with woman's role in the family and society at the time. I did the same for my grandmother and mother and even myself!

I spend most of my current 'feminist' energy on debates about women in poker and women in engineering. This is not surprising, as I spend most of my life in poker or engineering. However, I was surprised by some of the debates I had forgotten are still going on or never knew about in the first place. I had no idea why the Equal Rights Amendment was not passed, and especially that some were still pushing for it's ratification.

**** (this might be a rant, read on at your own risk) ***

I bristled a bit during her discussion of a group of women advocating the rights of housewives (particularly the right of women to be housewives) who revolted against NOW activities by forming an organization called HOW (whose meaning currently escapes me, although I recently finished the book). The basis of the argument is that women had the right to stay at home and be housewives. On the surface this has always been my view. "Woman can do and be anything they want, be it a doctor, a fire fighter, a lawyer, a housewife, an engineer, a laborer, a soldier, etc." Although after thinking about it some more, I suppose my actual view is that "Women can try to be or achieve anything they want to be." A woman can try to be a doctor, but if she fails biology, she'll need to find something else. The same goes for every person and every profession. What I really believe, I think, is better described as Everyone should be able to try to be or achieve anything they want to be. I believe equality should mean that a man should have just as much right to be a househusband as a woman to be a housewife (even our current language usage agrees and we most often use the word homemaker). Perhaps I misunderstood their purpose, but the understanding I had regarding the HOW organization is that women needed to be protected from this scenario. I suppose that if everyone were to carefully choose a life partner (or even if they want a life partner!) based on mutual goals and respect, this would never be an issue as each couple and family could independently chose the lines of dividing domestic and professional responsibilities.

****(end rant)****

Hmm, despite an agreement with myself not to rant, I seem to have started one. While I won't dissect the issue any further, I will punish myself by adding the label rant and denoting it with the ***'s. :) In summary, read the book. And if you wanna discuss womens rights, lets get coffee, or better yet a glass of wine!

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