In 1960, women didn’t wear pants, couldn’t serve on juries, were often turned down for credit and dreamed of being airline stewardesses.
Virtually no discrimination was illegal. Marriage came quickly. Careers did not.
And then, in a cataclysmic shift that crashed down on American society from 1965 to 1975, everything changed. Discrimination was suddenly illegal. Lawsuits ended sexual harassment on the job. Slacks were acceptable in public. And women left the home and went to wroke in droves.
In a hilarious and historic memoir “When Everything Changed: The Amazing Journey of American Women from 1960 to the Present,” Gail Collins chronicled the epic, sudden change through dynamic interviews, research and beautiful storytelling. And on Wednesday night, she shared recollections, new stories and quite a few jokes with a packed auditorium inside Gambrell Hall Auditorium as part of the “Caught in the Creative Act” lecture series.
Her lecture here Wednesday struck the same chord as many of her columns do. At one moment, she was praising the courageous struggles of Sarah and Angelina Grimke, the two sister abolitionists from South Carolina who fought slavery amid ridicule, threats and a burning auditorium.
And then, Collins was joking at how she could only leave her college dorm in slacks if she promised the proper authorities at the front desk she was bowling.
“We went bowling all the time,” Collins said. “It was Milwaukee. They were big on bowling.”
Amid her jokes and passionate storytelling, Collins laid out a few compelling reasons for the end of gender discrimination in the 1970s.
Many of the changes were spurred from the civil rights movement, Collins said. The movement sensitized people to fairness, and leaders lost confidence that they could maintain the status quo among oppressed groups. The advent of birth control for almost everyone enabled many women to hold jobs and develop careers. And the economy exploded during the era with a huge middle-class developing. Families became accustomed to cars, houses, TVs and vacations.
And those things, simply put, require two incomes.
“Without a serious economic role, you don’t have serious power,” Collins said.
Now, roles are changing, Collins said, as more men are staying at home while their wives pursue careers. Collins, the first female editorial page editor at The New York Times, told a hilarious story about Steve Weisman, a colleague at the newspaper.
Weisman is married to Elizabeth Bumiller, a foreign correspondent for the Gray Lady, and Bumiller was on a three-month tour covering the war in Kosovo. Weisman was back home taking care of the couple’s small children.
Collins ran into Weisman in the hall one day looking haggard.
“What’s wrong?” Collins asked.
“My wife is in Albania, and the hamster is missing,” Weisman said.
After the speech, Collins was joined on stage by Jean Toal, chief justice of South Carolina’s Supreme Court.
Toal struggled through gender discrimination as she attended law school and hunted for her first job.
A hiring manager at one of the state’s largest firms told her there were no jobs for women and there wouldn’t be any jobs for women. She could consider work as a secretary.
That attorney later appeared before her inside the Supreme Court.
“It was a great test of my neutrality as a judge,” Toal said. “I said nothing. He said nothing. But we both knew.”