Has everything changed for women?

I talk to Gail Collins about what Mad Men gets right, black v. white women's rights and whether Palin is a feminist

Published December 1, 2009 11:31AM (EST)

Gail Collins started her new book, "When Everything Changed: The Amazing Journey of American Women From 1960 to the Present," before the historic year of the woman, 2008, when female politicians like Hillary Clinton and Sarah Palin rose and fell and (in both cases, in different ways) rose again. Authors never know if the topics they choose will still be fascinating and important months or years later, when their books are published, but in Collins' case, the Gods of Publishing Relevance smiled on her.

I got to talk to Collins as part of my debut on Bloggingheads.tv, and you can see most clips of it here. The book opens on the eve of 1960, with the story of Lois Rabinowitz, a secretary who happened to wear slacks to pay a ticket for her boss, and found herself chided by the judge for disrespect. "When Everything Changed" grabs your almost certainly pantsed self right there, and makes you promise to give the book to all the young women in your life this holiday season. It closes with the so-called Year of the Woman, 2008, when Clinton and Palin cracked part of the glass ceiling for women in politics, but left plenty more for women to come, if they dare.

Looking over Collins' dizzying panorama, it's hard to believe women moved so far so fast, and still remain so far from full equality. I talked to Collins about why she thought she started the book the same year the terrific writers of "Mad Men" began their series. Short answer: the pill. Longer answer: Well, watch it.

We talked about how rare it is to see the struggles, and different priorities, of black, working-class and other non-white women depicted in a mainstream book on the women's movement:

I asked whether Collins felt like history was repeating itself in the 2008 Clinton vs. Obama Democratic Primary, in terms of feminists fighting with advocates of racial equality over who got to go first, black men or (mostly white) women:

Finally, in the lightning round: Is Sarah Palin a feminist? Which was more influential, "The Feminine Mystique" or "Sex and the Single Girl"? The biggest feminist legislative defeat: ERA or Comprehensive Child Development Act? And why Billie Jean King is an underappreciated feminist hero:

By Joan Walsh

Related Topics ------------------------------------------

2008 Elections Feminism History Women Writers