7 Things We Can Learn From the Women's Movement

7 things to learn from the women's movement
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7 Things We Can Learn From the Women’s Movement

Author Gail Collins discusses bra-burning, banning pants and the fight for equality.

-Jane Farrell

Female executive

Everyone loves Mad Men: The dresses! The hairstyles! The mid-century modern furniture! (The season just ended, and we can’t wait to see what happens next time around.) But what’s not so lovable about the series, which is set in an early-1960s ad agency, is the fact that Sterling Cooper, the agency, is a boys’ club. With the exception of Peggy, who somewhat unbelievably made it out of the secretarial pool into the creative department, all the agency’s important people are men. And outside the office, the Sterling Cooper wives are expected to look pretty, stay home, and get pregnant—preferably more than once.

At the beginning of the 1960s, some women decided that they’d had enough, that they were just as good as men and should have as many possibilities open to them. And although women throughout history have battled in their own way for equal rights, this was the first time that the fight was successful on a large scale.

In her book, When Everything Changed: The Amazing Journey of American Women from 1960 to the Present, New York Times columnist Gail Collins chronicles the campaign for equality. She also dispels some very persistent myths, including the alleged bra-burning incident at the 1969 Miss America pageant. No B-cups were burned. Here, Collins tells BettyConfidential some funny and poignant details you might not know about the women’s movement, the battles it fought and the stereotypes that linger:

1. We’ve always taken charge of our own lives. “We tend to think of women throughout history as deferential and then the women’s movement came along and we just fixed it all. But the fact is that women were doing things within the conditions allowed by society. I hate it when people say, ‘Oh, they were just housewives.’ They were managing people and allocating resources.”

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2. We forget just how many restrictions we used to have. “When I went to college, there was a regulation that you could wear pants outdoors only if you were going bowling. We signed out in pants so many times that you would have thought the streets of Milwaukee were lined with bowling alleys. But we went along with it; at the time, we didn’t protest.” Other restrictions Collins points out: a male-only “executive” airplane flight and the expulsion from a courthouse of a woman who wore pants while trying to pay a parking ticket.

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0 thoughts on “7 Things We Can Learn From the Women's Movement

  1. This is great. It drives me crazy when my peers — young women — these days say they aren’t “feminists” — when they really are. Because a feminist believes in equality — equal opportunities, equal pay for equal work. That’s all.

    It’s a mark of the success of the generations who struggled before us (not so long ago!) that women today can take our lives for granted!

    Hello! “Male-only ‘executive’ airplane flight and the expulsion from a courthouse of a woman who wore pants while trying to pay a parking ticket.” That wasn’t that long ago!

  2. When did “Feminist” become a bad word? Being a woman in my 20’s… I am grateful for all that women have struggled for in the past and want to Thank ALL women for their strength, vulnerability, love, compassion, and intelligence! Banding together can only make us stronger so I say hear… hear Kitty!

  3. I love this piece. I don’t think we do enough to acknowledge the women who went ahead of us, but I also don’t think we’ve won just yet. Come back to me when all women make the same amount of money as men for equal work, and when insurance companies cover birth control the same way they cover Viagra : )

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