7 Things We Can Learn From the Women’s Movement
Author Gail Collins discusses bra-burning, banning pants and the fight for equality.
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.”
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.