by Chris Lombardi
The Constitution Center in Philadelphia, perhaps best known in recent years as the site of President Obama's iconic speech on race, was packed this past Monday night.
The two women in stage, Lynn Yeakel and Gail Collins — Yeakel, a Drexel University professor and the woman who challenged Senator Arlen Specter in 1992, and Collins, the first female editor of the New York Times editorial page— , were familiar faces to the women and men of varying ages who filled the hall (including your editor filing this report).
Collins, at the end of a grueling book tour, was in Philadelphia to talk to Yeakel about her new book, When Everything Changed: The Amazing Story of American Woman from 1960 to the Present -- a book that “tells the story of my life," Yeakel said at the event.
Yeakel's not the only one, as she went on to point out. The changes that have occurred since 1960, when women could get thrown out of court or the workplace for wearing slacks and the sexual double standard reigned, to today were brought about by countles women, including Yeakel, Collins and much of the audience — many of whom started with the now long-lost struggle to add the Equal Rights Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
Despite the ERA's failure, Collins told Yeakal, all who fought for it ultimately succeeded beyond their wildest dreams, helping to create “that tiny sliver of history in which all the presuppositions about gender were completely smashed.”
Asked by Yeakal how this book differs from her earlier America’s Women: 400 Years of Dolls, Drudges, Helpmates and Heroines, Collins said that the first book "informed the second one in so many ways," in how looking at women before 1960 she was "continually struck by how smart and how able they were. They were strong, they were independent, fulfilled their destinies." The new book bears a similar wonder, while telling of a revolution she and Yeakel and many others helped make happen.
As she traveled the country reporting for the book, Collins added, most feminists of a certain age got their start working for the ERA. "But by then, what we hoped the ERA would do was already happening – theories about what it would do were kind of theoretical" on both sides. And thus Phyllis Schlafly, a woman who broke all stereotypes by traveling to speak out against the ERA, was able to appeal to traditional housewives, women who "had done everything right by what they'd been brought up to believe. Then feminism comes along, and some of it was very harsh, with lines like marriage is slavery."
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