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America's Women: 400 Years of Dolls, Drudges, Helpmates, and Heroines (P.S.) Paperback – April 24, 2007
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America's Women: 400 Years of Dolls, Drudges, Helpmates, and Heroines (P.S.)
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Gail does a great job of showing the strength of women despite the way society dictates a woman's "proper" position. She even shows the world forces that shift local attitudes. We see periods where women gain some elements of social independence only to have history shift in new directions, taking back some of the hard-fought gains. It is not uncommon for women to be caught in this struggle, deemed by society to be the more dependent, less interested, capable, or "inclined" of the two sexes. Women were expected to step in and take over men's work when the need arose, and then fade back into the background when men reappeared. It was (is) not uncommon for those women remaining in the front lines to work two or three times harder just to be accepted as an "equal."
Gail is masterful in her writing and this book was a total joy to read. As a woman, this explained the society I grew up in, as well as defining much of my own struggle, my own frustrations with the role and treatment of women in today's society.
This is a book every woman should read, both to appreciate the strength and courage of women who have come before us, and to appreciate our own position. I'd love to see men read this book, because there should be ongoing discussions of women's role in society.
My only disappointment with this book is that it ended at the turn of the century. I would love to have seen what Gail thought of the more recent movements by male politicians, making far-reaching decisions about women's issues without any input from women colleagues.
In short: one L O N G whine.
* Harriet Tubman. WOW. Did you know she suffered from narcolepsy?! Randomly falling asleep at inappropriate times was apparently no biggie to this woman who helped so many slaves escape to freedom in the north. She was cool as a cucumber in pretty much every situation that arose and a master of disguise, too.
* Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony fought for equal rights alongside African-Americans until it appeared that African-American men would get the vote before white women. At that point, Stanton pretty much turned on African-Americans and made a lot of appalling statements about uneducated men getting to vote before rich women. This obviously created a huge breach, and women came out the losers as they didn't get to vote until 1920.
* Jane Addams was amazing and good and kind. It is difficult to imagine someone who had so much empathy and so much will to help people. But she had it and she used it, and the world is a better place for her having been in it.
* Eleanor Roosevelt. I have heard so often that she was a hugely influential person, but I didn't realize how influential until reading this book. I now fully appreciate her statue at the FDR memorial. I think I've always had this vague idea of her as a "nice" person, but the woman was so strong-willed and amazing! She did so much to advance civil rights.
* Rosa Parks. People act as though she did one act of defiance in her life, completely out of the blue, but that woman was READY for her moment. She grew up in a household that was heavily into fighting for civil rights, and she was already involved in the movement when she refused to give up her seat on a bus and set the civil rights snowball rolling. According to her lawyer, Martin Luther King, Jr. would have been virtually unknown if Rosa Parks hadn't put a face on civil rights. And yet, when MLK and his supporters set up the march on DC to fight for equal rights, they didn't even consider asking Parks to speak and gave her almost no role in the proceedings at all.
I mentioned some really famous women above, but what impressed me most about this book were the number of women mentioned who were not famous. Or that were famous in their time but have sadly been lost to contemporary history because history in classes is full of Men, and never even hints at women's struggles for rights. I loved learning more about people like the Grimke sisters, the early pioneer women (many of whom were disturbingly racist), the immigrant experience and the struggle America has had for so much of its history of wanting proper ladies on one hand but also desperately requiring as much labor as it could get. Why America can be so forward-thinking in so many ways but so backwards sometimes, particularly in its treatment of women, is something that never ceases to amaze me. I won't make this into a political post, but I just don't understand the movements and organizations that exist to take away a woman's right to determine her own life and path.