NYT’s Gail Collins on feminism and the ’60s

Web Exclusive
January 2010

By Ted Regencia

EVANSTON, Ill — Combining storytelling and political punditry, New York Times columnist Gail Collins gave Northwestern students a lesson on feminism — from 1960s sexual revolution to the latest election in Massachusetts.

“In my lifetime, everything really changed,” Collins said Tuesday, January 19, attributing the progress of women’s movement to the Civil Rights era, the introduction of birth-control pills and entry of women in the workplace.

“It happened so fast,” she said of the period between 1964 and 1972, when “the nation came to grips with social justice.”

In her speech, part of a lecture series at the university’s Kellogg School of Management, Collins chronicled women’s stories, including her own. One incident in 1960 involved Lois Rabinowitz, who was kicked out from traffic court for wearing pants.

The first female head of the Times editorial board said she encountered similar experience in college at Marquette University, which prohibited female students from wearing pants except when they go bowling.

“So we bowled a lot!” she quipped to audience laughter.

The author of the book, “When Everything Changed,” recalled stories of flight attendants dismissed from work for getting married, and women being denied credit without a male co-signee. “Nothing was against the law when it comes to women,” she said.

Linda Borcover, 66, a retired publisher, grew up during the time. She said Collins’ lecture “was spot on,” adding women were accustomed “to conform to male expectations.”

Borcover’s current husband Alfred, 78, a former Chicago Tribune editor, agreed. “Women didn’t have much opportunities then,” he said.

For younger women like Sai Patil, Collins’ lecture was instructive. “I liked how she used a lot of stories to bring women’s history to life,” the 27-year-old MBA student said. “I liked that she could talk to a wide variety of subjects in the past, but also make it relevant for us today.”

Veering to politics, Collins said lack of charisma, and not gender, prevented Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley from connecting with voters. “She’s not in any way a fun person,” Collins said of the Democratic Senate candidate. Later that night, Coakley conceded defeat, handing the late Ted Kennedy’s seat to Republican Scott Brown.

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