Renowned journalist Cokie Roberts asks a simple, but complicated, question in her new book: Just what is a woman's place?
And while "Our Mothers' Daughters" may not give a definitive answer, it does explore the different facets of women including sister, activist, aunt, soldier and mechanic.
Read an excerpt of her book below and click here to visit HarperCollins' Web site where you can learn more about the book.
What is woman's place? That's been the hot question of my adult life. From the boardrooms to the bedrooms of the country's companies and couples, the debate over the role of women has created enormous upheaval for society and for the family. For women like me, who grew up and graduated from college before the revolution, it's all gotten a little exhausting. We were the vanguard, not necessarily in philosophical terms but in practical ones.
Most of us weren't engaged in fighting for the feminist cause, but we were busy— unbelievably busy— living it, either consciously or unconsciously. We went with our shiny degrees pouring into the workforce as the first generation of women with the law on our side. When I graduated from Wellesley in1964 it was perfectly legal to discriminate against women in the workplace. Help Wanted ads in the newspapers were divided into "Male," "Female," "White," "Colored." When we applied for jobs, the men we were applying to regularly and with no embarrassment told us, "We don't hire women to do that." But the 1964 Civil Rights Act was passed that summer and, though it took a while for any of us to realize it, the workplace terrain underwent a seismic shift. (The men who wrote the Civil Rights Act had no intention of changing the lives of women, and therefore men, so dramatically, but that's a tale for another place in these pages.)
We were the pioneers — or so we thought. And in many ways we were. We were the first women at almost everything we did, and most of us often had the experience of being the only woman in the room. Unlike the few women who preceded us in the world of work, who in most cases were singular obstacle- leaping females, we arrived as an entire generation of educated and, in our minds at least, equal-to-men women.
We have the scars to show that we knocked down barriers rather than jumped over them, making it easier for the women who followed us. (We've been known to grow a little grumpy over the ingratitude of young women, for their sometimes smug assumption that all that "woman stuff" is passé, ancient history. We find ourselves muttering, like the Wicked Witch of the West, "Just you wait, my pretty.") The brave new world we were forging took its toll— many of our youthful, preliberation marriages didn't survive. The rules changed so fundamentally from the ones in place on our wedding days that it took more than the usual amount of adaptation to make those unions work. I'm one of the lucky ones.
At the age of eighteen I spotted the perfect husband, and finally convinced him to propose when I was an almost- over- the- hill twenty- two. With good senses of humor, and incredible generosity on his part, Steven and I have happily managed for more than forty years to make it over the shoals of constantly shifting expectations.