6 Minutes On Politics, History, And Women With Gail Collins

Hi, I’m Laura Colarusso, 
Digital Managing Editor at WGBH News. With me here today is Gail Collins, columnist for The New York Times and author of “No Stopping Us Now.” We’re here at the American Ancestors Research Center
on Newbury Street in Boston’s historic Back Bay. -Gail, thanks so much for joining us.
-Thanks for having me. So I wanted to start with what brought about this book?
What was the impetus behind it? I found this letter that one of the very early colonists
wrote back to England, and all the early ones were male, they were all men. They’re all sitting out here and they want wives. So they’re writing back with their requirements for a possible wife. And the requirements were that she be civil and
under 50 years of age, and I thought, wow that’s okay. And then I came across the old Love & Care
commercials. It’s before your time, but they were all, “You’re not getting older, you’re getting better.” And I remembered the jingle, but I saw the actual copy,
and it was something like these days when a woman’s over 25 she’s old, and I thought, wow it went
from under 50 is great to over 25 is old. And now here we are today you’ve got
Nancy Pelosi is about to turn 80 I think, and everybody is thrilled that Ruth Bader Ginsburg
is gonna be on the court till she’s 90 she says. And so I was trying to figure out what made
all these changes happen? What changes society’s attitude toward older women? What hasn’t changed for women in the past 300 plus years? Everything has changed for women in the past 300—I got to tell you that the one, all of my writing about women’s history, all of my thinking about women’s history, what comes back to me every single day is that I was alive to live through the period in which everything about women’s role in society changed for all of western civilization. Progress for women comes during times of upheaval, right? I mean, the suffragists were welcomed in political life around trying to get rid of slavery. Women went into the workforce in huge numbers during WWII. The sixties and seventies there
were lots of protests that open doors. I’m wondering if you think now are we in a similar time of upheaval where women might be able to make further advances? Women have a lot more responsibility now because they have so much more power in this time of upheaval. And you could do anything. If you don’t like Donald Trump, women voters are perfectly capable with their own voting muscularity of getting the guy out of office.
If you don’t like what’s going on in your town or city, How many times have you seen women’s groups get together to start political movements that lead to something larger in a town that lead to reforms one kind or another? It happens every day. It just really knocks me out, I got to tell ya. The other thing I wanted to ask is you reference Geraldine Ferraro, Hillary Clinton, a few other female politicians and one of the things that I found very interesting after the 2018 election was that it was “The Year of the Women” Now you go back to 1992 and that was also supposedly “The Year of the Women” where I think we elected, you know, four more female senators and a handful more female representatives. And that sort of fizzled out very quickly. So I’m wondering if you see something similar happening now? Did the year, will “The Year of the Women” kind of fizzle or do you see more structure and infrastructure in place that will allow women to go further in politics? Everything is going to move forward and move up. At what moment will we get a woman in the White House? That’s the moment that everybody will think, “well, the war is won. This is done.” And then we’ll think of something else that needs to be done, that’s critical and important. You know, I was also struck in the book
about the terms older, younger, youth, elder. These terms seem relative to me, but it seems like these terms are sort of defined by not women very often, and so, I’m wondering at what point do you think women
will be able to own those terms? I’m not sure women will ever be in charge of deciding
who’s older because it, as you said, it’s relative, different in different places, in different
constructs, in different occupations. Looking at this, the progress. And I have to say,
the one great thought if I had one in the book is that as women, older women, were able to become the
same part of the financial structure of the country, of the economic structure, as they’re working as much as men, as they’re continuing to work longer, as they’re accumulating assets, people regard them much the same as they do men. And I have to say that during the Democratic primaries,
I’m really tickled by the fact that you have three, the three top candidates are all over 70 and the one whose age nobody talks about is the woman Nobody talks about Elizabeth Warren is she too old. Because she’s sort of bounding around with such energy. Have you ever been told you couldn’t do something
because you were either too young or too old? No. Um, I haven’t. Doors opened for women in journalism because women filed suits against the publishers, women demanded, women went on strike and many of the papers, certainly mine, changed very quickly after that. Opened many, many doors. But they weren’t open for those women with the placards and the lawsuits cause they had gotten in everybody’s face a lot and they were older and people were tired hearing about them. So the next people walking in the door, people like me got all the opportunities these women were fighting for. And last question, what lessons do you
want women to take from your book? If you’re in the economy, you’re going to stay not old.
It’s just no matter how old you are, if you’re in the economy, if you’re doing things that
are part of the economy or if you are in society doing important things, you know in social change in your neighborhood, whatever. If you are out there, no matter how people regard you age wise, you are not gonna be an old person. You are going to be a living breathing part of the community and nobody can take that away from you. -Thank you so much for joining us today, Gail.

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