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Gail Collins' robust social history of America's changing attitudes towards women's aging

Historians in the News
tags: books, Gail Collins, womens history, Aging



Gail Collins warns us upfront in her robust social history of America's changing attitudes toward women past the first blush of youth that "This is not going to be a tale of steady progress toward an age-indifferent tomorrow."

No Stopping Us Now makes clear, for example, that two particularly challenging times to be an older woman in America were the youth-obsessed 1920s and 1960s. Take heart, though: As its title indicates, the general trend chronicled in Collins' new book is encouraging.

In the 18th century, women beyond their early 20s were considered past their prime, and post-menopausal women, when not branded witches, were essentially put out to pasture. But with increased life expectancy and more women in the workforce, society's idea of middle age keeps getting pushed upward — from 30 or 40 well into the 60s. Collins, a pithy New York Times columnist born in 1945, quotes advertising guru Faith Popcorn's remark that 68-78 has become "the adolescence of old age."

Like her more broadly focused America's Women: Four Hundred Years of Dolls, Drudges, Helpmates, and Heroines (2003), this age-centric survey spans four centuries. Collins begins with the Colonies, when spinsterhood was frowned upon and even 50-year-old widows were in demand because of the dearth of women. She quotes Benjamin Franklin, who counseled a young male friend that older women are more interesting, and added that anyway, "In the dark all Cats are grey."

Read entire article at NPR

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