Saturday, April 2, 2011
The Girl I Left Behind
The non-fiction book I've read during my recuperation (so far) is The Girl I Left Behind by Judith Nies. I didn't know of Judith Nies, and her previous works, Nine Women, Native American History, and other books. (See an earlier post for the explanation of why I don't usually read non-fiction books.)
A friend loaned me The Girl unsolicited last fall after her book group had read it and said she knew I would like it. I never got around to reading it, and mentioned the book when I ran into her at the gym a couple of months ago. She shook her head and smiled. "You'll really like it." Luckily I never got around to giving it back. This week I looked at it where it sat near the door, ready to hand back to her next time she stopped by, and thought, "Why not now?" I'm so glad I did! This is an important book.
It's a history of the sixties from a woman's point of view. Not any woman, but a woman who was a thinker, a scholar, a political speechwriter, a journalist, and an early second-wave feminist. She describes running into the brick walls of being prohibited from apply for certain jobs while in foreign-relations graduate school because "They won't interview a woman." She talks about Eleanor Roosevelt convincing President Kennedy to start the President's Commission on the Status of Women and how that led, ultimately, to the laws against discrimination and to the founding of NOW. She weaves in political themes, personal stories, tales of the CIA, and the contents of her own thick FBI file. And so much more. It's a history book written in an accessible, conversational voice.
I thought of Hank Phillippi Ryan's anecdote about landing a newsroom job instead being hired for the Women's beat by telling the hiring boss that he wouldn't want to get in trouble with the new anti-discrimination laws for not having a woman in the newsroom, now would he? I thought of all the women who struggled for us, the early newsprint editions of Our Bodies, Ourselves, which Nies mentions, the "First Wave" feminists Nies describes so ably, and pioneers like Shirley Chisholm, Bella Abzug, Simone de Beauvoir, Robin Morgan. I, myself, was a little past the crest of the wave, starting college in 1971. But I threw myself wholeheartedly into being a feminist, into a self-help group, into promoting the title "Ms." I felt like I'd been waiting for this movement my whole life.
I want everybody to read this book. I want all our young adults to read it. Thank you, Carolyn, for not coming to get your book before I had time to read it!