HARD CHOICES: How Women Decide About Work, Career, and Motherhood by Kathleen Gerson

HARD CHOICES: How Women Decide About Work, Career, and Motherhood

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A ""small but strategic"" sample of 63 California women, in their late twenties to mid-thirties, were given questionnaires by sociologist Gerson (New York U.) to chart their life choices. Her findings: these choices result neither from childhood upbringing nor external pressures but from a combination of these two forces. Not much intellectual excitement there, but then Gerson's study is oriented more toward sociological debates than toward public issues. Rather than aligning herself with either the ""structural coercion"" approach (the power of male-controlled social institutions over women) or the purely ""voluntarist"" approach (the role of ""female personality"" and gender socialization), Gerson believes that ""in the context of structural constraint, women actively build their lives out of the materials provided by larger social forces."" The big pattern shows some women, in the course of their lives, veering toward domesticity (19), some away from it (22), and others remaining constant--whether domestic (11) or career-oriented (11). Among those rejecting domesticity, some women were reacting against the fragility of relationships (""I could see that this white knight. . . was not going to come up and carry me away into the great, glorious sunset""); others were responding variously to tight household finances, disillusionment with housework, and improved work opportunities. Logically, those who moved closer to domesticity show the reverse: personal relationships take precedence, job opportunities become blocked, and/or domesticity develops its own allure. Whatever the choices, ""inherent dilemmas and contradictions"" remain--with ""structural ambiguity"" resulting from the ongoing flux in work and family patterns. The non-domestic road may be ""rough and uncertain,"" but traditional domesticity offers ""meager social supports and rewards for childrearing. . ."" Summing up the life courses of her working-class and middle-class women, Gerson concludes: ""Some have gained; some have lost; and most have gained in some respects and lost in others."" This, along with the idea that new social cleavages have resulted, we already knew. An academic exercise, then, rather like Mirra Komarovsky's Women in College (p. 268)--but little more.

Pub Date: June 1st, 1985
ISBN: 0520057457
Publisher: Univ. of California Press