BLUE COLLAR WOMEN by Mary Lindenstein Walshok

BLUE COLLAR WOMEN

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KIRKUS REVIEW

. . . Doing something with your hands was kind of cool, because you could see what you were doing. . . . It's like solving a puzzle--when you get the answer--yeah!"" So speaks the young female auto mechnic, one of 117 women whom sociologist Walshok interviewed as they entered such non-traditional jobs as carpenter and welder, and twice (at yearly intervals) thereafter. Walshok wants to know what separates such women from others holding traditional jobs (secretary, beautician); but most of the differences that emerge are fairly predictable: more independence as children, strong mothers, and/or other role models, access to nontraditional occupational knowledge and skills, and so forth. Those who succeed in such jobs rely on their skills to help them ride out the period of adjustment to the often specifically male-culture; those who don't succeed usually lack both skills and emotional commitment to the job. Looming larger, however, than the female question is the problem that any ""pioneer"" faces in breaking into a new setting, ""the problem of being an outsider. . . the stranger who must both master her new context and be accepted into a new culture."" Not only do these nontraditional women resemble other pioneers, they also resemble other women. ""What is fascinating about the group of women we met, and the occupational data on American women generally, is how similar their limited opportunities are and how low their earning power is."" Fascinating? To whom? To Walshok, clearly, who piles working-class biography upon biography, dishing them all out with a good dollop of heroine worship. Kelly Lincoln, for example, is described as a ""successful black foreperson"" who, despite an unfocused 20-year work history, was able to take advantage of new opportunities such that ""her heretofore unrealized outstanding abilities and motivation helped her successfully complete an apprenticeship as a rote-blade mechanic."" Walshok writes that ""very early in the research process any middle-class tendencies to minimize competencies or trivialize experiences of less-educated working-class women were completely laid to rest."" So too, apparently, were some of her critical abilities. Not as entertaining as Louise Kapp Howe's Pink Collar Workers; nor, despite the academic presentation, necessarily more insightful or informative.

Pub Date: Nov. 6th, 1981
Publisher: Anchor/Doubleday