WOMEN IN COLLEGE: Shaping New Feminine Identities by Mirra Komarovsky

WOMEN IN COLLEGE: Shaping New Feminine Identities

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In 1946, Komarovsky (Sociology Emeritus, Barnard) wrote an article, ""Cultural Contradictions and Sex Roles,"" which set the stage for much further research into female socialization. In 1976, her Dilemmas of Masculinity suggested that males also face ""developmental tasks."" Bringing us up to date, Komarovsky now asks l) how female students are coping with rapid gender role change and 2) ""what impact the college itself had on the women."" The college is Barnard, ill-disguised (i.e., one of the seven Sisters, part of a major university in a metropolis, etc.). The ""cases"" are some 200 students (originally 232, dropping to 175) given questionnaires and, in many instances, interviews, in their freshmen, sophomore, and senior years. Few (if any) findings will surprise. In their transition to college, students had to learn new norms: e.g., was it proper to expel your roommate when your boyfriend came to call? They acquired new self-concepts--and had to work harder: ""Being a big shot in high school spoiled me. . . I didn't do very well here. . ."" The student body's diversity generated ""culture shock,"" as students pondered each other's naivet‚ or sexual permissiveness; peer groups emerged as more important than family or teachers in changing attitudes and aspirations. Re the ""Great Decisions"" of career, marriage, and/or motherhood, only five percent of Komarovksy's 1979 sample preferred not to work after marriage, as against the 61 percent tallied in 1943. ""It appears that, whatever their preferred future life styles, finding one's place in the world of work is becoming, for these young women. . . essential for personal dignity and autonomy."" Students moved toward these decisions along different paths, so Komarovsky divides them into Traditionalists (24%), Shifters to Careers (25%), Career Steadfasts (33%)--plus a small minority of Shifters to Non-careers (9%) and Waverers (7%). Working against the shift to non-career was the ""achiever"" ideology of the college. Change in men's and women's roles was also noted--with ""Role strain"" evident in the ambiguities surrounding early dating (who picks up the tab or the phone), and deeper conflicts coloring extended relationships. Competent and generally informative, though stale in method and presentation: likely to reassure students and sociologists, but unlikely to excite a wider readership.

Pub Date: May 20th, 1985
Publisher: Basic Books