WOMEN VOLUNTEERING: The Pleasure, Pain and Politics of Unpaid Work from 1830 to the Present by Wendy Kaminer

WOMEN VOLUNTEERING: The Pleasure, Pain and Politics of Unpaid Work from 1830 to the Present

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KIRKUS REVIEW

A semi-serious look at the issue of ""unpaid work,"" or volunteering, for women: a feminist issue of the '70s that, Kaminer finds, may already be antiquated. In sum: ""There was something arrogant and short-sighted about the general feminist prohibition of service volunteering""; ""there is no one way. . . to sum up volunteering and state the one and only thing it means for women."" The book consists of one-part potted 1830s+ history--to the effect that ""volunteering has both liberated women and kept them in their place""--and three-parts case studies, based on interviews. The interviewees, as Kaminer notes, are overwhelmingly middle- and upper-class married women from the Northeast. But the opening stories are pointedly different: a mother with a religious calling to service, a personal calling to teach (who regards herself as non-""compliant,"" likes being free to give freely); her unmarried daughter, who combines paid and unpaid work, and at 33 serves on the church board of elders (like her father, not her mother); a black working woman who expresses her faith through church activities (""it wouldn't be the same"" to be paid). And the relative homogeneity of the rest of the sample--every second or third seems to be a Connecticut lawyer's wife--has inadvertent merit in a rundown of volunteer generations: from the college graduates of the late '40s, who found an outlet for their talents and abilities, a virtual ""career,"" in volunteer work (generally not related to their roles as wife and mother), to the ""pioneers of transition,"" who entered paid work after long, demanding volunteer experience (with some domestic upheavals), to ""the new generation"" of women Kaminer's age (in their thirties, now having babies) who tend to be defensive, and to think of themselves not as ""volunteers"" but as community-activists. Then there are the working women of all ages for whom volunteering is not ""a symbol of dependence"" or ""source of conflict."" ""They volunteer for the pleasure of it--because paid work isn't fulfilling and isn't everything--and because they must--out of a sense of personal, social, or political obligation."" The individual stories are often overlong, but most of the women are articulate and spirited. Nothing here really constitutes research or original thinking; but the findings are at least indicative--and might help to resolve some feminist doubts.

Pub Date: Nov. 2nd, 1984
Publisher: Anchor/Doubleday