Women in Transition: Choices and Conflicts

By Herkelmann, Katherine; Dennison, Timothy et al. | Education, Fall 1993 | Go to article overview

Women in Transition: Choices and Conflicts


Herkelmann, Katherine, Dennison, Timothy, Branham, Rhonda, Bush, D. Michelle, Pope, Kelly Hazelrigg, Cangemi, Joseph P., Education


women and economic transformation. Women and Poverty. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.

Solomon, C. M. (1990). Careers under glass. Personnel Journal, April, 96-105.

Stringer, D. M., & Duncan, E. (1985). Non-traditional occupations: A study of women who have made the choice. Vocational Guidance Quarterly, 9, 241-248.

Sutton, C. D., & Moore, K. K. (1985, September-October). Probing opinions: Executive women - Twenty years later. Harvard Today's woman is in an unenviable state of transition. Traditional roles for women (wife, mother, homemaker, part-time career person) are being challenged on all fronts by social, political, and economic forces. With the Women's Movement just decades old, most adult women discovered enough self-awareness to be uncomfortable with traditional roles, while still operating out of the mental set to which they were socialized. Women, in general, have been raised by models they can no longer emulate to fulfill roles that no longer apply.

Most contemporary women over 40 were raised by parents who believed the appropriate roles for women were caretakers, nurturers, and emotional supporters of husbands and children. Women "stood by" and lent their talents to the furthering of others' wants and needs. Many women who grew up on messages of care and nurturing settled happily into the wife, mother, homemaker role. Others, out of necessity or desire, entered the labor market. Although they often held full-time jobs, most did not forsake the homemaker role for which they were groomed. The subtle, unconscious ideology to which Bem and Bem (1970) allude has not yet allowed women the freedom to make independent choices about the roles they wish to play in life.

The common, unconscious ideology is that women are defective, or less than men. The Bible claims woman was created from Adam's rib; a prayer from the Koran reads "thank God I was not born a woman." The status of women as inferior to men pervades much of society in ways most individuals do not recognize. Goldberg (1968) asked college students to rate a number of articles from different fields. Identical articles were attributed to males in some cases, females in others. The same article received significantly lower ratings when attributed to a female author, suggesting an unconscious bias against women. In a study with similar implications, Deutsch and Gilbert (1976) asked 128 college men and women to describe their concepts of self, their ideal self, their ideal other sex, and their beliefs about the other sex's ideal other. The authors found women's sex role concepts regarding their self, ideal self, and their beliefs of what the opposite sex desires were very dissimilar, whereas those of men were highly similar. These findings suggest women have conflicts about who they are, who they want to be, and what they believe men want them to be - conflicts men do not seem to share.

Several trends have converged upon women to make the traditional roles for which they were prepared less and less viable. With the inflation rate continually on the rise, more and more women find they must join the work force to keep food on the table. The necessity of having a job is prevalent for both two parent and single parent families. With the failure rate of first marriages above 35 percent, there are a great many single parent homes. According to the 1964 and 1985 (U.S. Bureau of the Census) census reports, the number of female-headed households went from 7.4 percent in 1960 to 23.2 percent in 1985. Between 1950 and 1980, the number of families headed by women increased more than three times for whites and six times for blacks (Wojtkiewicz et al., 1990). Headship rates for women who have been married at some time grew by 250 percent between 1950 and 1980. For women who have never been married, headship rates increased by 1,200 percent for whites and 1,800 percent for blacks during this same period (Wojtkiewicz et al. …

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