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Making Her Way

ONE OF THE most important elements in the happiness and success of the single woman is the work which she does for a living. Most American girls work before they are married but the role of work during this period has less importance than it has for the woman who is permanently single. For not only must the single woman make a living for herself and for her dependents but she usually hopes also to find a work which she likes to do and which offers prospects of permanent employment, advancement and security.


General Aspects—Many of the women who are now in business and the professions as well as the leaders of the feminist movement complain that conditions of work have become increasingly difficult for women in recent years and that they have lost much of the occupational advance which had been made by an earlier generation of women. It is observable that the number of women in some professions has declined and that the predicted advance of women in other occupational lines has failed to take place. This shift in occupational trends may be due to some extent to conscious choice based upon the accumulated occupational experience of women in the past three decades. The experience of thousands of women has afforded some basis for judging as to what the employment capabilities of women are and in what fields their best opportunities lie. The economic recession has had its effect, also, since it has lessened economic opportunity for everyone, including women, and increased competition. There can be no doubt that the new emphasis in the education of girls has caused them to be more casual about their choice of an occupation and less concerned about the employment opportunities of women in general. Organizations of women which were concerned in other days with efforts to secure better employment opportunities through collective action have lost their force and drive, for few women are now interested in them.

It appears to be true, however, that many women are taking a shortsighted view of their economic status and of their responsibilities; and that their failure to view the situation realistically often results in a trying period of readjustment for them. For a woman whose responsibilities and whose work-life are to extend over a long period of years needs to give some thought to the prospects of permanence and advancement in the line of work which she chooses. It is difficult for a woman over thirty to find employment in some types of clerical work and in some types of skilled labor, and women who have remained employed in those lines face the problem of an occupational "old age" while they are still young. The readjustment, if they are able to make it, is hard because of the difficulty of acquiring new skills and a new job orientation after thirty, while many lines of work are closed altogether because of the long period of training involved. An occupational readjustment is often complicated by the fact that a personal readjustment of a painful and disturbing nature must take place at the same time. Evidently a better under-standing of the employment opportunities of women is needed, particularly with reference to the women over thirty, along with a study of the so-called "job counselling" that is now taking place in some institutions of learning for women and which seems to be responsible for recent trends. For it is evident that many of the conditions which determine the opportunities which are open to women are general and social in nature and that action of a general and social nature is required. For the problems associated with the marriage rates, with the surplus of women in some age groups and in some localities, and the employment and income of women are of general social importance and they require constructive social action for their solution. Exhortations to women to meet the complicated problems with which society now con-fronts them on a basis of individualistic endeavor smacks of a bygone era when every boy expected to be President and every worker a capitalist.

Personal Aspects—Even though the individual has little control over the general and social factors which determine the extent and kind of economic opportunities open to her, it is evident that women differ greatly in their ability to use the opportunities which are available. As we talked with the three hundred women who were interviewed in the course of this study it became apparent that the range as well as the richness of their occupational experience was closely associated with their personal traits and with the type of adjustment which they had been able to make to the major aspects of their personal life. The woman of high energy and zest for life had been able to find interest and adventure and even advancement at that occupational level at which she functioned, while the woman whose own problems and emotions weighed her down seemed to neglect even the most obvious opportunities.

One woman who had sold newspapers and magazines in a hotel lobby over a long period of years, expressed great satisfaction with her work and with the remuneration which it afforded. She took pride in the fact that she had the opportunity to see and greet important personages in the world of business and she appreciated also the generous tips which they gave her from time to time for some special service. The invalid mother of this woman took a lively part in her daughter's description of her work and its ad-vantages, at the time of our visit to the home, and of her wide circle of acquaintance with people of importance. In addition to her daily work this woman was active in church and social affairs in her neighborhood where she had assumed a position of some leadership.

A woman of fifty who was the successful owner and manager of a chain of small businesses stated that she had previously launched several other business enterprises of her own. She had run a restaurant; she had operated a hotel near a racing track; and she had managed a dairy farm. In speaking of her various enterprises she expressed some regret that the number of changes which she had made had prevented her from achieving signal success in any of them. This disadvantage appeared to be somewhat offset in her thinking, however, by the pleasure which she had derived from the varied experiences of her life. At the time we saw her she was full of zest and ginger, able to dramatize her life story in a humorous and entertaining fashion, and ready with plans of still other fields which she expected to conquer.

She expressed a fear, however, that the day of the small business enterprise was passing and that this would limit the field of her activities. "I cannot endure working for others; I cannot endure sitting at a desk. I want an enterprise of my very own which I can develop and push and see grow. I have never wanted anyone to find a job for me, I can make my own job."

Other women with whom we talked expressed satisfaction with their work in business and the professions. While most of them were matter-of-fact about the work which they did and the compensations which they were receiving, it was evident that most of them derived a legitimate pleasure from the occupational status which they had been able to achieve and that their pride in work was professional as well as personal. Most of the women had found their work at an early age and had continued in it over a considerable period of time. They had apparently known what work they wanted to do early in life, they had worked toward their occupational objective, and they had derived pleasure from achieving it. As a rule they had known no long period of waiting or uncertainty or indecision about their work nor had their personal adjustment presented problems which hindered them.

There was a small minority of women in our group whose occupational moorings appeared wavering and unsatisfactory. Some of these women had apparently not known and they had never been able to make up their minds about what work they wanted to do. Others said frankly that they had never wanted to enter gainful employment at all. Their attitude differed from that of most individuals who prefer more leisure or who desire total leisure in that they had apparently refused to accept the necessity of earning a living and had continued to resist it in ways which hindered their own success. It was evident that some of these women were in need of personal counselling of a highly skilled nature and a new orientation toward life and work. The outlook for them appeared complicated by the fact that with many of them the habit of non-cooperation had persisted over a period of years and that their mental habits which they had built up would be difficult to change even with the best assistance available. It was evident that they had either not been willing to accept the pattern of life which was theirs or that they had not known how to make the most of the opportunities which it offered.

As a consequence they appeared to be resisting their own chances for success and happiness.

One woman living at home with her parents had worked steadily for seven years at the same clerical job with only one small advance in pay during that period. Her home was in a city where there were many and varied occupations for women but she had never sought any of them. Her attitude toward her work was resentful; she regarded it as a doom. Although this woman was a college graduate and a per-son of excellent background her occupational success was far below others whose opportunities had been less. She was known as a troublemaker on her job, a malicious gossip, and a problem to her employers. She employed "political pull" to hold her position when she was in difficulties and she fomented trouble for her organization in the town by carrying tales. She quarrelled constantly with her mother and was always threatening to leave home but she never did so. Her employer and the personnel manager of her organization were aware of the fact that she needed specialized help but they had neyer been able to reach her with the few suggestions which they had dared to make.

Another single woman of forty years of age had worked at a yariety of clerical jobs over a period of twenty years. Her changes were frequent; she was known as a problem to employers; and her landladies made frequent complaint. At the time of our conversation with her she stated that it was becoming increasingly difficult for her to obtain office jobs and that her periods of unemployment between jobs were increasing in length. She seemed concerned about her economic situation but she had taken no steps to do anything about it. The personnel manager of a business firm where she had worked stated that she had rejected opportunities to prepare herself for other work which the firm had provided, and when they had offered to provide psychiatric assistance for her she had quit her job. This firm in a MiddleWestern city was well known for its enlightened policy toward its employees, most of whom have remained with it for long periods of time. Although this woman had been working for twenty years she had saved nothing. She had no need to contribute to the support of relatives and all her earnings had been spent on herself. She was bitter about her prospects of employment, about her social opportunities and about life in general. Her personnel record showed her to be of above-average intelligence and in good physical health. It was evident that this woman had lacked both the disposition and the ability to make something of her life and that most of her occupational difficulties had arisen from her failure to adjust to her life situation.

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