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FIVE / Work I was the chief stenographer at Brown's Masonry for forty-three years. The pay was poor. The work was repetitive most of the time. But I knew I was indispensable there, and they knew it too. I had the minuteby -minute history of that company in my brain. The very files were my creation. Why, when the people came in to computerize our office, they had to ask me to for all the details about the last ten years of billing and accounts-payable procedures that Brown's had established . In return, those computer guys taught me how to "access" information and create files on their new gadgets . I loved the computers they brought in. I would have stayed on another ten years if not for the mandatory retirement age of seventy. [December 1983] 112 / Work Whether domestic workers, factory workers, clerical workers, sales people, professionals, or managers, most of the women I interviewed emphasized three themes in their work life: (1) how badly they had been paid; (2) how few were the choices of occupation open to them when they were young, searching for first jobs and training; and (3) how central to their identity working for pay has proved to be. While reporting on the dehumanizing dimensions of work, they also noted the joy and dignity that working had provided. For the 20 professional and managerial women in my sample, the work itself was challenging. Most of those in more routinized pursuits found the jobs, per se, dull, nevertheless, they enjoyed earning money and performing an essential task, no matter how routine. They liked the rhythms of the job and the camaraderie at the workplace. A former worker in a perfume manufacturing plant remarked: I worked because I had to, and I worked because I wanted to. I had to work to keep bread on the table and to take care of Mother. I wanted to work because I looked forward to seeing the women on the line with me everyday. They became like family to me. I've always wanted to know lots of people. An assembly line is one way to find them. Uune 1982] Another woman, a former secretary, also highlighted the sociality that work provided: If I had stayed at home all those years, I would have become a nut case. All my life I've been one to get out Work / 113 of the house every morning. On Saturday, I work with the Girl Scouts. On Sunday, I go to church. Even if I could have earned my keep at home, I wouldn't have wanted to. Walking to work, chatting with the neighbors, buying a few groceries, having lunch with a buddy are all part of normal life to me. Without that, I would have felt cooped up, like an invalid. [March 1984] A woman who had worked as a stenographer and then as an administrative assistant commented on the contrast between the seemingly boundless nature of her housework and the much easier, and more enjoyable, eight-hour workday: When I do housework, I notice that there are no clear starts or stops. There's always cooking or cleaning or laundering to do. Letters to write, clothes to mend, relatives to call. But when I went to work, it was all much clearer. The tasks were specific, The boss set priorities , and the workday was eight hours long, period. Then, again, I never got lonely at work. The other girls kept me laughing at Roger's for all those forty-eight years. How I miss them. Uanuary 1984] Work posed problems as well as opportunities to the women. Low pay was their most common complaint. The women felt underpaid in two senses: they believed they were paid less than men who performed identical or similar work, and that the kinds of jobs they performed were undervalued by society. In addition, most of the women remembered few opportunities for advancement. A 114 / Work retired worker, from a hat-making plant, commented on her pay and mobility in relation to her male peers: I started on the line at Boch's in 1931 at the rate of $6.50 a week. Right in the heart of the Depression. Everybody told me that I was lucky to even find a job. Seven months later, two guys started at $12.75 a week, doing exactly the same work I was doing. In fact, I was told to teach the men how to do...


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