Looking forward by looking back: An autoethnography
Levasseur, Patricia Holland
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This dissertation describes the uniqueness of the Caucasian working class woman’s experience. Using autoethnographic methodology, this study examines three “turning points of identity” (as described by Anselm Strauss). Throughout three turning point eras in my personal story – namely, the eras of subjugation, professionalization, and liberation – I have used the theoretical lens of C. Wright Mills’ sociological imagination to illumine the nexus of personal problems and public issues. Throughout, I have noted sociocultural forces that impacted my personal life. Key findings of this dissertation include the persistence of a patriarchal hierarchy in predominantly female workplaces despite dramatic strides by feminist scholars, such as Dorothy E. Smith. Traditional family values, including the basic structure of the family much touted by conservative political factions, are by now so threadbare that they are unrecognizable in many instances. Andrew Cherlin, in his research on family and workplace, describes the dissonance and disparity experienced by the Caucasian working class woman raised to embrace traditional family values with the realities of family structures and workplace in recent years. In the rapidly changing eras since the 1970s, women have endured role stretch and structural strain due to the seeming impossibility to live up to what was considered traditional views of family in a working class female environment. The job description of the Caucasian working class woman has undergone tremendous change. Women are now strongly, though implicitly, advised to remain youthful, marriageable, and employable well into their older years in a culture that lauds these characteristics above the traditional ones. Women are often engaged in work outside the home while continuing to discharge their responsibilities for a “second shift” work at home as described by Arlie Hochschild. The home front has been the traditional domain of women and little has changed despite their entry into the workforce where they are often the breadwinners of the family. This female breadwinner role has been reinforced with the rising unemployment rate which has affected men, making them no longer able, in many instances, to be the traditional sole breadwinners for the family. One other finding that applies to both men and women is that economic stagnation affects the family values of both men and women who are coequal victims of unemployment and underemployment.