The wrenching decision facing successful women choosing between demanding careers and intensive family lives has been the subject of many articles and books, most of which propose strategies for resolving the dilemma. Competing Devotions focuses on broader social and cultural forces that create women's identities and shape their understanding of what makes life worth living.
Mary Blair-Loy examines the career paths of women financial executives who have tried various approaches to balancing career and family. The professional level these women have attained requires a huge commitment of time, energy, and emotion that seems natural to employers and clients, who assume that a career deserves single-minded allegiance. Meanwhile, these women must confront the cultural model of family that defines marriage and motherhood as a woman's primary vocation. This ideal promises women creativity, intimacy, and financial stability in caring for a family. It defines children as fragile and assumes that men lack the selflessness and patience that children's primary caregivers need. This ideal is taken for granted in much of contemporary society.
The power of these assumptions is enormous but not absolute. Competing Devotions identifies women executives who try to reshape these ideas. These mavericks, who face great resistance but are aided by new ideological and material resources that come with historical change, may eventually redefine both the nuclear family and the capitalist firm in ways that reduce work-family conflict.
Many professional women intuit that male colleagues whose spouse handle for them the details of everyday life are favored in the workplace. Blair-Loy confirms this intuition and shows us how it happens. She captures how the cultural schemas of "family devotion" and "work devotion" contribute to the reproduction of gender inequality, and how meeting the demands of a husband's job and other people's needs push professional women to progressively abandon their work to take care of others. Her analysis also gives us hope by comparing the fate of pre and post-baby boomers. This is both an important scholarly contribution and a book that will help readers think differently about their lives. It should be required reading for professional women who aspire to maintain multidimensional lives.
This is a fascinating book with an important message. Blair-Loy's findings are surprising. She challenges conventional viewpoints. She is on to something really new when she writes about not only the interplay between cultural norms and individual actions (and institutional structures) but on the cultural schemas that evoke deep emotional resonances. An outstanding book.
Mary Blair-Loy's book transcends old debates about work and family by examining the women who have beaten the odds and risen to the top. Her detailed examination of careers and strategies perfectly complements her subtle analysis of the schemas and visions these women have for their lives. Blair-Loy has given us not only a splendid view into a little known world, but also a new way of understanding the dynamic interplay of work and family. Looking beyond the static conflict we have studied so much, she shows how creative women put traditional schemas of family and work into a mutual transformation to build for themselves a new and more livable world.
Blair-Loy's comparison of the two groups [of work-committed and family-committed] women is an imaginative and beautifully constructed study that bristles with insight...Rather than serving up the standard menu of neat public policy fixes to achieve work-family 'balance,' Competing Devotions offers a compelling explanation as to why even such long overdue reforms as paid family leave legislation and the proliferation of 'family friendly' corporate benefits are not likely to do much to resolve the work-family conundrum without a far more fundamental set of social changes. Both corporate elite careers and motherhood, Blair-Loy argues, have deep moral and cultural underpinnings. Both are governed by what she calls 'schemas of devotion' that demand total commitment to one's 'calling,' whether it be to the corporation or the child(ren)...These morally laden schemas are so powerful that they often trump economic rationality.
The work-devotion and family-devotion schemas are not simply used as rationalizations; they are gendered frameworks that others use to interpret behavior. As cultural models, they serve to define 'economic rationality'...Blair-Loy skillfully illustrates the patterns that emerge when we view individual lives in the context of their historical moment and social location. Competing Devotions is an insightful examination of work and family among elite executive women.
This book will be of significant interest to students of work and organizations, those who are concerned with work-family conflict and accommodation, and those students of cultural sociology who wish to read a testimonial on how important cultural schemas are in constructing social lives. Here the schemas are work and family. But the findings may potentially generalize to other cultural schemas that can have a powerful grip on us as we negotiate our lives, regardless of whether we innovate at the boundaries of competing devotions or not.
This work is a welcome addition to the growing body of sociological studies of working women. A significant contribution of this book is that it lends a qualitative consideration to a topic too often evaluated by quantitative measures.
- 2005, Winner of the William J. Goode Book Award
- 288 pages
- 0-13/16 x 5-1/8 x 7-15/16 inches
- Harvard University Press
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