, Volume 35, Issue 1-2, pp 57-77

Being female in the eighties and nineties: Conflicts between new opportunities and traditional expectations among white, middle class, heterosexual college women

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Abstract

The eighties and nineties would appear to be an ideal time for a young woman to come of age in American society. Legal barriers to opportunity have been virtually eliminated, and attitudes toward women seem to reflect greater cultural appreciation of their abilities and needs. However, there are indications that females are presented with conflicting images which nurture new career-related expectations while simultaneously stressing traditional expressions of femininity, especially marriage and motherhood. The research in this article explores the dynamics of conflicting demands on young women through a survey conducted at a small liberal arts college with students who are predominantly white and heterosexual, from middle and upper income families. (Only three percent of the students are from minority backgrounds.) Issues explored involve spousal obligations, salary differentials, marriage-career aspirations, responsibilities toward young children, and perceived degree of liberalism-conservatism pertaining to the place of women in society. The article concludes with a focus on the dilemma posed by new opportunities through structural change and the coexistence of cultural lag in the form of traditional norms of femininity.