Working-class women keep society moving, manning cash registers, driving school busses, cleaning houses and caring for other people's children. Yet their thoughts, feelings and experiences often aren't even a blip on the radar screen of the people they serve.
The voices of Baltimore's blue-collar women can be heard in Getting By on the Minimum: The Lives of Working-Class Women, by Jennifer Johnson, a research scientist in the Johns Hopkins University Department of Sociology. By telling their stories using their own words, Johnson's book, published by Routledge in August 2002, offers new insight into the nature of work, the importance of family, the role of education, and the significance of social class.
"Too often, working-class women are viewed from a social distance and through a middle-class lens," Johnson says. "Working-class women are often seen as homogeneous, when, in fact, they come from a wide range of economic, cultural and social backgrounds ranging from prosperous working class to underclass, from nurturing, supportive families to dysfunctional ones."
Johnson interviewed more than 60 Baltimore-area women whose children were participating in an ongoing study of social development conducted by her colleagues Karl Alexander and Doris Entwisle in the Department of Sociology (see bssonline.jhu.edu/hopkids/SmrSlide.htm). In general, the women have no college education, are married with kids, and earn an average of $16,000 per year.
Johnson spent hours in their homes getting to know them and recording their stories. As a result, readers hear first-person accounts from women like Cindy, who runs a day-care center in her house, paints and hangs wallpaper and sings at night in a country band to pay the bills while caring for her children and ailing mother; cosmetologists like Rosalie, who chose the profession so she'd have "something to fall back on;" and Phyllis, whose new boss at the supermarket is giving her a hard time. In the process, Johnson was drawn in by their stories and reminded of her own former jobs from sorting nails at a factory at age 17 to assembly line-style clerical work computerizing government files.
"I hope to make known their struggles as well as their triumphs," Johnson says of the women. "Most of all, I hope to show the dignity with which they live their complex and often difficult lives."
To speak with Jennifer Johnson, contact Amy Cowles at 410-516-7160. A limited number of review copies of Getting By on the Minimum: The Lives of Working-Class Women are available to the media.
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