Otherwise Engaged

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

In contrast to most other societies, ours celebrates the young, individual achiever. Blotnick gives reasons for our singular obsession, starting with the John F. Kennedy years and then quickly moving to women. By the 1970’s, women, too, had begun to dream of acclaim, and the women’s liberation movement was born. Shrewdly, Blotnick has been on hand to follow this process with tape recorder and periodic questionnaires.

From the 1960’s onward, Blotnick followed a random selection of female high school students, college students, and customers of stockbrokerage firms; in addition, for each woman with a job, he interviewed six of her co-workers. He compared his studies with existing statistics in three-year intervals. His conclusions, startling, even controversial as they may be, deserve attention.

Already in college, women set their sights high: a prestigious, well-paying job, a decorative husband, and a family--in that order--were the common expectation. When, by the 1980’s, these goals had eluded most graduates, when many found themselves in pedestrian positions, tied to underachieving husbands or lovers, or even still alone, they became shrill.

Blotnick’s case studies let readers know the Barbaras, Carolyns, and Karens rather intimately. One is alarmed at how they let women’s magazines, films, and television series distort their judgment; and one is amazed at the regularity with which they sacrifice private lives and marital happiness to their careers.

Yet, there are successful women with enduring marriages in the business world; indeed, their stories save this book from being depressing. Ultimately, what makes reading it worthwhile is the direct advice the author has to offer, advice that is informed by his twenty-five year focus on why some women achieve success both at home and in the workplace, and why so many others can only fantasize about such accomplishments.