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When Work Doesn't Work Anymore: Women, Work, and Identity Paperback – August 10, 1998


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Editorial Reviews

From Library Journal

Why aren't career women happy? A publishing executive disputes the worth of traditional male ideas of success.
Copyright 1997 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From Kirkus Reviews

An accurate, though imperfectly analyzed, account of an unfinished revolution. After 18 years of driven work (serving as associate publisher of Bantam and publisher of William Morrow and other houses), McKenna walked into her boss's office and quit her job. She was successful according to all the conventional measures of career success. But she was miserable. Feeling she had to choose between her work and her life, she chose her life. McKenna convincingly argues that the women's movement opened up the world of work to women but didn't change a culture hostile to the realities of women's lives. Even though women are pressured, like men, to identify completely with work and sacrifice everything to it, they are still expected to succeed on traditionally feminine terms--to marry, to have children, to be perfect wives and mothers. Neither the workplace nor the larger society has done much either to alleviate those expectations or to help women live up to them. McKenna interviews other women about their work experiences and analyzes their stories along with her own. Part self-help book, part social criticism, part feminist manifesto, this volume drags at points; it's repetitive, and it's also weakened by her continued reliance on the notion that the values of the work world--i.e., competition, success as defined by money and status, etc.--are somehow at odds with ``women's values''--cooperation, caring, relationships, etc. It's a familiar idea, but one that has inspired much controversy and needs to be argued carefully or approached critically, not taken as a given. After all, especially in this era of huge conglomerates and a bottom-line business mentality, many men are frustrated with their jobs for some of the same reasons that McKenna was. For all its theoretical fuzziness and scattered organization, much of McKenna's analysis is sound--and timely. (Author tour) -- Copyright ©1997, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Delta; Reprint edition (August 10, 1998)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0385317980
  • ISBN-13: 978-0385317986
  • Product Dimensions: 8 x 6.1 x 0.7 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 9.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (15 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,482,391 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

8 of 9 people found the following review helpful By docaneal@aol.com on November 20, 1998
Format: Paperback
As an executive coach and psychologist, I have provided this book to several of my clients. The overwhelming feedback is positive. Many have changed their lives (or at least their perspectives about work) as a result of further exploring the themes in this text. Most comment -- "I am not alone. Many people feel the way I feel." This book should be a business best seller. My hats off to the author for her research.
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10 of 12 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on February 4, 1999
Format: Hardcover
I had a baby in early 1997 and have been struggling since then with juggling my high-powered executive level job with my family and my own needs. This book was the catalyst in my life for making a change to a low-pressure, individual contributor job which allows me to flex my hours on a daily basis and doesn't penalize me for wanting a life outside of work. My next step is to go to part time work, which is what will really fit with my goals for my life. I would never have taken the risk of jumping off the fast track if I hadn't read this book
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on December 16, 2000
Format: Paperback
I knew something was wrong - for years I "played the game" in Corporate America, but it was no longer enough. I read McKenna's book one Friday night...there it was in black & white...the validation of all I was feeling. That weekend I mourned the loss of a life that had become all-consuming, and began the journey to build a better life. It took 4 months and much soul searching, but I resigned from my high powered, Fortune 500 company position, and am now well on my way to the life I always dreamed about. I've sent copies of the book to all my stressed-out, "there must be a better way" girlfriends in Corporate America. It's a must read if you've ever wondered "at what price, success?"
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on January 5, 1999
Format: Paperback
Amongst a historical and social backdrop, Elizabeth McKenna tells her personal story about choices she made in an effort to balance her career and family. She illustrates the diverse choices and experiences of other women to make her point that all working people are asking a similar question about their careers---is this worth the personal sacrifice---despite marital status, being parents or non-parents, race, and/or age.
This book goes further to make suggestions for making changes to the old corporate environment that has such a strong hold on who we are and what is expected of us. Traditionally, women have been the "caregivers" but more and more men are asking for many of the same things women want in the world of work.
As the subtitle suggests, McKenna discusses how social expectations can have an impact upon our identity as women [playing by men's rules in the corporate world], wives and/or mothers.
I found "When Work Doesn't Work Anymore" compelling due to my desire to stop the chaos in my life and spend more time doing what I believe is most important. McKenna summarized what I had been feeling during the past four years working in a super conservative environment with little pay-off.
This is not a anti-feminist book. McKenna does not advocate leaving work as the only means of solving inner turmoil or balancing many roles. Rather, she explores radical and moderate changes people have made and how those changes contributed in both positive and negative ways to how they feel about themselves and their approach to work.
If anything, McKenna poses thought-provoking questions and maintains that holding to one's personal values is the best choice.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on December 1, 1997
Format: Audio Cassette
A gold star to Ms. McKenna for identifying a real and significant source of malaise for many working women. We choose to commit our all to our job. Then, after so many years, disappointments and fatigue with the politics and personalities accrue to the point where we look around and decide we want more out of our lives.
Two lumps of coal. One, because nearly everything she writes should apply equally to men yet she addresses the book to women. Second, because practically the only answer she provides is to quit, as she did. (And write a book about it?). I would much have preferred interviews with people who dramatically enriched their jobs, and their lives, without quitting. How did they go about it? Where did they look for answers? What did they give up? What should change in the work place?
As a manager, I'm particularly interested in whether companies will respond to this kind of need - for different responsibilities, perhaps, or retraining, or sabbaticals.
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31 of 44 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on July 6, 2000
Format: Paperback
As I read this book, it occurred to me that Ms. McKenna seems only to be talking to women like herself who apparently come from upper class, successful families, and who have had great educations and connections to hit the ground running with promising, fast-track jobs. Had she been an immigrant, or someone from a less privileged background, she may have been a little less whiney. I was annoyed with paragraph after paragrph of "we" grew up believing this, and "we" went to school and learned that, and "we" entered the work force and accomplished this. I'm about the same age as McKenna and female, and that sure wasn't my experience. After working my way through college in a paper mill, I finally got a job-- slinging hash! So when I finally landed a job in New York City and started my own meteoric rise, I was probably a little more mercenary. I was in it for the money. PERIOD. I had no illusions about getting satisfaction for my soul with (hello?) corporate life! McKenna just seems naive to me. A poor little rich girl.
At the risk of sounding like a 60s radical, doesn't she know that corporations --and our capitalistic society-- is based on the exploitation of people and other organizations? Of course you're unhappy at the end of the day! My advice: Make as much money as you can, then get out before they steal your soul!
Finally, and one of my biggest issues with this book, is-- Why does she target this book & her ideas toward women? Men can feel the same dissatisfaction that the author does, and would probably like to chuck it all as much as she does. They just don't whine about it as much as McKenna. She does the battle for equality of the sexes a disservice by defining this as a "women's problem" and by moaning that corporate life is only for men with wives who will keep the home fires burning.
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