Changing lives and Potential Leadership:
A Study of West Virginian Women Returning To College

Rita Wicke-Nelson, West Virginia University Institute of Technology, & Lynda Ann Ewen, Marshall University


Throughout this century until the 1940s, women in the United States had attained levels of higher education virtually equal to those of men. Then for approximately two decades women's relative attainment declined, due partly to the educational advantages offered to men by the GI Bill after World War II (McLaughlin et al., 1988). The situation began to shift again in the 1960s, when the college enrollment of women started to grow at faster rates than that of men. The gender gap favoring men disappeared by the 1980s.

A striking component of this educational landscape was an increase in the enrollment of older women reentering higher education after a hiatus. Although the gates of higher education institutions did not always open easily for older women, reenter they did (Astin, 1976). In 1960 women aged 25-29 made up eight percent of the female college population, and women aged 30-34 made up five percent (McLaughlin et al., 1988). In 1983 these figures had jumped to fourteen and eleven. By the late 1980s, women aged 25 and over constituted more than forty percent of all female college students. 'They are part and parcel of what is now well recognized as the "non-traditional" college population.

This paper describes an exploratory study of women 25 years and older who had enrolled in college after a period of time during which they had been variously employed, attained post-high school training, married, divorced or bore children. We were interested in these women for several reasons. As college teachers, we had observed these reentry women with more than considerable curiosity and had sometimes been allowed glimpses into their complex lives. We had speculated on their aspirations and on how higher education might change their lives. Having come as strangers to Appalachia and having remained many years, we also were aware of some of the special characteristics of Appalachia, and the relative lack of investigation into the lives of Appalachian women (e.g., Fiene, 1993). Our interests and perceptions were framed and driven by a feminist commitment to better understand women's experiences within historical and situational contexts; to fill in the missing chapters of women's lives; to listen to women, especially those who have often been shut out, tell their own "stories" (Interpreting Women's Lives, 1989; Reid, 1993).

The purpose of our study was to explore, collecting information from the women themselves about a variety of factors. This goal was partly accomplished by asking them to complete an extensive written questionnaire. For a small number of the women the questionnaire was followed with an interview that allowed for a wider and deeper probe of issues. Whereas the survey reflects the value we place on quantitative data, the interviews reflect our belief that much can be, gained from qualitative data (Breitmayer, Ayers, and Knafl, 1993; Gluck and Patai, 1991).

This report focuses on leadership and issues surrounding leadership. We view the women in our sample as having increased their potential for leadership through their reentry to higher education. Level of education is related to a host of variables including social status, employment, beliefs, and values. It is reasonable to assume that higher education expands opportunity for leadership, whether leadership is defined as public and official or private and unofficial influence. The distinction between kinds, or spheres, of leadership is an important one in analyses of women's leadership. For example, Collins (1990) notes that "Social science research typically focuses on public, official, visible activity even though unofficial, private, and seemingly invisible spheres of social life and organization may be equally important" (pp. 140-141). We speculate that higher education particularly through its to work force participation, will open doors to formal, official, public leadership roles for reentry women. It will also provide opportunity to enhance knowledge, skills, status, and self-confidence central to leadership in both public and private spheres.

To the extent that higher education and leadership will be linked for reentry women, it is important to understand their experiences, beliefs, and attitudes. This report describes the sample of participants, examines their responses to the Attitudes toward Women Scale, that inquires into attitudes about women's roles and rights, and analyzes interview data relating to leadership and social attitudes.

Participants and Methods

The participants of the study were enrolled in a state supported college in West Virginia in Spring 1992. The college is located in a small town in a narrow aver valley s with small communities, approximately 30 miles from the capitol of West Virginia. Historically the geographic area has been a coal mining region. In academic year 1991-1992, the College had a student enrollment of over 3,000. Eighty-six percent of the fulltime students were West Virginians, and 35% were female. The College offers a wide range of majors, and grants associate and baccalaureate degrees and the master's in engineering.

The potential pool of participants was comprised of women age 25 and over, whose names appeared on the College computer list of regular fulltime and parttime enrollees. Thirty-nine percent of those invited by letter to participate did so. Two additional students, whose names had not appeared on the list but who otherwise met the criteria, were also included, at their request. The final pool consisted of 78 students.

Each participant completed the 13 page questionnaire designed to collect information on variables including childhood and current family experiences, religious and political affiliations, reasons for returning to college, and attitudes toward women, gender roles, and maternal employment. About half of the questionnaires were completed in small groups at the College, and the remainder were completed individually at the College or at home.

In spring, 1993, twelve of the original were interviewed at the College. (Fifteen women were invited by letter to participate; one declined due to an extremely busy schedule and two were even unable to keep appointments.) The purpose of the interviews was to probe some of the issues tapped by the questionnaire. We wanted to provide an opportunity for the women to tell at least part of the 'stories' of their lives. The interview sample was selected with an eye toward diversity in age, income, marital status, and religious commitment. We believed these variables might provide very different contexts for women's decisions about and the experiences of, returning to college. In our exploratory investigation, we wanted to maximize hearing different "stories."

The taped interviews, in which both investigators took part, averaged two hours in length. All three persons were seated at a table and refreshments were available. Assurances concerning confidentiality and privacy were given to the participants, and the forthcoming interview was characterized as "informal". The investigators had previously agreed upon topics of special interest and all interviews roughly followed a similar pattern. However, some variation was expected and did occur. For example, the amount of time spent on any one topic and the degree to which participants expressed emotion varied somewhat across the interviews.

 

Characteristics of the Sample: Questionnaire Data


Based on the women's responses to the questionnaire, what did we learn about their lives? Here we selectively examine some of the demographic data.

The mean age of the sample was 36 years. The sample can be said to be largely Appalachian. Most participants (97%) identified a West Virginia home address, and 73% located their homes in the two counties surrounding the College. Furthermore, a good number of the women had spent most of their childhood in West Virginia: 81% had either lived this entire time in West Virginia or had lived out of the state no more than 5 years.

Virtually all the women were white. We anticipated the sample would be overwhelmingly white, as the overall student body was 91% white, 6% African-American, and 3% Asian, Hispanic, or American Indian. Comparative data on black reentry women would be enormously helpful.

The women had experienced relatively stable childhoods in that 76% reported that their parents were married during their childhood. Most by far (91%) identified their mother as the most important woman in their rearing, and 24-45% reported than their mothers (or mother substitutes) had worked at various times outside of the home during their childhood or adolescent years. Eighty percent of the sample identified their father as the most important man in their rearing.

The women were asked about the formal education of their parents (or parent substitutes). The profiles for mothers and fathers are strikingly alike. About 25% had not progressed into high school. Thirty-one percent had graduated from high school. About 4% had graduated from a 4-year college, and none had earned a more advanced degree.

At the time of the questionnaire, 57% of the sample was married, with 8% having been married more than once. Twenty-four percent was divorced or separated, 12% had never married, and 7% was widowed. About 70% had children 18 years of age and under. The average number of children reported was 1.83, and no one reported having more than 4 children.

Unsurprisingly, perhaps, the spouses/partners of the women had achieved more formal education than had their parents. Only 2% had not reached high school; 33% had graduated from high school; 27% had graduated from a 4-year college or earned the master's degree.

Considerable variation existed in current family income. At the extremes, 21% reported gross annual income of $O to 9,999, and 22% reported gross annual income of at least $50,000. Income was related to marital status, with married women reporting higher income.

With respect to previous education, 92% of the sample had graduated from high school and the remainder had earned the G.E.D. The longest time period the women had not been in any kind of school averaged 12 years. In about 45% of the cases this hiatus had occurred after high school, and in about 46% it had occurred after some college or noncollege These data indicate the participants had travelled a variety of educational paths.

The participants had begun the Spring 1992 semester with a median of 49 credit hours, and they were carrying a median of 12 credit hours. The most common majors were nursing (24% of the sample), education (17%), health services administration (12%), and accounting (11%). Ninety-five percent of the women declared that they were working toward a degree, about half toward the associate in science and half toward bachelor degree. Somewhat over half were, also employed, and close to one-third reported working 37 or more hours weekly. Most participants (95%) anticipated having a job/career in the future.

The women financed their college costs in a variety of ways; in fact 51% of the sample reported at least two different financial sources. About half received grant monies. However, eighty percent of the women reported using their own and/or family money, and 39% had taken loans. Only 10% had received scholarships. Although these data do not give dollar amounts provided by the specific sources, they do reflect the participants' willingness to bear at least some of the financial burdens of education.

Participants rated the importance of several possible reasons for their renewed commitment to higher education. All items concerning job/career preparation and advancement and economic benefit were strongly endorsed (71% to 82% rated them moderately or very important). Learning and making something of themselves were also highly rated (81% and 80%, respectively, rated them moderately or very important). So too were becoming more independent feeling competent and being useful to the world (66%, 62%, and 53%, respectively, rated them moderately or very important). The women did not rate relief of boredom or emotional problems as important reasons for their return to school.

The participants were asked about their political and religious life. With regard to political affiliations, 72% identified themselves as Democrats (of these, 45% said they were liberal Democrats). With regard to religion, 62% regarded themselves as religious, 32% as somewhat religious, and only 6% not religious. The women were also asked to rate eight items that collectively can be considered a scale of religious devoutness (Connecticut Mutual, 1981; Morgan, 1987). This scale indicates the degree to which respondents engage in such activities as prayer and reading the Bible, influence others toward religion, feel loved by God, and the like. Data from the scale is discussed in the subsequent section of the paper, which focuses on social attitudes.

Social Attitudes: The Attitudes toward Women Scale

Participants completed the short version of The A Attitudes toward Women Scale (AWS). This scale consists of 25 items than tap attitudes toward the roles and lights of women regarding educational, occupational, and intellectual activities; da sexual, and marital behavior, and social behaviors that might be called etiquette (Spence, Helmreich, and Stapp, 1973). The degree to which respondents hold traditional or liberal, profeminist views is measured. Individuals select one of four alternatives: agree strongly or mildly, and disagree strongly or mildly. Scores can range from 0 (most traditional) to 75 (most liberal). The AWS is a widely used scale, and evidence exists that both the original and short versions are reliable and valid (e.g., Powell and Yanico, 1991).

The mean score for our sample on the AWS was 61.02 (SD=8.25, N=73). This can be compared with the Spence et al. (1973) data for women college students and mothers of women college students, whose mean scores were 50.26 and 41.83 respectively. Overall, the sample appears to hold liberal attitudes toward the roles and rights of women. The relationship of AWS scores to several demographic variables was examined. No significant relationship were found for age, education of parents or spouse/partner, marital status, income, college experience, political party affiliation, employment of mother during childhood, or perception of self as religious. We were somewhat surprised not to find a relationship between AWS scores and some of these variables; it appears that our sample reported liberal attitudes regardless of demographic variations. However, the relationship of AWS scores and religious devoutness did approach significance (t (23) = -1.93, p <.067). Women who placed high on the devoutness scale reported less liberal attitudes than those who placed low. While we do not wish to place undue emphasis on this result it is consonant with previous studies that argue for the influence of religious attitudes on other social attitudes including attitudes about gender (Connecticut Mutual, 1981; Morgan, 1987).

We explored die results of the AWS more fully by determining the percentage of the sample that held a liberal position on each of the 25 items (indicated by a rating of mildly or strongly agree with the liberal position). The data, provided in Appendix A, indicate clear and strong support for women's intellectual and social leadership. They also show strong profeminist attitudes with regard to women's rights in the workplace and law, social and economic freedom, freedom of action, and division of labor inside and outside of the home. Somewhat less liberal beliefs were endorsed for items pertaining to etiquette and social norms for language, sex, and dating. Even so, on all but two items over 70% of the women took a liberal stance.

Leadership Behavior and Attitudes: Interview Data

As previously noted, it was our intent to interview women who varied somewhat in age, income, marital status, and religious attitudes. The actual sample roughly satisfied this goal except that all of the women were or had been married (the two potential participants who had never married were unable to keep their appointments). The women ranged in age from 28 to 46. They reported a wide range of annual family income. Two were widows, four were in their only marriages, and six were divorced or separated. Ten had children aged 18 or under. They ranged from religious to nonreligious. They resided in small communities and hollows that retain much of the character of bygone coal mining communities.

Issues of leadership were raised during the interviews in the more general context of how the participants perceived, and understood, power. We were interested in how they saw women's power in society, how they perceived higher education as a tool for empowerment in their own lives, and how religion and the church might relate to such issues. Our approach did not specifically ask about leadership roles. We did not offer a definition of power or leadership but the question of power subsequently led most of the respondents into a discussion of their leadership roles and related attitudes.

Actual and Perceived Leadership

Perhaps it is not surprising than many respondents identified their sense of power and leadership in the context of religious activities. In small West Virginia communities, women's activities are seen as necessary and legitimate in only restricted realms. Outside of church roles, the women discussed their leadership in the PTA, Scouts and Special Olympics which all relate to children. Leadership in women!s traditional organizations (the Woman's Club and the Garden Club) was also noted. With two exceptions, no mention was made of other leadership activity. The restrictive norms that sanction women's roles in these communities was described by one respondent who explained what people said about her neighbor:

 

Researcher.- Do you are going to end up being more active in the community? Taking a more leadership role?...
Participant. I will probably have a little more leadership in the community I would say ... I don't know ... this girl who lives beside me ... she is in nursing and I just hear comments from the other neighbors saying she is never home and you will never know when she is going to be home and the kids just run wild and I don't want that attached to me ... I don't want them to say things like that about me ... so ... as far ... like at church and things like that ... I can be more in leadership role ...


Eight of the twelve women interviewed held or had held formal organizational positions of leadership in church and community organizations. Two women held only church positions, three only community positions, and three both church and community positions.

The church positions held were those traditionally assigned to women (Briggs, 1987). They included Sunday School teacher (2), member of Board of Missionary Society and Junior Board (1), youth group leader (2), deaconess (1), church secretary (1), church recorder (1), and United Methodist Women President (1). The women active in the church described the presence of gender hierarchies, and several commented bitterly on the restricted roles women were allowed to play. In the words of one woman:

 

Participant: ...you are not really doing with what the Lord says, He's the head of everything ... y'all going by man's doctrine ... it got real rough one Sunday ... it's something that will go on and on...


At the same time, when questioned further, the interviewees believed that women are indeed the base upon which the church rests and that without their participation the church could not function. One interviewee put it this way:

 

Participant: ...we have a lot of disagreement in our church about women ministers ... they fail to realize that the women are running the church ...more women are in church now than are men ... women are into everything in the church now ... church does not run without women ...


Moreover, these church women used their influence and power in the context of their positions. The President of the United Methodist Women described how she had organized programs that raised women's issues, and four other women gave specific descriptions of how they had openly argued in church on issues related to women.

The issue of abortion was raised with each participant. We were particularly interested in how women strongly embedded in churches that opposed abortion would respond. All twelve of the women felt they did not have the right to tell another woman what to do. Five also made strong statements that they were personally very opposed to abortion. Even one of the most religiously active women who believed abortion was wrong could not bring herself to say that she should dictate the choice of another woman. All the women connected to the church stated theirs is a minority opinion, and several indicated they had been vocal dissidents. One woman described an argument in Sunday School:

 

Participant: I am a firm believer in choice. I don't think you should tell anybody under any circumstances what to do with their own body.
Researcher: Now, tell me about the Sunday School class discussions on this ...
Participant: That was the first one I stood on ... that was the very first one. We had a Sunday School teacher that was avidly opposed to abortion and I said, you are going to tell me if your sixteen year-old neighbor, her mother was kicking her out because she wouldn't get an abortion, you would take her in and raise her in your home and you would raise that baby? And he stumbled around and he never would answer me. I said that is why she is getting an abortion. She has no place to go and no choice. I said ... don't condemn her ... she has no other choice. There are no people in her life that are willing to see her for what she is and take her in. You don't give her another choice besides abortion. Do you want to offer her another choice? No ... so don't stand here and talk about you think that people should not be given choices.


This example and the discussions about abortion indicate that the interviewees who held a liberal pro-choice view were willing on occasion to raise and argue their views. Thus, their leadership in the church was sometimes more than formal position; it could extend into upholding women's rights.

The traditionally accepted community positions held by the respondents included PTA President (2); member of Board of Special Olympics (1); Scout leader (2); Women's Club President, Vice-President, Secretary and Treasurer (1); Garden Club President (1); and organizer of a girls' dance troupe (1).

There was an exception to traditional community leadership positions. One respondent had attempted to join the all-male Civitan Club in her community. When she was rebuffed, she organized another chapter that would take in women, and subsequently held all the positions possible in that organization. She was also the individual who was a leader in the Special Olympics program in her community and although she had not held church positions, she was an active churchgoer. Unlike the respondent quoted earlier, who was concerned about the community's perception of her leadership, this respondent indicated a greater independence of community sanctions. She described her defense of Gay Rights in her Sunday School Class and when asked how the church people had reacted she laughingly said "We are all friends again but I'm not sure what they say behind my back".

One of the women interviewed has become active in campus activities and has emerged as a real leader among the older women on campus. She helped organize a peer support group for nontraditional students, and was elected a Senator in the Student Government Association. Her past leadership experience had been in the Woman's Club in her community. Despite her obvious leadership abilities, she described her role totally in terms of the concept of networking:

 

Participant: We did not perceive ourselves as strong women. We had to build that self-esteem. When we started we did not see ourselves as strong at all. We were very wishy-washy. Now, we realize that we are intimidating some people because we do not operate as individuals. When you see us, you see us in groups. What one lacks in strengths, the other may have. So we operate as a group. We have meetings and different things we discuss. Wait a minute ... there's a certain man on campus, we network that information. We either go straight to the top male or we find someone who will go to the top for us when we find some we don't like or we will spread the word through the network.
Researcher. You are talking about a women's support network?
Participant: There's a lot of unofficial members of it that only come in when something needs to be done. There is not an official [group].


It is quite remarkable that none of the respondents articulated themselves as leaders or as politically influential. Indeed, among the three women who appeared most active in formal leadership roles, there was denial of "political" activity. The woman who provided an accurate and powerful analysis of male supremacy in her church and her role in resisting it stated that she didn't "mess" with politics. The woman who organized the female-inclusive Civitan Chapter denied she would be interested in a political office and when questioned further as to what arena she would choose for a challenge answered "in the area of children's rights". The woman who held the greatest number of positions in the group (both community and church) responded in this way when asked about political involvement:

 

Researcher: Could you ever see yourself becoming involved in some realm of politics?
Participant: Sure, I suppose, I don't see any reason why I would not become involved.
Researcher. But, you have never really thought much about it? Participant: No, I really haven't had time to think much about it.


The irony is that this respondent has not "had time" because she has been so busy being a Cub Scout leader, a youth group leader, the church Secretary, and the President of the PTA (as well as earning a bachelor's degree and raising two children)! Would a man who held analogous community positions be far more likely to "think" about politics?

Two of the women who had not or did not hold formal positions might also be described as leaders if a broad definition of leadership is adopted. Both of these women described themselves as survivors of physical or mental abuse. Both were struggling to strengthen their self esteem. But even under those conditions they described themselves as seeking out other women who were having difficulties and providing support and information to them. One woman was not embedded in any specific community organizations, and was somewhat disdainful of more traditional women's activities. But she was clearly part of community networks and had been involved in political campaigns. She described herself as a person who used her contacts to "rescue" others in need:

 

Participant: It depends on what you mean by active. As far as being out and being seen in the newspaper, no ... Everybody I know is either in a horrible domestic violence situation, or in terrible poverty and they have all these kids and they don't know what to do and I've worked with them constantly. I consider them like projects and awful as it sounds, there is something that always has to be done...


If leadership is defined as the ability to provide others with answers that they need, and give them support to empower themselves, these women might well be included as leaders.

Attitudes Toward Women's Political Leadership

There was another means by which we were able to probe the issue of leadership in the interviews. The previous spring in West Virginia a woman had challenged the Governor in the Democratic primary. State Senator Charlotte Pritt had run a powerful grassroots campaign and had come close to defeating a millionaire male incumbent. Charlotte had sought grass roots support and had run on a platform that included women's rights (Ewen, 1992). All the respondents were asked to comment on their perception and reactions to her candidacy.

All but one of the respondents indicated "support" of her campaign; the lone dissenter rejected Pritt but not the idea of a woman governor. Two of the respondents had actually been involved in the campaign itself, two stated they had voted for Pritt, and others described their support in vaguer terms. One woman said she was more aware of the Pritt campaign than she was of Clinton's, but blamed college work for taking up the time that she might have had to become more involved. Another woman who felt positive toward Charlotte described her reasons for not voting. This respondent touches the powerlessness that many women feel in relationship to the male-dominated political arena (Ackelsberg and Diamond, 1987):

 

Participant: ... women think differently ... better solutions to problems if we had a woman for president and I really think that's what we need..
Researcher: But you didn't vote.
Participant: Somehow I just think it really doesn't make much of a difference.
Researcher: There are a lot of people that would agree with you...a lot of people don't vote ... were you aware of Pritt?
Participant: Yeah and I really hoped she won.
Researcher: You hoped she would win but it wasn't enough to make you vote?
Participant: No...
Researcher.- Could you explain that to me?
Participant: It's not been made to seem real important ... they should make women feel that they count ... if you can make them feel that they count and everything that they do is going to mean something, you might have more to vote...
Researcher: So, you weren't sure that your vote would mean anything...
Participant: I sort of think that women have felt that anything they have done has not really meant anything ... so why should she go do it...?


This example may symbolize a powerlessness that women may especially feel in regard to the sphere of official public leadership so often considered "masculine". In fact, without exception the interviewees strongly supported the idea of a female Governor (even relished it!) but did not readily link themselves to official political leadership roles. Nevertheless, powerlessness was not a major theme of the interviews. The women described their influence in traditional ways - through church and community positions and informal networking and support of others. They not only held some liberal views, but on occasion took a controversial public stand. They were often aware of the contributions they made to their churches and communities. However, even in realms in which they functioned relatively comfortably, they tended not to couch their roles and activities in terms of leadership.

Discussion

This study was an exploration into the lives of reentry students conducted by two researchers who hold common feminist interests but different disciplinary perspectives. On the one hand, we found the expected. As a group the Appalachian women we studied varied considerably in demographic variables such as age, marital status, family income, and college experience.

The data suggest that the women were embedded in networks of family, church, and community. For the most part, those who participated in the interviews viewed themselves as very much a part of at least some of these networks. Several painted a rich picture of their relationships and roles within the networks, reflecting what others have found to be the historical pattern of Appalachian families (Jones, 1992 ). Many had assumed at some time in their lives both the traditional formal leadership roles as well as the informal, supportive roles associated with womanhood. In returning to college for various reasons, a substantial proportion of the entire sample had selected traditionally female majors and most all expected to be employed in the future. Such data make it appear that the women might easily be considered "traditional" - as playing out their lives on what is now considered well travelled and socially acceptable grounds.

On the other hand, we were struck by the extent to which the sample endorsed liberal positions on the AWS scale, as well as the degree of leadership, liberal attitudes about abortion, and support of female political leadership described by those who participated in the interviews. In interpreting this overall finding, the possibility of sample bias must be recognized. Perhaps women with relatively liberal tendencies had been more likely to accept the invitation to participate in the study. In addition, on our small campus some of the participants were aware of our feminist views, which may have influenced their responses in this direction. We are also unable to determine the extent to which such attitudes predated or followed the women's reentry into higher education. Are women with greater awareness of gender issues more likely to be the ones who return to college? To what extent is the educational process itself a catalyst for women who are less conscious of gender issues but open to influence from faculty and staff role models and exposure to wider intellectual horizons? Alternately, to what degree are the relatively liberal opinions that may predate reentry strengthened by higher educational experiences? We do know that the interviewees reported that college had given them greater confidence to express their opinions. One active churchwoman described the strengthening of her self-confidence in this way:

 

Researcher: What impact did going to college have on your sense of this? Did you get stronger in your convictions about these kinds of things after you went back to school?
Participant: Yes ... because I had that strength that I could speak up ... I had the grammar ... I never knew what that was ... I could pick it up and throw these words at you and stuff ... it was a great influence too...


We wonder how these reentry women managed to function in traditional ways while holding liberal, profeminist ideology. Based on the interviews, it appears that the women themselves may not have been fully aware of how they tolerated or resolved what appear to be contradictions. In fact, although the women sometimes acknowledged contradictions, the degree to which they perceived them is unclear. For example, none of the women asserted themselves to be leaders and they seemed baffled and uncomfortable by questions about power. Although such behavior is not uncommon in women (Kitzinger, 1991), might it be interpreted as a mechanism to avoid that which could be judged as socially threatening to others or themselves? The participants also did not strongly view themselves as confronting ideological differences; they merely did what needed to be done including, when necessary, defending their views. Hill-Collins (1990) indicates a similar pattern in her study of black women. She suggests that women community workers are more likely to engage in "strategic affiliation' and reject ideology as the overarching framework for structuring political activism.

The more conservative responses to AWS items regarding social etiquette and certain other social behaviors might also be interpreted in this context. Most of the women in the sample lived in and had been reared in communities in which swearing and intoxication are violations of religious norms and unacceptable female behavior. In the old-time coal camps, the bars had belonged to the men, who sought escape from the frustration and oppression of the mines through alcohol (Greene, 1986). Women had been charged with maintaining morality and order. Having been socialized in such communities, the women in the sample apparently held as somewhat important the traditional community morality norms related to personal behavior, even while they sometimes challenged more fundamental norms of gender role restrictions.

This exploratory study does not allow us to predict whether the views the women hold on equality will be an impetus to challenge male dominance over leadership roles in public and more visible activities. Their attitudes and the presumed consequences of their educational experiences may be limited to issues of equality in the workplace and the more traditional realms of home, church, and community. As feminist teachers we of course hope that higher education will broaden their perspectives and provide the tools to broaden their leadership. As feminist researchers, we would also hope that the work we have embarked on will lead to greater understanding of women who are returning to college at this historical time and in the situational context of what we call Appalachia.




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Appendix A

Percentage of Women Who Took a Liberal Position With Regard to Items on the Attitudes Toward Women Scale*

Percent Item as it appears on the Attitudes Toward Women Scale

100 - Under modern economic conditions with women being active outside the home, men should share in household tasks such as washing dishes and doing the laundry. (L)

99 - On the average, women should be regarded as less capable of contributing to economic production than are men. (T)

97 - Women should be concerned with their duties of childrearing and house-tending, rather than with desires for professional and business careers. (T)

97 - There should be a strict merit system in job appointment and promotion without regard to sex. (L)

96 - Women should be given equal opportunity with men for apprenticeship in the various trades. (L)

96 - Women should take increasing responsibility for leadership in solving the intellectual and social problems of the day. (L)**

96 - Both husband and wife should be allowed the same grounds for divorce. (L)

96 - The husband should not be favored by law over the wife in the disposal of family property or income. (L)

94 - It is ridiculous for a woman to run a locomotive and for a man to darn socks. (T)

92 - The intellectual leadership of a community should be largely in the hands of men. (T)**

91 - Sons in a family should be given more encouragement to go to college than daughters. (T)

90 - Women should assume their rightful place in business and all the professions along with men. (L)

88 - The modern girl is entitled to the same freedom from regulation and control that is given to the modern boy. (L)

85 - In general, the father should have greater authority than the mother in bringing up the children. (T)

83 - A woman should not expect to go to exactly the same places or to have quite the same freedom of action as a man. (T)

83 - There are many jobs in which men should be given preference over women in being hired and promoted. (T)

81 - Women should worry less about their rights and more about becoming good wives and mothers. (T)

81 - Economic and social freedom is worth far more to women than acceptance of the ideal of femininity which has been set up by men. (L)

80 - Intoxication among women is worse than intoxication among men. (T)

77 - A woman should be as free as a man to propose marriage. (L)

76 - Women earning as much as their dates should bear equally the expense when they go out together. (l)

74 - Telling dirty jokes should be mostly a masculine prerogative. (T)

72 - It is insulting to women to have the "obey" clause remain in the marriage service. (L)

42 - Women should be encouraged not to become sexually intimate with anyone before marriage, even their fiances. (T)

40 - Swearing and obscenity are more repulsive in the speech of a woman than of a man. (T)

* The liberal position is reflected in mild or strong agreement with (l) items and mild or strong disagreement with (T) items.

** Items directly related to leadership.


© 1997, Journal of Rural Community Psychology