Women of the Upper Class by Susan A. Ostrander

Category: Sociology

The book Women of the Upper Class (published in 1984) was the first book of Susan Ostrander. Ostrander is a professor of Sociology at Western Reserve University. Since social inequalities, such as class, gender, race, immigration, were the issues for her experiment, the author wrote this book to provide a general view of the upper-class women. 

This book became the first substantial research of the women of the upper class. Nobody had really explored the elite women as a special social class before Ostrander, with several exceptions. The author was encouraged to write this book by the lack of valid data about such women. Previous researches were concentrated on the men of the upper class. Women in these surveys were mentioned superficially as men’s wives and not more. 

What do people know about women of the upper class? They believe that these women spend their days sunbathing, lying near the pool, and doing nothing. They think their life is a paradise, and such a view is constantly promoted through the media. Consequently, the stereotypes are formed. Nevertheless, Ostrander in her book debunks all the myths regarding this issue. She reveals the other side of the upper-class women’s life. The book helps to evaluate the real contribution of these women to the society, politics, and the cultural life of the United States.

The distinguishing feature of this book is its objectivity. In order to be objective, the author recounts all the previous theme research, though its number is limited. Personal interviews constitute more than 95% of this book. Thus, the information provided reveals the actual opinions of the women.

Ostrander follows all the requirements necessary for a good and valid research. In the first two chapters, she explains the main terms and methods used while writing this book. The readers get acquainted with the main characters of the book and learn the meaning of the upper class. To show the life of the upper-class women, the author covers four main aspects concerning the main roles of a woman, namely a wife, a mother, a club member, and a community volunteer. In the third chapter, Ostrander develops the role of a rich man’s wife. She is impressed by what she found. Firstly, she knows from the interviews that the women believe that their social class is not established by their husbands’ positions.  They intend to establish it by the social origin. These women do not like being judged by their wealth either. They prefer to become known for their own achievements. Secondly, there is a strict patriarchic marriage pattern followed in these families. Ostrander does not approve that fact, since she believes these women are not worse than their husbands are.

In the fourth chapter, the author investigates the sense of the upper-class motherhood. Consequently, the readers discover that the women of the uppers class have to meet the society expectations in everything. They have to fulfill their wife and mother duties accordingly, and they are obliged to teach their children how to do it. The main task of these women is to teach their children to meet the demands and standards of the upper class. The main goal mentioned by nearly every woman is something they have in common with all the mothers worldwide. They want their children to realize their potential, receive good education, get a corresponding job, and successfully marry somebody. Considering the upper class’ context, all these purposes are viewed differently. The first thing the upper-class children have to know is that they are different from other children. Since their childhood, everyone has been expecting to do their best in order to develop their potential. For achieving this aim, they have all the conditions needed. In addition, they can study only at boarding upper-class schools. They are guarded against other children and negative influence. This kind of upbringing and education intends to promote their successful job position and marriage. As compared to the children of the lower classes, the upper-class children must be always successful. They are deprived of the right to make mistakes.

In the fifth chapter, Ostrander explains the role of club membership for the women of the upper class. According to her investigation, these clubs play a role of a filter to separate the right members from the wrong ones in the upper class. This is a kind of face control function: if one is in the club, he or she is accepted among the rest members of the upper class. Nevertheless, the criteria to get in the club are quite prejudiced. They are famous for their racial and religious discrimination. Meanwhile, women consider club membership as a place to relax with their friends. This is a place for the informal communication. Still Ostrander considers it as a negative fact. The author concludes that the club membership is an exclusive circle. In order to get there, people must have some friends, and without being among the club people, especially the newcomers cannot make friends.

The last aspect of upper-class women’s life is depicted in the sixth chapter. Ostrander defines the meaning of the community volunteer work. Ostrander’s responders report that the volunteer work gives them sense of deep satisfaction; it is a part of a family tradition, and a special way to contribute to the community. The author summarizes their words claiming that involvement in the community work is a kind of lifestyle. Such activity is a substitute to an ordinary paid work. Most of the women insist that the volunteer work is even better than the paid job since they do not have to depend on the salary. Besides, it does not interfere with their family duties. The other advantage named by the women is the possibility to take a leadership position. There are also tensions and certain disadvantages of being a volunteer. Ostrander responders admit that they do not have any alternatives for their self-actualization.  Volunteer work seems to them as a social obligation, as well as their debt to the society.  They can justify their wealth by fundraising and helping other people to get money. Nevertheless, it is not always satisfactory. Part of the women tends to say that the volunteer work only creates an illusion of being useful. According to Ostrander, “Most of the women derive personal satisfaction and a feeling of accomplishment from the work they do. At the same time, value of these accomplishments is somewhat vague, from the point of actually solving community problems” (p.124).

In this chapter, Ostrander also explains the connection between volunteerism and class power. The upper-class women participate in the volunteer work not only for charity, but also to control the working class. Consequently, they prevent the government from controlling different organizations.

In the last chapter, the author summarizes the whole book. Conducting research before writing the book, Ostrander did not really have its result. The author estimated all the advantages and disadvantages of belonging to the upper class. It is obvious from the book that rich women have to pay a high price to be an upper-class woman.  Their status commits them to hide their problems, and the society has many demands to them. Women of the upper class realize that jealousy will persecute them until the end of their lives. To justify their wealth, they become involved in the volunteer work. They are never lying idly near the pool; they are always involved in some activities.

Susan Ostrander reached her goal in this book. She made an objective research of the upper-class women’s life. She explored the unknown disadvantages of women’s life and contributed to the contemporary society. The book Women of the Upper Class is useful for the broad audience. It provides the whole picture of the life of reach people.  

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