Women and Voluntarism

PART III Woman at work

Under the influence of the new feminism, one hears everywhere in the United States the battle cry, »Equal Pay for Equal Work!« The cutting edge, the powerful weapon, in this formidable struggle is the irrefutable fact of the inequity inherent in the economic life of American working women. But what of the more than thirteen million volunteers who »work« for no pay at all—a virtual underground of ant-like burrowers in our social welfare institutions?[1] How are we to assess with the strange and powerful contradictions their situations represents?
Volunteering is beautiful sings out a new pop-art poster in the supermarket to the woman wheeling her consumer cart. Sooner or later, Mrs. Public is bound to respond, especially if her children are at school all day and she is over thirty-five. This appeal is directly bound up with one of the oldest, most subtle, most complicated ways in which women have been disengaged from the economy with their own eager cooperation—the well-known but little explored phenomenon of voluntarism.
The feminists of the late nineteenth and early twentieth century believed that as women became emancipated, they would seek the world of work. One of them, writing in 1903,[2] even envisioned apartment-house child-care hostels, cafeterias, and other social innovations making such freedom for women possible. But this anticipated evolution has not come to pass, and the nuclear age has found social welfare more in need of voluntary personnel than ever before.
In an era of greater leisure, the acute but submerged desires of women of all classes to find expression for their lives beyond the home have been met with a »new voluntarism,« described as the fulfillment of one's social responsibility in this climate of national conscience. The designation is as timely as the need is urgent, and while young people and retirees of both sexes are also being sought for volunteer work, it is the women, due to their conditioning to serve and their long history of serving, who will naturally respond in droves, no matter who ostensibly is being addressed.[3]
In rural town, major city, and surrounding suburb, women volunteers in America perform a dizzying catalog of assignments without pay—from leading 4-H clubs to guiding visitors through art museums, from translating Braille to helping hospital therapists, from tutoring blacks and Puerto Ricans to teaching English to foreigners. They excel at collecting money—from cake sales for the PTA to funding symphonies and private schools. (As we shall see later, this involvement with money is one of their greatest hungers.)
Exact data on the genuine efficacy of the thousands of jobs these women perform are unavailable; yet everyone has at one time or another met a woman who has regularly or occasionally given her energies to an assignment.[4] In 1965 an economist estimated the monetary worth of volunteer work, at 14.2 billion dollars.[5] Since recently young teenage and single women have joined the volunteer force, a feminist analysis may have special relevance and offer insight to the population as a whole. For women, who most often recruit each other into volunteer assignments,[6] consciousness-raising on the meaning of voluntarism in their lives is in order, especially since the Nixon administration is preparing a seven-million-dollar media campaign in 1971, under the National Center for Voluntary Action headed by George Romney, to persuade citizens to offer their services on the domestic front—in housing, health, education, rehabilitation, child care—while the national budget continues to give priority to defense and weaponry.
Why do women volunteer? Powerful social disapproval, coupled with their own psychological conditioning of self-negation and ambivalent self-realization, compels women to regard themselves as marginal jobholders except in times of family crisis or poverty. In addition, our free enterprise system is unable to guarantee full employment; women, along with youth, early retirees,  and military personnel, are expendable. As a result, to fill this gap, women have created an impressive network of service systems, many over 100 years old.
While jobholding women are prominent on the feminist scene, the silent housewife-volunteer, often disapproving of her employed sisters with an air of superior compassion, raises many questions that feminists must consider. How did women come to be America's leading volunteers? Why do women so readily attach themselves to the Establishment in this way? Why do they so enjoy fundraising, for instance? How does their pseudo work function? Is it effective from the community's view, from the professionals' view, in women's own estimation? Why have trained, educated, »aware« women opted for voluntarism, instead of structured work or creativity, during or after child-rearing years? Curiously, these and other questions are rarely seriously considered in the writings of either male professional social workers or female administrators of volunteer bureaus; their concerns are mainly programmatic, statistical, and recruitment-oriented. Radical critiques now proliferating in education, the sciences, and sociology are absent. It is particularly strange that few professional writings on women volunteers are analytical in depth since until recently, »volunteer« was synonymous with »woman.« Voluntarism remains a vast but hidden subculture of American women's lives, often not understood by the participants themselves; certainly, it deserves serious investigation in any formation of feminist ideology. As William L. O'Neill, historian-author of Everyone Was Brave, has pointed out, the basic conditions necessary for genuine female equality are radical and profound analysis of themselves, their social context and their possibilities, which has been so conspicuously absent up to this point.[8]
During the Civil War women first became volunteers as we now know them,[9] replacing the men who had left for the war front as »visitors to the poor.« Earlier, during the colonial period, women had served in self-segregated religious groups preaching Christianity to the wayward and helping the sick and poor, in much the same way nuns in modern times have served Catholicism. (It is no wonder that so many of our first evangelists were women.) Later, the drive westward raised the status of women; pioneer society greatly needed their contributions on the frontier. By the Civil War, organizations such as the YMCA, Children's Aid, B'nai Brith, Society of St. Vincent de Paul, and Community Service Society were initiated to deal with the growth of cities and the problems spewed out by the Industrial Revolution—child labor, family disorganization, pauperism, and the like. By the turn of the century, a new profession, social work, was born. Its first practitioners were women volunteers; its philosophy was shaped by social reformers like Mary Richmond of Philadelphia, Zilpha Smith of Boston, and Jane Addams of Hull House in Chicago. The new profession never developed a coherent sense of labor and capital, for male bankers, industrialists, and philanthropists held the purse strings as members of the boards of directors. As early as 1860 some towns and cities had established governmental welfare boards, so a dual system of public and private social welfare emerged. The need for personnel was great, but it was believed that »good works« performed by citizen volunteers, working together with a few professionals, could do the vast job.
By World War I, a host of familiar service organizations had been established,[10] financed by the »men's world« and staffed by both women professionals and volunteers who were mainly wealthy. Various shifts in the division of labor between these volunteers and professionals eventually crystallized into a system where women volunteers did the paper work, freeing the social workers, particularly in private agencies, to offer counseling and other specialized services.[11] By the 1930s, when relief began to be doled out by government agencies, private agencies further narrowed their »clientele,« and the public sector expanded with a host of New Deal innovations, in order to attend to the societal wreckage of the depression. Soon, professional social workers were unionized, forming the AFL and later CIO Social Service Employees' Unions which even asked for protection against their replacement by volunteers! Even today, the Red Cross carefully places hospital volunteers to avoid competition with the functions of health personnel who are union members.
World War II's use of eleven million Americans in a variety of crisis community tasks on the home front made the middle-class volunteer a visible factor. During that period women—from Rosie the Riveter to Diana the Draftsman—were also welcomed into the labor force;[12] many child-care services suddenly provided by private and industrial agencies made the freedom to work available for women. When »business as usual« resumed after Hiroshima, and young families left cramped city apartments for one-story homes in spacious suburbs, the child-care services disappeared. Women went back to their kitchens and, ironically, yet another brand of voluntarism arose out of their removal to the bedroom communities: do-it-yourself school, community, and recreation »structures« on the new frontier, where the rural enclaves had developed few services. Detouring from employment and education into consumerism and a peak birth rate,[13] women helped maintain the stagecoach era in suburbia— though Sputnik was launched. Without any existing social services to aid them, and in addition to domestic, chauffeuring, and gardening duties, women organized themselves to plug every hole in the community dike. Professional social workers were relieved of the need to initiate services.[14] While voluntarism as a life style declined in the cities where a female elite was weary of war canteen service, it was given new life by middle-class women in suburbia, who, as one sociologist said, needed »the relief of a new anonymity.« Another called voluntarism an attempt to overcome »the suburban sadness.«
Even a superficial overview of the one-hundred-year history of women volunteers, with its peculiar interchange-ability of layman and professional, coupled with social work's beginnings as a woman's profession (somewhat like teaching school) and its failure to demand a purse of its own to fill its ranks (there is still a 30 to 40 percent staff shortage), quickly makes it evident why the helping professions seek volunteers as rocks invite moss.
While sophisticated, intricate technology has developed in industry to accommodate the profit sector, congressman, philanthropists, and businessmen still control the amount of capital allocated to the human services. Once more voluntarism is being used as a placebo for a crash program to combat current fiascos of poverty, welfare, crime, and health. The 1965 federal study of voluntarism surprisingly raises some basic questions in its conclusions:

  • What inadequacies in our social order is voluntarism attempting to overcome? Could they be attacked more suitably by other means? How does the work of the volunteer stack up with that of the job-holder? Should the volunteer attempt to find self-satisfaction, extend the program, or act as a catalytic agent for societal change? Can he do all three?[15]

So far, there are few answers to the above,[16] which will doubtless set many a social agency director or university school of social work professor to scheduling seminars. In addition, planners, economists, and others must consider what effect the existence of a »volunteer pool« has on both the labor supply of the helping professions— beginning to attract young activists in the universities— and those unemployed being helped toward social mobility by the New Careers Act and other legislation under the Office of Economic Opportunity. Both feminists and social thinkers must question the long-range effects of applying volunteer »bandages« to »social hurts«.
For our own purposes, a closer look at the women volunteers themselves is now in order. The middle-aged »classic« women volunteers, are familiar to most of us from personal encounter, news items, and the Helen Hokin-son cartoons that appeared in the New Yorker in the 1940s and 1950s.«[17] As a child in the 1930s, when I saw a woman visiting my mother at midday wearing an exceptional hat, I was told that she »worked for charity.« Many years later as a staff member of a philanthropic organization, I observed that our »large givers« did wear hats; in fact, I was severely criticized by my woman boss when I appeared at a hotel luncheon, well-dressed (contrary to custom) and wearing my own hat! Though recent data show great differentiation of ages and cycles of service for women volunteers,[18] the woman over forty whose children no longer need her daily physical presence is still the one most likely to be found in the ranks of gala ball planners, luncheon givers, bazaar and county-fair throwers; in addition, she may perform a host of other useful work with the many disease foundations such as Cerebral Palsy, March of Dimes, and so forth, wherein those conditioned to view themselves as »more fortunate« help those »less fortunate.« These »empty-nest«[19] women make up also the fundraising armies of countless voluntary clubs and organizations. As they grow older, they provide the work force for the thrift-shop operations of professionally staffed agencies.
In an earlier period, middle-aged women whose husbands were upper-class executives were expected to participate in these events out of noblesse oblige, as an aristocracy in a community »court.« Thus, service cliques among women of the same class were created in the form of voluntary board elites with decision-making power as well —  such as sectarian family services and Junior Leagues. These organizations gave wealthy woman an aura of superiority that they otherwise lacked since the world still indelibly defined them by their husbands' incomes, even as Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis is defined today.
Today middle-class women who seek to acquire status outside the home follow much the same paths as upper-class women of an earlier period, joining neighborhood organizations or forming new clubs and groups with women of kindred tastes and income levels. In fact, many women form structures disguised as »causes« and »needs« in order to fulfill their powerful social needs for adult contact. Those who go beyond their neighborhood to offer their services to established volunteer outlets (aside from disease foundations, most of the private-agency needs are unknown in neighborhoods because of poor public relations) tend to have more education and sophistication and a family tradition of female service. The loneliness they feel in their well-furnished homes and apartments, empty until 3 p.m. or dinner, is assuaged by their involvement with the self-created »work« that women without special training can do together with their trained and paid contemporaries in an office building or an institution.
A decade ago, »empty-nest« upper-class women like these became »Lady Bountifuls,« who took their baskets to personally distribute the needed food to the poor family living on the wrong side of the railroad tracks. The recipients of this personal philanthrophy, today disapproved by social work philosophy, never questioned these women's superiority; the poor invariably deferred to these representatives of benevolent capitalism in seeming appreciation for staving off hunger. Most men saw these women as meddling unsophisticates who should have stayed with their social teas and committees and kept out of those things in society they little understood. Wealthy husbands viewed, and often still view, their wives as parasitic, insufficiently interested in their domestic affairs, pampered with services and appliances of all kinds that they, the men, make possible through their daily sweat.[20] To the working professional, the ubiquitous woman volunteer, available for daytime hours (unlike the male volunteer who arrived for an evening decision-making meeting or influenced his peers on the outside of the agency), was a source of tension, sometimes a nuisance, always requiring deferential treatment and patience. The volunteers themselves often acted as though they deserved these evaluations: serving as a dedicated person without payment in a money culture invariably results in the assumption of attitudes of superiority and the halo of goodness; these are not easy to take in ordinary human relations.
While the external situation in voluntarism has changed today—men increasingly encourage women to take on interests beyond the home (gynecologists frequently recommend volunteer activity to women undergoing menopause, as do their traveling salesmen husbands), and understaffed social agencies value their presence more than ever—the motivations of the women who do volunteer work are still much the same as they have always been for those who have not used other options beyond domesticity.[21]
Let us speculate on some of the conscious and unconscious motivations that cause women to become unpaid volunteers. The most obvious reason is their legitimate need to leave the home and »see the world.« The image of American women as preoccupied with homemaking, interior decor, shopping, bread-baking, animal and garden-loving, environment-creating, as well as mothering, is designed to lock her into place and it succeeds. However, neither the image nor the reality always satisfies woman's strong needs for achievement, despite her so-called »people orientation« as opposed to male's »thing-mindedness.«[22] American women, it seems, do wish to leave the home whenever possible, to be with others. Because still-strong Puritan conditioning in American men sanctions her escape from the home only under favorable circumstances, such as all-female bridge or mah-jongg games or an innocuous sales job in the neighborhood, the American woman, especially if lower- or middle-class, avoids the hedonistic pleasures of real work away from her local area, feeling the unconscious disapproval which might view her behavior as tinged with egotism or sexuality. (This latter is particularly true of blue-collar wives.) Cultural or other explorations are made, using the rationale that it is »good for the children« when they are young. Perhaps the development of so many »separate but equal« women's voluntary organizations is a reflection of this conditioning.
Even if women leave the home, they act out the biblical helpmate tradition still central to our culture. As they turn from domesticity, they seek to perform in the larger society the same tasks of mothering and maintenance that they carry out inside the home; they become part of paternalistic institutional life—hospitals, schools, churches, synagogues, and other places where men's presence and influence has shaped a sense of family. This »need to be needed« when she is away from her kitchen is still quite strong in American women. Some have claimed this quality in her love is genetic and creates problems of possessiveness, but, more probably, it has been indelibly taught and over-learned. American woman's proclivity to disguise her own needs, even to herself, is striking; she is thoroughly imbued with the philosophy of »being busy means being happy.« In fact, her astonishing hyperactivity in a limited sphere may make it difficult for her to recognize her social alienation or her need for self-development. For even in voluntary efforts women who serve are so highly praised by men that they accept rarely being included in the serious and expensive efforts that require decision making or planning.[23]
Women who become volunteers because they want to »do something useful« are most often merely lonely and empty. Without special talents in music, art, theater, or entertaining and socialization, and without the inner resources to consciously set goals of learning or paid employment, or even to discover simple pleasures of living, these women continuously shop, attend TV screenings, play bingo, or go to luncheons requiring donations of small sums to this or that cause. They are also the planners of »benefits« and bazaars of bewildering variety and extraneousness—a major use of women's energies in voluntary organizations. Fundraising professionals realize that corporate or foundation giving in large amounts for necessary »causes« is less costly in terms of operating costs (and more efficiently spent), than small sums harvested from a wide base; however, since the involvement of so many available volunteers is a factor, the ends are determined by the means at hand—mostly women with time on their hands.
Psychiatrist Thomas Szasz recently remarked that women as a group are insecure because they lack power. Surely the making of money is the supreme act of personal power in our society. By allying themselves with this process, women must surely feel strength—even if counterfeit. Association with impressive looking buildings and institutions of venerable age that have the look of authority makes them feel at least symbolically included in power. Although she is still defined as her husband's economic dependent, the married woman nevertheless regards herself as autonomous and unless there is economic need or a desire for luxuries can find no reason to become part of the economic machinery. It is far easier to do the pseudowork of »making money« than to earn it in any real sense. Most women do not opt for the concomitants of paid employment—fixed hours, rigid routines set by others, monotony, regularity, and particularly, men's control— unless driven to do so by economic circumstances or unless such self-discipline is necessary for a vocation chosen prior to marriage. Women defer the »next logical step« after mothering—job, education, political or social careers, creative work—and fail to consider the alternatives; more often than not they assume the neighborhood life style. Even women who are college graduates [24] display psychological weakness in facing the implications of their groping for sophistication; they are stifled by their own paralyzing anxieties over failing or losing the esteem of the women around them—representing society—who appear to cherish motherhood as an all-embracing role. Husbands appear impossibly formidable opponents in the competition that might result if their wives sought self-realization. In much that American women do after marriage and child-rearing, especially in their drift into this and that—taking courses, traveling, voluntarism—their unconscious desire to appear innocuous and uncontentious predominates.
Another reason why many women choose to be volunteers is obvious.[25] As women attempt to synthesize their duties at home with their identification with a self-in-society, they are confronted with an »all-or-nothing« choice that is difficult for them to make. Except for women with rare skills, part-time work on a broad scale is not available beyond office, sales, reception, restaurant, publishing, real estate and allied insurance fields. Voluntarism often seems luce the only way that married women can be involved in interesting work with and for others outside the home. It is still very difficult to convince American industry and technology that there is a labor reservoir of women interested in a part-time schedule, which businessmen still consider a burden to their routines. CATALYST, a woman's organization founded in 1962, is attempting to publicize the fact that over five million women college graduates in the United States are not utilizing their education, partially because of the »traditional employment pattern.« Indeed, a part-time employment campaign for skilled married women is overdue; women's groups themselves have ignored the need for such an attempt. Newtime, a commercial agency in New York City, is attempting to place women in jobs between 9 A.M. and 3 p.m. to accommodate young mothers. The absence of part-time opportunities for women is one of the reasons for a recent rise in the number of hardy, independent women who sell arts and crafts products by mail order, establish boutiques, and conduct assorted »arts« forays with pin-money capital—self-initiated ventures that give women flexible hours for combining wifehood and motherhood. (A Women's Division within the N.Y. State Department of Commerce advises and guides such undertakings.) University programs in »continuing education« which promise certificates and degrees for part-time study, are quickly snapped up by women whenever they are offered.
Another motive for becoming a volunteer, not always guessed at by men, is the need for a changed self-image. After years of domesticity when the world has passed her by, a woman must bolster her confidence before seeking work; many times a »first step« in this process is becoming a volunteer. In social work, health, and welfare, women may find woman executives who serve as their models for future goals, in much the same way as female teachers serve as models for little girls. Since social welfare in general is »nonprofit,« the woman feels less pressured for performance than she would with a profit-making company. Employment agencies know enough to describe prospective jobs as »low key« or »nonpressure« to the woman who has been at home for several years and is conditioned to feeling she could not handle a situation that demands speed. Instinctively, a woman feels safer where concrete measurement of results and specific achievement are not the goals; hence she frequents the »human services« scene which has vaguer expectations than other fields. If they dared, women would truly like to compete with men via achievement for their share of the wealth, but they avoid confrontation by evading the arena itself. Reared on principles of »pleasing a man« and »being nice,« women escape self-knowledge through the constant reminder that their lives are to be fulfilled through their husbands' work; but the heaviest duties of their end of the partnership are generally performed during the first fifteen years of marriage, and then what? The woman volunteer often expresses her fundamental ambivalence either: (1) by working at an unpaid job where she demonstrates her superiority over others but does not reflect on her husband's earning power; or (2) by assuming a decision-making and planning role in the voluntary organization equal to her husband's at his job, where she creates her own organizational life and reflects on her husband's elevated status. She can thus have her cake and eat it too, psychologically speaking. The chronic inability of women to view themselves as individuals and their tendency to see themselves only through their husbands' occupations is noted by a current researcher:

  • Not infrequently women have sought volunteer work so that they might be more interesting to their husbands. Others have sought volunteer activities which are in line with their spouse's business or profession as a way to increase their understanding of his work. The most obvious example of this is the hospital auxiliary, members of which are frequently wives of doctors.[26]

»Status-seeking« as a motivation for women volunteering their services is old-hat, but the middle-class American woman, with a new rationale for helping the »disadvantaged« in particular, is doing just that. By allying herself with causes for social justice, she makes it seem ruthless to deny »the nation's poor« an opportunity to »better themselves,« albeit through her and others' efforts. The situation is faintly reminiscent of the colonial British era in India; women assume the white woman's burden to raise people up from welfare, complete with tutoring and housekeeping skills—but hope the objects of their benevolence keep out of »my neighborhood« or »my school«.
Some women choose to become volunteers out of disillusionment with present employment opportunities for those who lack skills or dislike office or sales work—the staple of married women's labor. In health and welfare tasks, and in fields where experimental programs are under way—in education, geriatrics, museums, and municipal programs—many women find interesting and innovative niches for a changed self-image with new duties; these opportunities would be closed to them as paid employees in the same institutions because they lack the needed qualifications. The freedom thus offered these educated and/or adventurous volunteers to achieve their goals is sufficiently heady to attract a new breed of volunteer including fully employed men and young single women, who seek such opportunities on weekends. The increasing monotony and depersonalization of most white-collar jobs, depicted by David Riesman in The Lonely Crowd twenty years ago, has now intensified through the use of computer-related machinery in banks, insurance companies, and sales offices where women work, increasing their hunger for human relatedness. Feminists and »causists,« volunteers themselves, must know the sense of achievement that results from working together with others to effect action—a feeling not easy to duplicate among coworkers in the context of a job. The experiences of brotherliness among union members in the heyday of trade-union formation was probably akin to this excitement. (Studies show that women workers still resist joining unions, consistent with their ambivalence in general. However, unions in the basic industries and crafts do have women's auxiliaries, to which non working wives of male union members belong.)
At least one investigation [27] indicates that women seek values different from men's when they work. A consistent need of all women of varying ages, in all socioeconomic groups and marital status, was found to be that of »mastery-achievement« or a »sense of accomplishment and satisfaction.« Fulfillment of social needs was second. Women probably feel greater frustration than men because of their unproductive domestic chores and their missed opportunities for training or education; this frustration is felt as a nagging sense of inferiority—creating strong motivation to achieve at and master a job or volunteer assignment. Men seem to value economic rewards, management of others, recognition, independence, and prestige more. Guidance counselors rarely focus on girls' special needs when they are in high school, but steer a girl into volunteer work just as readily as toward regular employment »if her schedule is such that paid work is hard to obtain, or if she had a variety of diverse interests and finds it difficult to focus on a choice«.
Since we contend that for women voluntarism is a hybrid of work and role playing, more closely linked to »occupational therapy« than to work accomplished in the economic sense, tins psychodrama which has created a virtual subculture among women might seem to offer little else but »therapy« to the volunteer. From a feminist and/or progressive unionist point of view, voluntarism is clearly exploitative—in its implication that social justice for all classes can be achieved through the moral »service« of some who are expendable, albeit out of »free choice.« Manipulating modern women's ambivalence about their work participation in the economy and using rationales of citizenship to maintain their loyalty to a traditional system of human service does not seem emancipating for women's long-term goals. While voluntarism may have in fact helped to reinforce the fluidity of our democratic society, wherein people of diverse socioeconomic groups interact with one another and manifest brotherly love for their neighbors in action, it hardly aids the development of women who are ready to move into all aspects of our economic system to maintain them in special enclaves of voluntarism. The helping professions would probably demand capital funds to staff their houses and develop auxiliary paid personnel, were they to exhibit the same militancy as emerging women and agitate for necessary changes.
Several volunteer leaders themselves agree that voluntarism is pseudo-work, with the focus frequently on the satisfaction of the volunteer rather than the job to be accomplished.[28] In fact, one agency mentioned a totally new youth recreation program it was launching (another agency has a similar one already in operation); it felt such a program could retain the younger women volunteers and attract new ones in this age group. Agencies are now even planning »careers« in voluntarism, ladders of service designed to present new and more challenging assignments over the years, in order to reduce turnover. One wonders how much activity in various social services is self-perpetuating merely because women are available, and how much is really needed in the objective sense. Cases in point: A New York City family agency sponsors a program of volunteers as one-to-one teachers of English in a ghetto of foreign-born adults, while little or no pressure is exerted on the Board of Education to adapt its sleepy archaism to the needs of thousands of new Americans. A cultural institution uses volunteer assistants for its art exhibitions, while simultaneously, art school graduates trained for similar tasks where state funds might be available go unhired. Six volunteers—four of them women— attempt to raise funds for a community narcotics addiction treatment center, where the placement of one qualified person might make them eligible for foundation funds and/or municipal grants. A volunteer community relations woman is assigned to a low-income housing project to allay residents' fears after a »racial« incident, while at the same time a Police Department community relations officer and Youth Board assistant team up on the same problem. There are as many examples of such well-meaning extraneousness in voluntarism as there are instances of uniqueness of service and need, although much of the chaos is undoubtedly the result of the maze of urban life with its uncoordinated and unresponsive municipal structure. The insufficient expertise of many professionals is so marked that the urban social activist, functioning without professional staff, or the suburban »causist« is frequently more sophisticated about available resources and more aggressive in obtaining them.
There is more to the exploitative aspect of free woman-hours than woman's ambivalence about her role outside the home. Even the federal study questions the possibility of its becoming a »new panacea« for social ills.[29] For many years socialist thinkers tried to apply the ideology of labor to woman's work in the home as a way to rationalize »from each according to his (her) ability, to each according to his (her) need« payments by governments as recognition of domestic service. (Currently, a New York congressman is proposing legislation making housewives eligible for benefits under the Social Security Act.) Konrad Lorenz, the Austrian ethnologist, recently stated that ». .. some way ought to be found in society to compensate women for their 22 hour day«.[30] As a European, he may already have become less conscious of work for economic gain as a major motivation of both men and women. It is not our intention to debate the many theories of economists concerning the ideology of labor, especially as it might apply to Americans in an advanced stage of evolving technocracy. The confusion in a capitalist economy over who shall receive the fruits of labor—especially as this applies to wages for married men and working wives—similarly appears in the use of volunteers as »real« workers. The U.S. Department of Labor itself grapples with the puzzling issue of payment, sparked by the various new federal programs that now include »expense reimbursements« to certain groups of volunteers among the poor and retired: »... the need for reimbursing volunteers in lower income brackets for expenses incurred . . . seems obvious. But when more than expenses yet less than the prevailing wage is paid, volunteers are in reality underpaid employed workers«.[31]
While it is clear that unpaid volunteers have been responsible for large economies in the private and public sector, it is not generally recognized that many social experiments, such as the provision of sheltered workshops for handicapped workers, recreation for the aged, and progressive child-education programs like Head Start, were begun by women's voluntary organizations.[32] Most Americans know little of the interlocking between government and private agency programs accomplished by volunteers, particularly during times of war, in addition to the cooperation between popular agencies such as Red Cross, Salvation Army, National Jewish Welfare Board, and the newer federal agencies, Peace Corps, Vista, Neighborhood Youth Corps, and a host of Job Corps projects funded by government and administered by business to combat poverty. Elizabeth Koontz, director of the Women's Bureau of the U.S. Department of Labor, has indicated in one instance [33] the huge savings to the government for work done by WICS.[34] WICS spent an average of $44 for each Job Corps woman enrolled; the U.S. Employment Service spent $101 per recruit to do a less thorough job. (Obviously, the use of volunteers saves.) Fortunately, many women volunteer leaders are not always quiescent about the use of their energies, or those expectations that innovations in welfare work are not to be considered their sole responsibility. Mary Halloren, former WAC Director now with WICS, told government representatives at a recent meeting in Washington that staff funding rather man voluntary dedication was needed in order »to get something for nothing.« At the same meeting, Mrs. Leonard Weiner, president of the National Council of Jewish Women, and also a board member of the Nixon administration's National Center for Voluntary Action, warned women volunteers against »dissipating ourselves all over the map.« These indications of change, plus the Labor Department study's examples of volunteer assignments that might well become paid employment, call for swift reaction by both current and prospective women volunteers.
What constitutes work is generally undefined in American society with its advanced machine technology required in the manufacture of goods. Wages historically have always been associated with profits, but not with human needs. During the next thirty years, when according to sociologists, Americans will increasingly »play« at »work« and »work« at »play« with a loss of appetite for real labor at any price, the further development of unstructured work, much like that done by women volunteers now, may affect the labor force as a whole. At any rate, the market for volunteer pseudowork should be shrunk and many new part-time jobs should be developed, in order to place »services« in the same value system as the manufacture of profitable goods. In shaping new national health services, child-care centers, and the like, the helping professions must create many new job categories. This seems bound to occur as the New Careers program and others like it under the Office of Economic Opportunity, VISTA, and so forth, grow and achieve success.[35]
There is a danger that polarization could take place, with middle-class volunteers withdrawing to a few private social services, while Puerto Ricans, Mexicans, blacks, and poor whites become paid paraprofessionals in »the human services,« as new projects proliferate. Sensing this possibility—the crowding out of the »traditional unpaid volunteer« —a current volunteer professional writes:

  • The straggles for professionalization of various groups of employees associated with community service delivery systems, as well as the more recent efforts to use these structures as a way to help the disadvantaged climb out of poverty (e.g. the New Careers Program) have often blinded professional and lay leadership ... to the needs of others in the community to participate ... and to the neglect of skills and abilities to be found among the interested citizenry...[36]

While recognizing voluntarism's invalidity as a solution to the need of modern women to clearly define themselves as individuals with goals in society, unmanipulated by the Establishment for its own ends, it seems reasonable to assume that a new militancy and insight will not cause women to shut the doors on their homes at once, like so many Noras, and seek to find their identity »in the world.« There will doubtless be many women in the years to come—along with retired men, students, and young adults of both sexes—who will remain marginal to the economy unless the cry of »full employment« is raised as it was at the close of World War H. It is evident that we may have a permanent reservoir of women who will out of circumstance or inclination continue to volunteer their unpaid services to the community, especially when appeals are made to their »need to be needed«.
Voluntary organizations run by and for women can be faulted for serving everyone but themselves in the past They need to be reminded of what Margaret Adams has called »the compassion trap.« With attempts already begun to prod the government into sponsoring day-care centers, women themselves must begin to examine the other needs that welfare mothers and middle- and upper-class women have in common. In order to make the »voluntary system« responsive to true emancipation, they must become aware of how little they have demanded from both the social work and human services area and the government. They must insist on being served themselves, with the assistance of the »helping professions.« Consciousness of women's busywork in many self-defeating and duplicating projects is in order. Most of all, women who wish to carry out an assignment must have a look-before-leaping approach, together with some sophistication beyond that of the professional.
»Liberation« should mean just that to women—self-experimentation, talent development, and vocational exploration without the spur of immediate income or success. Here voluntarism must be made to serve women, to help them break out of the mold of »suitable« jobs and the rigid lock-step system of »course« education that leaves many with vague talents and no skills. Voluntarism, viewed as a conscious opportunity to try out various environments, roles, and kinds of real work, does offer the chance at self-development both single and married women need. CATALYST, a women's organization previously mentioned, has already begun to explore the use of volunteer work as a structured training opportunity; it needs a dialogue with women volunteers to develop such a proposal for change. Already, federal civil service credit is extended to those having voluntary experience of like kind and responsibility, but this option is insufficiently used because of the women's undervaluation of their own past efforts. Teaching and/or private industry should also extend such credit. (It will surely make tutoring and other volunteer educational service as well as fundraising more meaningful and measurable.) The credo of women volunteers might become that they should be served by the community which they themselves serve.
How should women be served if they are contributing unpaid  woman-hours  to  the  community?  They  might demand full- or part-time training, education, or counseling, similar to the services the Veterans' Administration grants to returned soldiers. (Why not a Woman's Administration?) For »service hours performed« they might secure an income-tax deduction; the amount of credit granted would be determined by a national assignment of »priorities.«  (Perhaps working in health services might secure more credit deduction than, say, tutoring someone for high-school equivalency.) Women must persuade their legislators that according bonuses, leave pay, life-term insurance, and other fringe benefits to GI's separated from service sets a precedent for according various concrete privileges to women who have also »served.« Women volunteers must now demand some form of the recognition our society confers on others who make a contribution to its well-being; but no honor certificate or ceremony of praise will suffice to make her a truly equal contributor in society.
One of voluntarism's most important advantages is that it can afford a critical view of society from the inside looking out, not possible by other means to nonemployed persons. If a feminist ideology is to be reaffirmed and strengthened among all levels of the female population, from welfare mothers to socialites, voluntarism, which already encompasses millions of American women, cannot be ignored on parochial grounds. An earlier generation of women created many of the present social services, which, in spite of their peripheral role in human affairs, expressed militancy and criticism of the Establishment in enabling change in the lives of individuals. The helping professions can again become responsive to women's needs in particular if those involved in the fermentation of the new grapes of feminism will share with them the wine of discontent over the status quo. Just as college students demanded inclusion on university boards of trustees; civil rights activists pushed for industry and banks in the ghetto, with ghetto residents involved in management; and welfare recipients insisted on representation on municipal staff committees, so must women demand participation in all functions purporting to serve their needs. Feminist women can use the volunteer structure for their own ends, experimenting with its training and mind-expanding »opportunities« to nourish a more conscious identity. Voluntarism in new dress—with mini, midi, or maxi, innovations and benefits to the women serving in it—must be judiciously altered to fit woman's growing need for real work in a real life.