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December 27, 1987|Marjorie Marks

WOMEN AND HOME-BASED WORK: THE UNSPOKEN CONTRACT by Kathleen Christensen (Henry Holt: $17.95; 196 pp.).

"I get low pay, boring work, no opportunities for advancement, and no benefits, but I get to stay home with my daughter," said the home typist summing up what home-based work presently represents for most of the 14,000 white-collar, middle-class women surveyed for this first formal portrait of a new but not necessarily less oppressive kind of daily working reality.

The idealized image of home-based work is that it allows women, especially women with young children, to "have it all." Although for some, the fantasy comes true, for most other professional, technical and clerical home workers, the newest experiment is failing for the old reasons.

Despite advances for women in other arenas, at home little has changed. As these intimate and compelling narratives reveal, women who work at home still are victimized by the traditional ro1818566757husbands needlessly and often unconsciously maintain.

"To understand home-based work, one must understand the power and leverage of these unspoken contracts," writes the author, who is director of the government-funded Project on Home-based Work at the CUNY Graduate School in New York.

Those unusual women who succeed at home-based work do so by firmly negotiating the many agreements that must be made, including absolute clarity with themselves about the seriousness of their work and insistence on equitable arrangements with their husbands regarding child care and housework.

Unfortunately, the author observes, renegotiating unspoken agreements "requires a degree of openness and honesty that is distressingly rare."

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