Reviewed by Linda Bradley
Courage in Unexpected Places
by Susan Chandler and Jill B Jones
Hardcover: 240 pages, July 28, 2011, ISBN-13: 978-0801450143
For 10 years, Susan Chandler and Jill B. Jones had been compiling detailed oral accounts of women working in Las Vegas and Reno casinos, from the cocktail waitresses to the vice presidents. The result is compelling and riveting, but not in the way that it reveals the victimization or heroics of women in a male-dominate industry. Instead, it gives you an insight to their lives which help you develop a deeper admiration for the female casino workers as well as women as an entire population. Through the collection of stories, the authors celebrate the women’s courage in everyday situations, and this is definitely a book that every woman and man should take the time to read.
Before I continue with my review, it’s important that we discuss what it’s like the casino industry has been like for years. Head to any casino and you’ll probably make a host of several gender-related observations, observations including a stronger male presence on the gaming floor and that most of the pit workers are female. There’s no hiding behind the fact that women make up for the majority of the labor force and that a lot of men are placed at the helm of operations.
In the world of gambling, the number of female executives don’t nearly compare to the amount of men that have risen to the top of the corporate ladder. The ladies almost have everything working against them, however women such as Virginia McDowell Isle of Capri Casinos and Patricia Becker of the Nevada Gaming Control–the first woman to ever serve on that panel–show that they still persevered in the face of adversity. Though these achievements along with the women profiled in Casino Women who’ve earned their managerial roles demonstrate the slow but steady penetration in the glass ceiling, this isn’t what the book is about.
The novel is a backstage pass to the casino hype that lets you witness everything that happens behind the scenes of what Intercasino explains in a blog post to be one of the most popular and longest existing entertainment hubs. The beautiful thing about Casino Women is that the authors didn’t use it as an opportunity to attack the sexism or the gender divide in the job roles in gambling. It’s merely a female perspective on what Cornell University Press describes as a revelation of “how ordinary people stand up to corporate actors who appear to hold all the cards.” The women discussed in this novel display their strength and bravery in a man’s world through activism and even acceptance of the status quo.
It’s pretty rare these days to find something that offers such rich descriptions of the labor forces in the world’s most lucrative industries. The experiences are genuine and highlight themes like intellectual frustration, exploitation, and physical pain, common issues encountered by female workers in casinos, but more importantly, female workers throughout all sectors. Their contribution to socio-history is immense and inspiring as Chandler and Jones bridge connections between the feminized labor forces in multiple industries.
While Casino Women is dedicated to the authentic accounts of the female struggle in the gambling world, males are also discussed in context in order for us readers to gain a complete understanding of the industry’s gender relations. Every theme and issue explored in this piece of oral history begs us to question and analyze gender expectations in a corporate environment and society at large. For me, this book was an intellectual journey that truly made me proud to be a woman and helped me develop a greater respect for those facing daily challenges all in the name of turning a profit.
My recommendation before reading this book is to throw out all your expectations and assumptions about women in casinos. Chandler and Jones’ findings are unexpected and at times raw, which shows just how authentic this literary piece is.
About the reviewer: Linda Bradley is a student at the University of Southern California currently pursuing her Bachelor’s degree in sociology and minoring in women’s studies. Casino Women was part of the syllabus for one of her courses and has since become one of her favorite books.