Tuesday, August 11, 2009
To Crack the Glass Ceiling, First Believe It Can Be Done
An eye-opening study attempting to shed some light as to why women are reluctant to take managerial roles and are paid less than men comes to the conclusion that women create their own self-imposed glass ceiling. The good news is, as the article states, that such attitudes of automatic devaluation have subsided drastically over the generations. Women over the age of fifty, according to the study, have the hardest time admitting their truth worth to employers and the answer is due in part to long-standing beliefs that they are not as worthy or capable as men.
However, it does shift some of the blame away from men and the willful evil of a Patriarchal society, acknowledging that women have a role in their subordination. Certainly women, particularly of a certain generation did not create the problem and while it is unfair that they themselves need to eradicate attitudes they themselves did not create, nevertheless they will still need to redouble their efforts towards breaking the chains and fixing the problems they partially created for themselves. Believing that positive change can actually happen is the beginning.
Speaking from a purely feminist perspective, the major differences highlighted here between generational attitudes of women further underline the second-wave versus third-wave divide in the movement. It pleases me greatly when I read about how younger women feel more empowered to honestly state their views with confidence, believing firmly and with good cause that they will be taken seriously. It also pleases me greatly that they are more compelled to take higher level management positions and aspire to positions of authority. Second-wavers, however, still have an unfortunate tendency to want to exist in a time warp, responding to life as though reform never occurs, change cannot happen, and nothing will ever be different. Or maybe these attitudes are simply a dusty part and parcel of an era that is gratefully not our own anymore. Many are still held hostage by past sins and I agree with this article that the best solution is to open their eyes and embrace the new reality that some still believe is not here yet. The irony is that, in my respects they won the war and yet they act like no one told them that major hostilities were over.
This study's alternate title might be: Beware the dual power of self-fulfilling prophecy and low expectations. What is not in debate is the notion that sexism exists and plays a major role in the proceedings. What is in debate is whether the very idea of the glass ceiling deserves a much more nuanced definition and understanding. Fully applicable to this discussion is the Eleanor Roosevelt quote--"no one can make you feel inferior without your consent." Any social injustice will, by its very nature, create this pervasive response of inferiority and low esteem. The example that comes to my mind first is the study where African-American children were shown dolls with white features and dolls with black features. When asked which of them they liked better, they chose the white dolls.
What I am glad to see questioned is the idea that prejudice and discrimination are a passive exchange from oppressor to oppressed. That has never seemed like a satisfactory explanation to resolve anything. Neither am I advancing victim blaming. Living products of a society that long preached and to a lesser extent still preaches submissiveness and deference to men, women need not be shouldered with any of the blame. But there comes a time where taking the steps necessary to reach upwards towards the light of empowerment and equal citizenship comes with some degree of obligation to refuse to reinforce stereotypical notions. What would be foolishness personified would be to blame the Patriarchy while doing absolutely nothing in one's own life to push back against it.